11 March 2009

Puppy kicking

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: family, Random

I need to clarify the title of this post because it is not about literally kicking a puppy. It’s an expression for the point I want to make.

A friend and I coined the term “puppy kicking” when talking about those of us who seek approval from others. This can be approval from our friends, family or colleagues who we seek recognition or validation from, but who ultimately let us down.
Validation is not a bad thing. It helps encourage you when you’re having a bad day and with the simple phrase of “nice job” or “I missed you,” it can bring someone totally around. And, it’s fast and easy to do. But some of us, or our parents from another generation, are not always the best at doing that.
After my dad remarried, I threw myself at my stepmother to have her recognize me as more than a stepchild. I wanted her to feel the same pride in me that my dad does and include me as part of the family. But the more I tried to win her attention, through trying to cook dinner or take an interest in things she liked, the more I felt left out or like I was trying too hard. Rather than say “you did a good job on…” it was more of what I didn’t do right and I would feel defeated.
But every time I go home, I still work to earn her approval, like a wounded puppy lured back to the steal-toed boot, begging for more.
I’ve found the “puppy kicking” theory doesn’t apply as much to work or friend situations because you can be more honest with them because, well, you’re not related to them. But family is harder, those rejections and recognitions can hurt more than anything else. I would assume it’s the same from a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.
Many of my friends who claim they don’t go back for a “puppy kick” anymore too, I’m sorry but they’re wrong, just like I am when I say that. It’s a human emotion, as long as you don’t let the validation you may not receive rule your life. Look for the validation and recognition you want in the small things because there is always someone who appreciates you and what you do.
I go home again in a few weeks and I’m sure I’ll be up for a puppy kick. But I don’t let it wound me as much as it used to.
So I don’t know if there is a question out there for everyone but I guess I can ask, do you identify with my “puppy kicking” theory? Or how do you deal with situations where you want to be recognized and aren’t for one reason or another?


  1. Annie says:

    I don’t understand why do you even have to try to impress your step-mom. Maybe if you stopped doing that, there would be a role-reversal?
    I just started reading your blog, and I love it. You write well and I love Chicago, one of my fave cities in the world!

  2. EP says:

    Your theory sounds like a good one to me. Unfortunately, I feel the puppy kicking at work, where no one ever compliments anyone else on their good work. Or even decent work.

    I don’t know how to deal with it other than shrugging and attempting to move forward.

  3. Your puppy-kicking theory is spot on (pardon the pun). My boyfriend in highschool could sure puppy-kick the ish out of me (figuratively, not literally). Eventually, I learned my lesson and left him. Your stepmother obviously has her own issues, so try not to let her make you feel inferior. We’re all seeking validation. I think that’s why blogs, FB, MySpace, etc. are so popular.

  4. as much as i have my own life… i still seek approval from my parents. ie- i want a new car and wont buy one until after they are behind me on it. and same with my situation with D… he’s older by 12 years and i freaked out thinking they wouldn’t approve of him. that caused some problems between us and well- we’re not together (that wasn’t the reason, but… it put a damper on things)

    i’m always up for a puppy kick when i go home.

  5. your situation with your step-mom reminds me of toni collette’s character in In Her Shoes.

    thankfully, there isn’t a soul I can think of for whom I have to utilize “puppy-kicking.”

  6. G+D says:

    Oh yes. The puppy kicking is alive and…er, kicking in my family as well. Damn step-family!

  7. Katelin says:

    i don’t know that i necessarily try to impress people or get them to like me as much as i value the fact that my siblings and cousins look up to me and i try to keep that good rep going.

  8. Miss Grace says:

    We all do that, but we should all TRY to do it less!

  9. I get the puppy-kicking phrase… and think it is a good way to describe that kind of situation.

    I feel like it’s kind of the opposite for me – that it’s easier to be honest with my family than with friends and coworkers because family HAS to love you. Or that’s always what my mom said, which is why my brother and sister and I can GO OFF on each other and rage and five minutes later be like “I love you, man. Want a beer/cookie/hug?”

  10. SoMi's Nilsa says:

    Up until I met Sweets, I’d have to say that I never personally felt the puppy kick sensation. I’m lucky to have a family that appreciates one another. Having said that, I do feel the puppy kick with my brother and sister in law. And you know what? I shrug my shoulders and move on. I just don’t put as much focus or energy on those relationships and let them be what they are (instead of trying to make them into something I think they should be). It’s all about expectations and whether or not we are able to adjust our own.

  11. laurwilk says:

    Hmmm…I’m pretty sure I’ve never been puppy kicked. I keep thinking of relationships and situations but I don’t think I’ve ever felt this before. I’m not sure if it’s how I react or just how my relationships are structured. I have maybe had a mutual ‘puppy kicking’ relationship before but then I’m not sure that falls under the puppy kicking category at all because I didn’t feel like a kicked puppy.

    Very interesting!

  12. Cheryl says:

    I know all too well about puppy kicking. That was my dad and me. I did actually give up after a while. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from it after two decades. But I still regress to it with others.

  13. The “puppy kicking theory” is definitely valid. I, fortunately, don’t have to deal with this with my parents. I do have to deal with it with my extended relatives. My dad’s family is very country club, and unless you make lots of money, you’re not welcome. They don’t know my boyfriend’s name, and we’ve been together for 6 years. My cousin’s ex boyriend the NFL player…they knew what he ate for breakfast. And my mom’s side is uber Catholic, so they’re all judgy in a completely different sense. But I always feel like I have to live up to some expectation. My mom’s sister was upset with me for a year because I didn’t apply for a White House internship during the Bush administration.

  14. Jules says:

    I love this theory! I definitely have that at times with my dad. At times I realize it and get my big girl pants on and deal. At other times, I fall back into the puppy kicking relationship. Nice.

  15. SA says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever had the puppy kicking relationship with anybody. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

  16. Mandy says:

    I used to do this with my grandma all the time. While I dont really try anymore, her rejection and failure to recognize my accomplishments does hurt.

  17. Maki says:

    Aw I had this “puppy kicking” relationship with my dad. I love him to death, but I always thought that I was not good enough growing up. I don’t deny the fact that he was very critical of me, so I tried so hard to impress him, but more I tried, more mistakes I made.

    I decided to let go of the theory because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life seeking approval and now it feels so much better. The relationship with my dad has improved so much. It seems now that he is trying now to be close to me…

    Be who you are because you’re beautiful!!!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I have to say it is like a “puppy kicking” but I had to realize through years of it, and even now I put myself in those positions w/out realizing it but it comes from, unrealistic expectations. So for example, I thought if I help my sister with the things she needed help with she would thank me, but instead I got a hard “puppy kicking” and was sad for awhile. I wish this would not happen in families, unfortunately it’s the way some families operate. So my rule of thumb, is not to have high expectations with the people who have “puppy kicked”, and therefore when it happens you will be ready because you didn’t expect otherwise.

  19. Debbie says:

    I totally agree with you when you say everyone wants that recognition/validation. I find myself saying “It is what it is” and trying to not let it get to me, but in reality we are human. We have human emotions and I think we will always look for that from others. Sometimes just more than other times. Sorry, no advice from me. I find myself being the puppy more than I’d like!

  20. Andhari says:

    I can get from my family only in certain aspects of my life and not others ( like my music, i cant ask validations in that because they hate it ). ANd well I’m in one relationship like that too, which is why I might need to reconsider this in the long run.

  21. LBluca77 says:

    Oh I love this puppy kicking theory. It has applied in my life many times. Although I think I was big giant pit bull kicked.

  22. Rachel says:

    You just described my attitude with my in-laws when I first started dating Dan. I was desperate for them to like me and all it got me was hurt feelings. In the end, at some point you will realize that you are awesome and that if she doesn’t realize this then it is her loss.

    But I/you/they will still always hope…

  23. Angela says:

    I think a lot of people get stuck in the puppy-kicking rut of an unhealthy relationship–the boyfriend or girlfriend you just can’t let go. I hope I never get into a relationship like that…