Recently I spent an afternoon with someone who said this to me several times: “I can’t compliment you or you’ll get a big head.”
Hunh. That took me a minute or five to digest. What does that mean?
Eventually I realized that what he was saying had nothing to do with me — I’m pretty sure I hadn’t given him any reason to think I had a swelled head. Instead someone must have done a real number on him at some point that created a belief that compliments = bad.
Which got me thinking – why are compliments such a weird thing for us? Why is it hard for so many of us to receive them?
It seems easier for many people to give compliments than to receive them, but even that skill isn’t a given. For instance, we give men some really confusing messages about how they should behave – be sure to give her a compliment, but don’t make it too personal or too sincere because then she’ll think you’re a stalker or that you’re just trying to get her into bed. Where is the middle ground that they can comfortably walk? How can we expect them to navigate this territory when we haven’t given them a map? Tamara at the blog Daily Transformation wrote an AMAZING piece about this: Maybe We Need To Ease Up On Our Men.
Why this discomfort? I have to believe that it’s because we think we’re inherently unworthy of the compliments we receive. For instance: before I did a lot of work on my body image, if someone told me I looked pretty, I assumed that they were making fun of me. I had a belief about my own worthiness that was so deeply ingrained that no one could compliment me out of it…so I assumed their compliments were lies. And the weirdest trick that I played was that I then believed THEY were bad people for lying to me.
None of which is an exact correlation to this guy saying he couldn’t compliment me or I’d get a big head…but it’s close enough for me to recognize that whatever trip he’s running in his head must be really painful to create a statement like that.
All of this comes up now because the last two days have been days filled with compliments – and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been able to happily receive them.
Yesterday I put out a message to my Facebook friends about my article that was just published and got a flood of congratulatory comments back, many of them saying how deserving I am. What a wonderful feeling!
Today the compliments were a little more indirect, but no less profound. Today I was asked to take on a couple more big projects at the newspaper, including one where I’ll represent the newspaper by going out into the community to talk to middle school students about journalism. I’m REALLY excited!! This is exactly in my wheelhouse and I’m thrilled to do it.
More to the point – it’s a HUGE compliment that the publisher thought I’d be a good choice for this assignment. It means I’m doing my work well and being recognized for it. It’s a compliment I’d be foolish to turn down.
I often say to others that there is a distinction between acknowledging your goodness and being arrogant. I suppose in some ways writing this journal is one long exercise in learning how to give myself compliments… and how to accept them, too.
That girl who thought everyone was making fun of her is growing up!!