(Note: This is a guest post I created for my blog friend Liz. I am adding it here, because I want to submit this post to the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. Accepting compliments and increasing positive self-esteem are important and valid issues for us all.)
I remember clearly when I started to change a certain area of my life. I was in college and it wasn’t while I was young, I was an older student. I recall that time period; I was taking a lot of women’s studies courses and loving them. What I learned in those classes and others at college didn’t change what I knew and believed, but they did something vital. They gave me a framework to work with and from. I am who I am today because of what I took from those classes, what I learned, and what I did with that.
One day in class my women’s studies professor said, women don’t often compliment other women. That was something that I thought I could change, at least in my own life. I knew the importance of being honest in giving a compliment, but I didn’t understand how difficult it would be to interact with someone after giving them the compliment and I didn’t realize how hard learning the interacting skills would be.
I am excluding compliments that seem false in this discussion. There are people who are false and tell compliments for their own ends. Sometimes it is difficult to tell, but I think it is a good approach to treat those that we don’t trust differently from those who seem honest and caring in aspects of their life that we are aware of.
I often notice how when I give an accurate assessment/compliment to someone in person they almost always deny or reject it. In essence they are denying or rejecting the truth of the person that they are. They are being unloving and unkind to themselves, to their soul. I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse and I have noticed I do the same thing, and reflecting on my past I see it as well.
I often recall a compliment I received from a co-worker twenty years ago. She said you have flawless beautiful skin. I have been told something like this a couple of times. I have to admit that I was taught by my mother to believe that I was ugly, so believing something like that or taking the compliment and accepting it has always been beyond me, and this was only the third time in my life someone had said this. I said oh genetics, guess I should thank my mother and father for that. She was visibly upset at my glib response, she said, “you don’t know how to take a compliment. When someone gives you a compliment, just say thank you.”
Here is what I have learned about taking a compliment:
A compliment is one person reaching out to you. This is vital that you see this component. If you think that your “brutal honesty” about yourself is what they want in response, you are wrong. You don’t need to tell the other person of your many faults, and bizarrely many people will do that. I’m not being Pollyanna by pointing out something wonderful about you, I am being honest and caring and wanting to interact with you in an honest, uplifting, and loving way.
A compliment does not have to be true about your complete personhood in order for you to accept it graciously. You do not need to say negative and depreciating comments about your self in response. I know you are not perfect. You know you are not perfect. We all accept that. No one needs to know the details.
Another thing that I have seen is that the person being complimented so often takes a sharp and deep breath and holds it and then responds with negative comments about themselves. Holding your breath in is not a normal thing to do. We naturally breathe in and out. Holding your breath blocks you, it holds in pain, it keeps you stuck in a negative space. Breathe in, breathe out.
Often the person giving the compliment will suddenly avoid eye contact with me. Sometimes to the side and sometimes down when they are talking and denying that they are a nice person. You have nothing to be ashamed of, you have just gotten a compliment from another person, you are not being insulted, don’t insult them by denying what they are saying.
Here is how to accept a compliment:
Someone gives a compliment.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Say thank you. Smile if you can. If you can give eye contact, do so.
And if you can, just for one moment, let in a little sunshine into your soul with those words and try, for just one moment, to accept them as the truth, with no debate or words in response, even in your own mind. When a blog friend writes something nice about you, try this approach as well.
I keep a post in my draft area of my blog especially for compliments from blog friends. When I am accepting of all the negative beliefs about myself and can’t believe something good I go there and read all the loving things those who love me have said. Some days I need them like I need to breathe air. Slowly I am starting to believe some of them. Always I try to be gracious in accepting them. Always it is a challenge.
Life is made better by little steps. Often we are taught that we have to make big steps and grand gestures in our life, so often that is not true. We rarely ever accept all our good, even though we readily accept all our bad. If we have a history of abuse in our life, past or present, this is even more of an issue.
True progress, true healing, true living comes in little moments were we turn off all the negative, or at least choose to look in the other direction for a moment, and let in a slip of sunshine. And yes it only takes one moment at a time. Believe me it is cumulative and powerful.
I know, it’s the work of a lifetime, but so is walking your path. Keep walking your path. Walk. your. path. Good and healing thoughts to yous.