If you, like me, would rather artificially inseminate a stallion than receive a compliment, then this article is for you. Here’s a quote:
“…receiving praise from others when we feel negatively about ourselves elicits discomfort because it conflicts with our existing belief system. If we believe we’re truly undesirable, hearing compliments about how attractive we are will feel jarring and inauthentic. If we believe we’re unintelligent, someone lavishing us with praise about how smart we are will feel more like a taunt than a compliment. And if we’re convinced we’re incapable of success, receiving praise about our how capable we are can feel like a set-up for future heartbreak and disappointment.” (Winch)
No, I am in no way filled with self-loathing. This is about self-perception. We all may have areas where our self-perception doesn’t line up with the truth. Better still, we might know that our self-perception is off, and yet we don’t know what to do about it. A rather stereotypical example of this might be the supermodel who doesn’t believe that she’s beautiful or sexy. Here is a woman paid large sums of money to trade on her phenotype all the while perceiving herself to be unattractive. The world holds her up as an icon of female sexuality and beauty while she feels like an awkward kid on the inside. Her self-perception in no way lines up with how others view her or with what might be a more objective reality. Our self-perception does not necessarily have to agree with other people’s perception of us. Wouldn’t it be a welcome change, however, if our self-perception were based on a more objective reading of the truth?
What if, for example, we were able to better receive compliments around behavior or doing? “Wow! You did that so well! I love that!” Many of us struggle to believe that we can do anything right at all or are so perfectionistic that nothing is ever good enough. Receiving compliments around our efforts, therefore, produces feelings of great discomfort in us because another person’s perception of our efforts simply does not line up with our own. A sudden urge to hide (shame) might come forward, and we may become self-deprecating: “Oh no, it’s not that good. Really, there are so many things I need to fix there.”
This dynamic might also be at play when compliments are directed at our appearance: “Oh, you look so nice! I love that blouse on you. It’s so flattering.” If you are feeling less than attractive, then a compliment like this might make your day! Or, it might feel jarring as the article suggests: “How can she see me as attractive when I’m so clearly not?” In a way, it produces feelings of confusion and lends itself to a weird kind of crazymaking. Cognitive dissonance is afoot here.
Why is this worth discussing? When we begin to emerge from dysfunctional relationships, we may not yet have insight into the beliefs that we picked up along the way. We may sense that we do not feel like “our old selves”, and we may wonder why we feel so differently. Self-perception is a big topic, and it’s worth looking at as you build your life. It’s also worth observing how you feel when others compliment and notice you as they can act as a kind of measure for your self-perception and, hence, your self-esteem and present shame experience. Do you like and welcome compliments? Do you appreciate an ego boost? Are you able to receive compliments around your behavior and efforts, or is this difficult? Are you able to receive compliments around your appearance which links into your sexuality? Is it easier to receive compliments from your own gender as opposed to the opposite? For me, I find it easier to receive compliments from women than from men. This is worth noting. How do you feel when a person of the opposite gender compliments you? Do you crave compliments?
None of these questions are meant to garner self-judgment. They are like dropping breadcrumbs to aid in gaining insight into whether or not our self-perception is accurate. When a life is in transition or even in turmoil, doing small self-inventories can be very helpful in gaining momentum to move forward and jumpstart a healing process.
For further insight:
Why Some People Hate Receiving Compliments by Guy Winch Ph.D