There are seasons in life when our acts of service go unnoticed, when our kindness is accepted but not appreciated, or when “thank you” and “I’m grateful” are phrases we hardly ever hear. In these seasons, we feel a sense of meaninglessness – that who we are and what we do doesn’t have real value.
Perhaps you’re going through a season like this right now. Sometimes we wear a smile for the world when, in actual fact, all we want to do is scream. In this piece I hope to offer some freedom from those feelings.
How can we effectively deal with feeling unappreciated? Before we can answer that question, we need to reflect on how to identify if we’re feeling unappreciated in the first place. So let’s begin there.
The symptoms of feeling unappreciated
- Feeling “invisible” to those closest to you.
- Feeling that, if you weren’t there, the other person/people wouldn’t really miss you.
- Staying in an environment/role/job simply because it’s comfortable or familiar, not because you derive meaning from it.
- When you interpret the words “too busy” as little more than a hollow excuse.
- When you start interpreting someone’s busyness as a personal dismissal by default.
- When a connection/relationship is always maintained by you.
- When you harbor feelings of resentment toward the other person.
- Feeling that you are always the one giving.
- Feeling like an intruder on the other person’s time/skills, etc.
- Feeling that you don’t really add value to the other person’s life.
All these emotions can lead to a downward spiral of depression. It’s important to know the signs so you can take action.
Learn to take control
How do you take control when feeling unappreciated? Communication is key. Sometimes people are not aware of how you’re feeling, especially if you hide it well. Take that bold step and communicate your feelings in a kind and thoughtful way.
Losing your temper won’t contribute anything positive to the conversation, and demanding thanks will hardly ever result in it being given. Gently and sincerely talk with the other person about the way you feel. Allow them the freedom to tell you that they do appreciate you and that their intention was not to make you feel otherwise.
Know your worth outside the value judgments of others
When your sense of self-worth gets defined by someone else’s feelings, you’re on a slippery slope that heads only one way and fast. The measure of gratitude shown by someone else should not determine the value of what you do. The things you do must have intrinsic value based on who you are, what your service says about your values, and the esteem in which you hold the person you help.
This is the foundation for doing things in a way that won’t require thanksgiving but will welcome it when offered.
Love yourself by building self-confidence
By this, I do not mean you need to love yourself more than others, or even that you need to love yourself first. I’m talking about the kind of love you have for the things that make you who you are.
I, for example, am confident in the things I do, not because I do them well, but because they give shape and expression to who I am. I don’t need thanks for that.
Get the help you need
Sometimes you can’t do it on your own, and that’s okay. If you want to take control, you need to first admit that you have lost control.
These times may call for the help of someone who is trained to offer it, who holds an unbiased view of your situation, who does not have an agenda to push (save your own wellbeing), or who will help you see hard truths where they need to be seen.
Look objectively at the dynamics of a relationship
The sense of feeling unappreciated grows within the context of a relationship. The problem with that is that relationships feel permanent, which means people stay in relationships long after they’ve reached their expiration date. They end up looking for appreciation in the context of a relationship that should not really exist.
Apart from the relationship between parents and children (in most cases), no other relationship needs to be permanent. Being able to emotionally remove yourself from the situation in order to evaluate whether or not it is a healthy environment is essential to coping and overcoming the sense of feeling unappreciated.
Take a hard look at the relationships you’re in and gauge whether or not you want to be a part of them. If not, cut the cord, say good-bye, however painful it might be, and look forward to a new journey. (This is most definitely a last resort.)
I offer these next two points with gentle care because I don’t want to create the sense that feeling unappreciated is fundamentally your fault. It’s not (read my “Letter of Lace” to the unappreciated woman for more on this). However, recognizing that it’s not your fault does not mean that you are helpless, or even blameless.
That’s where these next steps come into play:
Accept the role you play in feeling unappreciated
Accept your role in the dynamic and be willing to change it. So much in life is beyond our control. Choosing how to respond to a perceived lack of appreciation is not one of those things though.
If you feel unappreciated, make your first step evaluating whether you’re reading too much into someone else’s lack of gratitude. We’ve all forgotten to say “thank you” at times, with no malice intended.
Show appreciation for others
This is a sure-fire way to boost your own immunity against feeling unappreciated. The truth is: feeling unappreciated is born from a place of unhealthy self-interest. There’s a careful balance to be maintained here.
While it is certainly true that the more you show others the appreciation you crave, the more likely they are to reciprocate, but don’t show appreciation in order to receive it. Show appreciation in order to recognize the value of others and to keep a healthy perspective of “self.” This helps fight off the temptation to feel unappreciated.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire