“Often we withhold our affections, waiting first for love to be extended to us. The irony is that we are loved for loving.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich
I love compliments. They make me feel special. My old college roommates understood this and complimented me a lot, which contributed to my happiness. They would even repeat the same compliments often, but no matter how often I heard it, it always made me happy. It was a daily reassurance that they cared about me. Then I met a friend who did not understand my love for compliments. We had this argument a lot: “Why do you need me to tell you? You already know.” To which I would respond: “I like to be reminded. Why can’t you just say it? It’s not that hard.” Maybe I’m just the kind of person who requires a lot of reassurance, but who doesn’t like to be reminded that they are cared for?
One of the best compliments I have ever received came from one of my closest friends. He told me that I find out what people need and I give it to them. I wasn't aware that I did this, but it made me really happy that he noticed and told me about it. There are different categories of needs, and different theories for the ones that are the most important. There are the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization). Then there others, that may or may not fall into Maslow’s theory, the need to feel special, to feel cared about, to be valued, to be appreciated, to matter, to love and be loved. Anthony Robbins, who is a world authority on leadership psychology, has his own list of human needs:
- Certainty (comfort): assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
- Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
- Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
- Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
- Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
- Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others
Robbins believes that all dysfunctional behaviors come from not consistently meeting these needs. I think the key word there is “consistently.” It’s a continual process that can fulfill us one day, and leave us unfilled the next. He adds that fulfillment is “achieved through a pattern of living in which we focus on two spiritual needs: 1) the need to continuously grow; and 2) the need to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way.” When we can’t fulfill these needs, then we settle for meeting them on a small scale, which will keep us comfortable, but probably not happy.
Sadly, studies show that when you are deprived of these needs as a child, you’ll spend your adult years trying to make up for it. Clinical Psychologist Edward Dreyfus explains this as your “love bucket.” When it’s filled as a child, then it doesn’t take a lot to keep it filled throughout your life. It’s a good, strong, reliable bucket. But some people have a crack in their bucket, so that in adult years, even when other people fill your love bucket to the top, the leak means that it needs a lot of maintenance and more refilling than other buckets. Also, with damaged “love buckets,” small offenses can empty the bucket, as opposed to a healthy person who will just pour a little out.
I think damaged "love buckets" lead to all the uncaring people in this world. They are selfish and need a lot of attention. They aren't good listeners and lack empathy. They usually don't care what happens to other people. I've noticed that these people most often grew up without feeling cared for by anyone else, so they learn the mentality, "Why should I care about anyone if no one has ever cared about me?" This mentality is not beneficial to anyone. It may keep these people from experiencing pain, but it keeps them from receiving joy and love too. These are also the people that I think need to be shown the most love and care, so that maybe then they can learn to give it to others.
Dreyfus more concretely says that, “We want to know that we matter to others; we want to be seen. We strive to achieve some special status in the eyes of others; how we are viewed by others matters to us.” This is our need to feel special and unique to others. It’s why hearing what people have to say about us really matters and makes a difference in how we see ourselves. Dreyfus adds that an early sense of specialness lets us know that we “are important, can be loved, and can find love in the world.” For those who have never felt special, “They question whether they are lovable. They distrust others. They distrust the love that may be shown them as they grow up feeling that they are not worthy of the love.”
The extent to which we feel valued by those who are important to us is called our relational value, explains Gregg Henriques, Ph.D. This term, which can also be considered Maslow’s “need to belong,” was coined by Mark Leary, who argues that our relational value is the root of our self-esteem. We can measure our relational value by, “the amount of attention we receive, the ratio of positive to negative feelings expressed by others, the degree of thoughtfulness, and the willingness of others to sacrifice on [our] behalf.” When people are showing that they care about us, then our relational value increases and we feel more important and special, and the opposite is also true.
As much as our culture stresses individuality and finding your own happiness, what other people say and think about us, as well as what they do for and to us, is highly important to our self-perception. Finding happiness within yourself is important, but that doesn’t disregard our need to feel important to others. We are social creatures. That’s why I believe the need to love is the most important of all needs. You can’t control whether others will love you or not, but you can control how you show your love to others.
Raj Raghunathan Ph.D. says that our need to love and care for others is just as strong as our need to be loved and nurtured. Many studies show how fulfilling it is to give to others. Our happiness levels increase whenever we are showing our love and care for others, so it is beneficial to the receiver and the giver. It also doesn’t matter in what way, big or small, you are showing kindness, because both contribute to equal levels of happiness. Raghunathan believes that many don’t know about this secret to happiness because of the messages we receive from our care-takers and the media, which suggests that, “our happiness lies in being the recipient of others’ attention, love, and respect, rather than in being the donors of attention, love, and respect.” Showing care and giving value to others directly affects their relational value.
I think letting people know that they are special, important, cared for, appreciated, and loved is the most important thing you can do with your life. It’s why I try to give compliments more than I receive them. Just think about if the person you cared about reminded you daily that he/she loved you, cared about you, and thought highly of you. How would that make you feel? That feeling is something you can give to others. What you say and what you withhold will affect those you care about, so wouldn’t you rather give them value rather than withholding it? It’s easy to forget that someone cares about you, because our needs have to be fulfilled consistently. Both words and actions are important, and I don’t think it’s enough to just give either one. It may be exhausting to continually remind and show others that you care, but the reward of giving will constantly renew and fill your “love bucket.”
p.s. If you are looking for concrete ways to show that you care, this may help: The 12 Most Important Ways to Let People Know They Matter