Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Word of the Day Challenge: Day Twenty

I really struggle with accepting compliments. I blush and stutter. I counter the compliment with self-disparaging remarks as a sort of defence mechanism: deep down, I don’t believe I am deserving of compliments, so I automatically undermine them. It’s almost like I think the person giving the compliment is doing it out of pity, and by brushing it aside, I’m showing that I understand this, that I know I’m not really pretty, I’m not actually intelligent, that this dress doesn’t really look nice on me.  

I realise that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to this sort of thing. I remember talking to my therapist once about my inferiority complex regarding my sister, and telling her that She’s everything I’m not. She’s bright, she’s popular, she’s sweet, she’s reliable. And she  got all the good genes, too: she’s beautiful, she has gorgeous hair. She’s normal height, not ridiculously tall like me. She has big eyes, big boobs, a tiny little button nose.

Later in that same session, we were talking about perfectionism and the rules we have for ourselves, and she said something about the fact that she had never seen me with a hair out of place, that I was always ‘groomed’. I laughed self-consciously, said If you think I’m groomed, you should see my sister…she always looks impeccable, her hair and make-up are always perfect…

It’s interesting that you immediately deflected that compliment, she noted. And that you directed my attention, and the compliment intended for you, on to your sister.

The subconscious thought under my reaction was not only that I didn’t deserve the compliment, but also, pre-emptively, quick, mention your sister so that she knows that you know that you’re not as good as she is…you wouldn’t want her to think you had any misconceptions, that you thought you were anywhere near as groomed as your sister, or as attractive as she is…

(The thought wasn’t quite so conscious as that at the time, obviously, but in breaking it down, that’s where we arrived).

My best friend, Steven, was surprised that I was surprised by this realisation. You do it all the time, he said. Someone will say they like the colour of your hair and your immediate response is something like, oh, mine’s a sandy red, really, it’s not red at all, you should see my sister’s, hers is auburn, it’s really gorgeous…

I suppose the point is that if a compliment is given to you, it’s intended for you. It’s not necessarily someone’s way of saying, You have nice hair, but your sister’s is prettier. It’s not necessarily a pity-comment (She’s so unattractive, I feel bad for her…I’ll tell her that I like her dress and make her feel a little better).

You can’t decide what other people mean. You can decide what you take from a comment: whether you choose to disqualify it, or whether you say thank you, and appreciate the fact that someone took the time to compliment you on something, whether or not you believe it.  Usually, whatever you might suspect, their intentions are honourable.

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