After an anonymous military veteran sent his Purple Heart medal to the survivor of the Slender Man stabbing in Wisconsin, the girl’s family hoped to thank him.
In a statement, the family said they felt “touched and moved by this act of kindness that they would like to personally thank the individual, publicly or privately, for the gift and for their sacrifice to the country.”
But the giver might not want to be thanked for the gift. Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist in the Center of Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic, says that the anonymous service person might feel that giving a gift is enough.
“Pure acts of giving have significant benefits to the giver. Now known as the ‘helper’s high,’ the brain releases mood moderating and rewarding chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, when people engage in such acts of giving,” he writes in an email.
“That [a gift] is anonymous does not eliminate the response in the human brain … the good feeling generated by this simple act would appear to be good enough for that individual.”
Bea says that children often give away gifts without wanting something in return because they enjoy the feeling of giving. This can be harnessed in clinical settings as well and he sometimes asks his patients with depression to give gifts to their partners or friends and not tell them about it.
“It is designed to help produce greater feelings of self-efficacy, release the chemicals associated with the ‘helper’s high,” and endorse the bonds they have with loved ones,” Bea says.
Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, says that giving gifts and not publicizing it can often be one of the most generous ways to give.
“I think people do nice things for people all the time and when it is truly nice is when it has some sense of being anonymous. You don’t need people to know that you [did something kind],” she says.
She adds, though, that people often have several motivations for giving gifts.
“When you give a gift, you announce yourself … as someone generous,” she says. “Of course, the more a gift means to you, a giver, the more you are going to reap the benefits of having given it … it is a deep way of showing caring.”
In this case, the giver might have bestowed his Purple Heart to the victim of a violent attack to help her have hope. The Purple Heart has been awarded since 1932 to members of the armed forces who are wounded or killed while serving the United States. Since its inception in 1932, an estimated 1.7 to 1.8 million have been awarded to service members or posthumously to their families.
“What the gift suggests is that she should know that there are people who are brave out there, whose feelings are with her, to wish her well. And that person is trying to tell her that she is brave,” says Langer.
“[Anonymous givers] wanted to please you in some way and they don’t need a thank you.”
Anyone who would like to give, either anonymously or publicly, to the survivor of the Slender Man attack, can do so at the family’s Heart’s for Healing site.