Saturday, November 16, 2013

On compliments and shame

I don't take compliments well.

They're hard for me to hear.  They kind of send me on a spiral.

I don't mind when people compliment my work.  Actually, I really like it.  It's when people compliment *me* and my self and my worth that I get all squirmy.

I want to contradict them.  I want to tell them that clearly they've made a mistake.  That they don't see how worthless I am, how lazy and unambitious and boring and uncool I am.  That they somehow missed the fact that I'm a failure and a loser.

But contradicting compliments is rude.  And it sounds whiny and dramatic, and I don't want to be seen as dramatic.  So I try to just say "Thank you."

But in my head I'm thinking, Man, I fooled them again.

They don't know.

They don't see the real me.

No one ever really sees me.

Sweet, sweet friends try to help me by telling me I'm a good mother, I'm a good friend, I'm a good person.  They tell me I inspire them, that I impress them.

And all I can think is I thought they knew me.

Because in my head there are only two possible explanations for the compliments. Either 1) They are patronizing and pitying me or 2) They are drastically and unequivocally deceived about me.

And it feels lonely.  Instead of feeling loved, I feel more alone.  More distant.  More apart.  Because clearly these people who say things like "You always impress me" haven't been listening when I've been describing my life.

And then I only have 3 choices.  Hustle to try to live up to their expectations.  Contradict and then swirl into a self-pitying, defensive mess.  Or disappear.


This post sounds self-pitying.  Maybe it is.  It sounds like it's fishing for compliments, which it definitely ISN'T.  It sounds like I totally hate myself and beat myself up all the time, which isn't really true either.  I'm probably going to want to disappear from the Internet forever as soon as I click publish.

But I suspect (SIDE EYE, friends) that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

NaBloPoMo November 2013


  1. i totally, totally get what you mean. this is totally me. i always think, "gee, how have i fooled you into thinking that? haven't you been listening to things i've been saying? don't you see me?" and you're right, it just makes me feel more alone. however, i do contradict them--i'm not the person who says, "thank you" (for which i've been called out upon--"why don't you just say thank you?"). i just don't want them to continue thinking these things and inevitably, in my mind, just be proven wrong because i'm not what they thought. i guess i'm your option 2, there. sigh.

    but thanks for writing this. it's made me aware of how i might be coming off to other people. and it's made me feel a little less alone. thank you.

  2. On my first day of a new job an older gentleman who'd been a social worker for years was training me. He told me that he has NEVER understood why women can't take a compliment. He says in his extensive life experience most women try to deflect it.

  3. You are not alone. When you give me compliments, I feel like hiding under the table. Who are you talking about? You think what of me? I wonder all the time what people see in me. I think it's because we are afraid to let ourselves shine. We don't want to celebrate the amazing things we do.