It has been brought to my attention lately that I have difficulty taking compliments.
I’m not really sure when this began, but at some point in life I developed a talent for dismissing nice things that were said about me. It went beyond simply having a sense of low self-esteem; it descended into a full-blown lack of trust for my fellow human beings. Of course, one could logically point out that the second point doubles back on the first, with the lack of trust actually stemming from having such low self-esteem I couldn’t believe anyone could genuinely believe such nice things about me.
It doesn’t really matter what the reason was. Even though I craved positive affirmation, I could never take a compliment cleanly.
Two instances in the past two months have made this abundantly clear about me, and the ironic thing is they both involved the one thing in life I am actually confident in – my ability as a writer. I write a short column each month for the monthly newsletter at the radio station I work for. For some reason, writing it the past two months has been nothing short of maddening. At one point, while writing last month’s column, I literally reared back in my chair and hit my head against the wall behind me. I submitted something for publication each month, but I wasn’t happy with what I had produced.
Shortly after I had submitted last month’s entry, one of my co-workers complimented me on what I had written. In fact, I think he even used the word “perfect,” and if you knew how loathe I am to mention that, you would realize I didn’t drop that word in to brag on myself. I almost immediately countered his compliment by telling him how much I hated what I had written and how much of a struggle it had been to even finish it. I also figured he was just trying to puff me up, since he and I had discussed my self-esteem issues before.
Earlier this week, another co-worker actually called me from home after getting off work to tell me he had just read what I had written for this month’s newsletter. He was very effusive in his praise, telling me how what I had written was powerful, beautiful, and poetic. He may have even used the words “nailed it” at one point. Since I wasn’t that crazy about this month’s entry either, I again launched into an explanation of how difficult it had been to write and how I wasn’t happy with it. In this instance, I figured his praise was an instance of someone trying to kiss up to me, since I am technically his boss.
We’ve had a couple of snowstorms in the past few weeks, and I have been able to spend some time at home just doing this – writing. Today was one of those days. I set up my laptop on the kitchen table and did what a great many writers spend significant amounts of time doing – staring blankly into space. For some reason, as I sat there, those compliments I described came into my head. I wondered, “What if they really meant what they were saying? What if I really did do as good a job as they were saying?”
So I’m going to try to do a better job of accepting compliments. I’m going to try to just say “thank you” more often. I’m going to try to stop questioning people’s motives when they say nice things about me. I’m going to try to not look at the floor when someone talks to me about something they think I did well. I’m going to try to not point out all the mistakes I made when someone tells me I did a good job.
Just as I didn’t realize when I stopped accepting compliments at face value, I probably won’t realize when I eventually do. That would be fine with me, though. I’ve been too self-aware for too long now anyway. And if you agree with that last statement, I will just say “thank you” and move on…