Mileposts in the Distance – Complimentary My Dear Watson

by Stacey on October 13, 2011

Note from Stacey: Every Thursday we’re thrilled to offer Laura’s Mileposts in the Distance column. You can read more about Laura below.

No reports of back sliding this week!  This week is a little pat on the back, a job well done.

Why?

I received several lovely compliments last week from friends and relatives I hadn’t seen in at least a month.  And I’m proud to say that my response was “Thank you.”

Two simple words, yet saying them sincerely is the result of an enduring internal battle of restraint.  For the longest time, I was a champion compliment deflector.  If asked “have you lost weight?” my response would inevitably be, “No, heavier than ever.”  Or if someone complimented my outfit, I would tell them how cheap it was.  Or if someone said my hair looked great that day, I would usually say, “Really?  I think I’m going to cut it off, it’s so awful.”

The funny thing is when I am confident about something, it’s easy as pie to accept a compliment.  Over the years people have said kind things about my writing, and it’s never been hard to thank them.  The thought of arguing them down from the compliments never crossed my mind.  I know how hard I try to convey my thoughts and the fact that anyone would take the time to read and give me feedback means that there is little else to do but give my thanks in return.

But outside my comfort level, that’s a whole different ball game.

Now I’ve never gotten to that awful point of arguing against a compliment out loud (the verbal responses were probably better characterized as disparaging).  But a good deal of my adult life has been spent smiling at a deflected compliment while I mentally rolled my eyes and listened to that inner chorus spelling out in intimate detail exactly how wrong the person offering the compliment was.   It would have been rude to say aloud, “What?  Are you out of your mind?  Can’t you see that my shoes are wrong, my hair is flat, my pants are tight …” (I’m sure you can fill in the blank.)

I sure did think it though.

But I do know that some of the things I really did say, while not as wildly mean as the inner dialogue, made so much less of the person who thought to compliment me and so much more of my perceived imperfection.

It all came to a head one night when I was out with friends.  I was wearing a necklace with vaguely Art Deco overtones I purchased at a great sale at Kohl’s.  One pal, who has a rather eye-popping, jaw-dropping jewelry collection, stopped me to peer closely at the necklace and exclaim, “That’s fabulous!”  To which I replied, “Oh, this?  I got it at Kohl’s for $15!”

In one short sentence I questioned her taste in liking my necklace, my own taste in choosing it and drew a little bit of line in the sand in front of my awesome skill at finding a bargain.  Never mind the fact I was absolutely delighted by that necklace, it was impossible for me at that moment just accept the compliment.

I used the same reply when another pal repeated the compliment.  When I tossed out my blithe response, she stopped in her tracks, narrowed her eyes and said, “Next time, just say thanks.  Or if you need a back story, say you found it in a fabulous art shop in Taos, New Mexico.”  What can I say?  She was a writer and back story was her thing.

But what caught me on that evening was her direction to just say “Thank you!” with a big bright smile.  The rest is just about me and my own insecurity.  Sure, there’s an audience somewhere who is ready to hear about my shopping bargains, but not in that moment when a sincere compliment is being handed to me.

From that point on, my aim was to simply give thanks and leave it at that. (And to only indulge in the back story if asked.)

It was one of the hardest tasks of self-restraint I’ve ever undertaken.  Why couldn’t I just accept gracefully?

Was it because I was humble?  Ha.

Was it because I don’t want to be the center of attention? I own three tiaras, I believe in attention.

Or was it really that I wanted to guide the complimenter’s reaction to me, so that maybe the less exciting or confident parts wouldn’t show as much?  Bingo.

I won’t pretend I never threw out a self-deprecating retort again, but I’ve learned to curb that response the majority of the time.

At the same time, I decided that perhaps I’d learn to receive if I gave a few more sincere compliments along the way.   And that was the best, easiest lesson I’ve ever learned.  Now when the moment grabs me, I will tell that person on line at the grocery store that her lipstick looks amazing on her or that her shoes are so perfect or that the jacket brings out her eye color.  Simple and sincere and when she catches herself saying “Oh, but…” (and they often do) – I just say, “You’re welcome.”

But back to last week.  The compliments were about how good I looked: slimmer, leaner, stronger arms and torso.  I have been running as well as working out with Becca for a while and even though that small voice in my head whispered “The numbers haven’t changed” I knew for a fact that I looked and carried myself well.

For the first time, ever, I felt the same about these compliments as I did about the writing ones:  I had worked hard for them.  I really did deserve to hear them.

So I said smiled, said thank you and moved on to the next topic.

And only discussed what a fabulous bargain my new skirt was when asked.

Laura Reeth lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with the man of her dreams. With kids off at college, she no longer plays the role of active, day-to-day parent, and has moved into the complex understanding-parent-of-nearly-adult-children role. The main difference is she gets more sleep now.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen NightingaleNo Gravatar October 13, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Laura,
This post had me laughing out loud. Know that this is a family trait that we inherited as Maher women: ) Thank you for sharing it!
Love,
Ellen

Reply

LauraNo Gravatar October 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Ellen,

I swore long ago to not let my inner Maher dominate. So I’m always surprised when she pops out — and she’s usually right. Blunt, but right.

Love,
Laura

Reply

StaceyNo Gravatar October 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Woo HOO! Hear! Hear!

Thank you SO much for sharing what it looks like (after much hard work, of course) to completely, sincerely, and with your whole heart acknowledge your accomplishments.

In our culture, the voices inside our head are much more likely to say, “Who do you think you are….” than pay a simple compliment. This post is brave and inspiring — please add it to your many accomplishments.

Reply

LauraNo Gravatar October 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Stacey,

Thank you. :)

Laura

Reply

Cara SteinNo Gravatar October 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I love this! I’ve had a hard time accepting compliments, too. I felt like a phony, and I think I had some kind of subconscious idea that they were a trap: If I accepted them, it meant I thought they were true, which meant I was a stuck-up jerk. Silly, isn’t it?

What I finally realized was that if you won’t accept a compliment, it’s kind of insulting to the other person, like “how could you be so stupid as to think this necklace I’m wearing is good?” On the other hand, if you say “thank you” enough, you can come to believe it yourself–whatever nice thing the person has said starts to seem true. That feels a lot better for everyone!

Reply

LauraNo Gravatar October 14, 2011 at 7:31 am

Cara,

That’s so it! Negating a compliment IS insulting to the person giving it. Learning how to give compliments made accepting them so much easier after I received a few “What, this old thing?” comments.

Thank you for posting!
Laura

Reply

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