Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Can you take a compliment?

Confession: I have a tendency to be what I jokingly refer to as “an attention whore.”  I cannot deny that I get extremely excited when someone posts something nice on my facebook wall, sends me a sweet email, or comments on the blog; in fact, when I get positive feedback I always want to shout it from the rooftops. Now before you start thinking, “wow, this girl is truly full of herself”, the truly ironic part of this “attention-whore” tendency of mine is that it does not come out of a place of self-confidence; instead, it comes straight out of the part of my soul that feels insignificant, unloved, and unworthy.  Deep down, some part of me thinks that if I keep telling everyone when others say that I am kind or loved or smart or funny, others might believe it is true.  If I am being completely candid I have always known that I based my self-worth on the opinions of others; I have always hated this quality in myself!

One of the most unexpected results of my weight loss/running/health journey was that I started to realize that I was strong and I began to gain confidence in myself.  By the end of 2011, I decided I did not want to spend my life looking for a steady stream of praise to fill the leaking bucket of my self-worth and that while facing the depths of those insecurity issues might be painful, I was ready. After everything I had accomplished this past year, I knew I had the inner strength to face those demons and I made an appointment with a counselor.  While it is easy to write about this now, at that time I really struggled with this; even though I always highly recommend therapy to other people, for some reason I felt that I was an intelligent person and I should be able to “fix” this myself.  I am so thankful that I had the courage to admit that I needed help processing these thoughts; in the very first session, my therapist said something so which truly impacted me and helped me to make a connection that I would never have arrived at on my own. He listened patiently as I explained where I was struggling and how I was angry and frustrated at myself for feeling insecure because I thought only 13 year old girls struggled with ‘not liking themselves’, not 31 year old professional women! Then he responded by stating, “Carrie, I do not think the issue is that you do not like yourself.  I think the problem is that you are actually starting to like yourself, and the thought that you might actually be worthy or lovable is flying in the face of everything you have been told or told yourself for the past 30 years.”  The poignancy and truth of this statement struck me to the core. Over the past few months, I have made huge strides in developing an inner sense of confidence, worth, and value that is independent of opinions of others.  I was ready to kick that insecure little girl to the curb! 

A technique that I have learned through therapy is the practice of ‘mindfulness’; modern psychology defines this as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally; or bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”  While that may be the clinical definition, for me, practicing mindfulness is just a fancy way of saying that  I am paying attention to what I am thinking or feeling, trying to identify patterns and making mental notes of things that I would like to explore deeper later.  It was this technique that led to my most recent revelation: remember how at the beginning of this post I was talking about desperately wanting compliments? Well it turns out I cannot take them.

I do not know how many of you have seen the movie or read the book “The Help,” but a key scene involves Abilene (the maid) telling her charge (a 3 year old child who is being emotionally neglected), “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” The scene is so powerful, because in our heart of hearts that is exactly what we want to believe about ourselves. What I have come to realize is that no matter how much I desire to hear those words, or even how much I may even want to believe those words are true, the reality is that a conversation between Abilene and I would be more like the following:

“Carrie, you is kind”…..”Well sometimes I am, but I can be really selfish too.”
“Carrie, you is smart”….”Ha ha, I may be book smart but I have no common sense.”
“Carrie, you is important”….”Not really, I am single and definitely have not achieved what I thought I would by the age of 31.”

I am not always be that obvious about deflecting compliments; I often disguise self-deprecation with humor.  This week, one of my coworkers complimented me on my television interview and instead of just saying thank you, I proceeded to point out all of the funny commentary on the segment and then made a joke out of the fact that the host stated that you wouldn’t see me in the first wave of runners, or even the second or that at the end the host said, “don’t ask her about the future, she doesn’t know.” Rather than acknowledge the fact that I was featured because I have an inspirational story, I chose instead to redirect the conversation towards mocking myself and the interview.  Since I am working on being more “mindful” I caught myself doing this and as I started thinking about it I realize I do it all of the time! Obviously I have worked really hard this year to get healthy and lose weight and change my life- so why do I say “well, I still have some more to go” or “I just do not want to gain it all back” instead of just saying “thank you, I appreciate that, or thank you, that is so nice to hear”?

I may be reaching out on a limb here, but I do not think that I am the only person who does this. I also think that responding to compliments by negating ourselves or our achievements simply feeds into the nasty lying voice inside our heads that says that “we are not worth it or not valuable.” And I don’t know about you, but I am tired of listening to that voice and believing those lies! So will you join my challenge this week to accept every compliment graciously? (though if I truly am the only person who is overly critical of myself and who has trouble accepting or receiving praise, that is fine, just let me know- at least I’ll have something else to discuss at my next therapy appointment!) 


  1. I'm joining the challenge! I have such a hard time saying thank you to compliments. I also feel like I can't receive a compliment without giving one in return...as though I'm being selfish just to take the compliment and move on.

    1. Thats awesome Sarah! I like your point about feeling like you have to give a compliment in return, I never though about that! Let us know how the challenge goes!

  2. So my husband and I went to the gym today. While working out he said "you look so sexy right now." I said "why" and then it hit me...ding...I didn't take the compliment. I stopped and said I should have said thank you, so thank you babe. So glad you posted this, it has me thinking for sure!

  3. That is awesome Sarah! So proud of you- isn't it crazy how hard it is- it has become so ingrained to question compliments! Thank you for sharing:)

  4. I really liked this post! Good job you for being able to put yourself out there like that. I think alot of women feel the same way and do the same things when receiving a compliment. Thank you for sharing and making the rest of us not think maybe we were the only one.