Overpraising people with low self-esteem can do more harm, these experts say

Two studies found that giving excessively complimenting someone is harmful.
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They say too much of anything is bad – and apparently, that includes compliments too.

With the increasing popularity of social media and various other cultural or social pressures, people are caught in endless cycles of social comparison and feelings of insecurity.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Education has even made massive changes to Singapore’s education system to deter students from basing their self-worth on a “relative grading system”.

You would think that a good approach to help someone build up their self-esteem is to constantly sing him or her praises. However, some studies have shown that excessive compliments can backfire and instead, become detrimental to one’s self-esteem.

In an article, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) cited a study by Utrecht University’s scientists, which tasked children with drawing replicas of a Van Gogh painting. Afterwards, the children received praises from “a professional painter” and were then given a choice to draw more difficult pictures.

Researcher Eddie Brummelman and his colleagues found that kids who had poor self-image and received excessive praise from the “professional painter” ended up shying away from challenging work.

It turns out, praising a child as if he or she did something exceptional sends the wrong message to them. According to Brummelman’s research, an insecure child will feel that they cannot meet the unrealistic standard that has been set. As a result, they will take the simplest way out – to avoid challenges altogether.

And the same pattern has been detected in adults with low self-esteem.

According to psychologist Guy Winch, when a person with low self-esteem receives a compliment from their romantic partner, it gives them pressure to live up to heightened expectations. And because they lack self-confidence, they fear that they will end up disappointing their partner.

This results in them developing a defense mechanism of becoming more distant and withdrawn in hopes that their partner’s expectations will be lowered. But of course, this often backfires and puts a strain on the relationship instead.