My daughter pointed out to me quite a few years back that I have a very hard time accepting a compliment. I called poppycock on that, because I felt like my self-esteem was pretty decent, so of course I would be able to take a compliment. But slowly I started to take note,– and saw that self-esteem and the ability to graciously accept a compliment do not necessarily go hand in hand. More often than not I would catch myself excusing the compliment with a self-deprecating statement.
“That color looks great on you!” would be followed up with “Really? I always thought it made me look old/fat/washed out … but thank you.”
“I like your dress” would get “Oh this is like five years old! … but thank you.”
Generally speaking, the manners I was taught would come into play with a thank you so watered down, you’d have suspected I hadn’t heard the compliment. I never figured I was sabotaging the compliment itself. What I realized after taking this conscious note of behaviour, is that I wasn’t comfortable with the flattery. Not to say that deep down I don’t hope people think that jewel tones bring out the pink in my cheeks, or that I can still pull off that 5-yeard old dress. It’s just that I’m just not certain how to handle the compliments when they come.
I’ve noted before that I’m like a narcissistic introvert. I love the attention, but at the same time it absolutely makes me cringe and bury myself in a hole. I want to quickly put the flame out, before anyone else notices. Picture a man whose eyes get big as he lights a match, only to blow them out as quick as he can light them. That’s me with flattery.
Like Eliza Doolittle, little by little I had to relearn how to accept a compliment with grace. It’s frustrating to be the bearer of good tidings, only to be met with negativity. I knew that. I just had to learn to practice it. My daughter was my Henry Higgins, and without warning would send accolades of some sort my way from time to time, and when a critical response was bubbling on my lips, she’d remind me and I would stop – and then simply state, “Thank you.”
It sounds absolutely silly and asinine to have to realize you’re making a conscious decision to be polite, when politeness is usually second nature to you.
I tried to figure out how and why the habit formed, and came to this conclusion; Much like learning how to take a compliment, I had learned over the years how to refuse a compliment.
So where did this come from?
It’s probably a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but I do remember having one of those whispering, intimate late-into-the-night conversations with my cousin when we were teenagers. She was a couple of years older than me, and honestly as much as I loved her, she terrified the fuck out of me. I so wanted to be liked by her, and as family goes, that was only happening about 50% of the time. We got talking about how we saw each other and ourselves. Very typical teen talk with some insecurities flying around. She pushed me for an answer on how I felt about myself. Honestly, I had decent self-esteem for a gangly girl of 13. I mean I knew I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I also knew somewhere deep down that I wasn’t yesterday’s leftovers either. I hesitated, because it sort of felt like a trap, but after some prodding I confided in her that I liked me. Plain and simple; I liked how I looked. Before I knew it the suspected trap enveloped me, and I was quietly ridiculed and shamed. She whisper-hissed that I was conceited, and probably stuck-up. I felt shamed. Stuck-up was about the worst you could call me, because to a lot of people who didn’t know me — my shyness came across that way. Confident, yet shy girls often come off that way.
I mistook the insecurities of another that day, and told myself, self-esteem was something to keep under wraps. I picked up on the fact that expressing how feeling good about yourself was a bad thing, and accepting a compliment straight out, was walking into a trap – Deflect and then Accept. No one wants to know you’re okay with you. Then I took that budding bit of security and sort of smothered it for a while. It’s funny. I can immediately pick up on when other women are doing this – and it’s both sad and maddening.
It wasn’t until I matured enough to bring the self-esteem back out, give it a good dusting off and remember that despite the dings and scratches of life I still had it going on. Surprisingly enough, having been held in a dark recess of my mind, it bounced back pretty decent. Again, like at 13 I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but … Sadly, I had already perfected the habit of deflecting and accepting compliments for so long it was second nature to me. My inability to do this correctly has probably never gelled quite right with my strut. 😉
A lifetime of unlearning.
Until the voice of a young lady taught me otherwise; two simple words. Thank you.
By George I think she’s got it!!