When someone says ‘you look nice today’, what’s your gut instinct?
I’ve been guilty many times of shrugging compliments off with an automatic “oh, this old thing, I just threw it on,” or “no I haven’t washed my hair in days.” We are often well prepared for criticism, especially people like me who grew up hearing a lot of negativity (surrounding my body), so it can really throw us when a compliment comes our way.
By default, if someone gave me a compliment I presumed they must be taking to piss. It’s sad, I know. But I grew up being a favourite of the bullies so anything which sounded nice was usually just mockery. Then there were the backhanded compliments, for example “oh, but you’ve got such a pretty face” with an uncomfortable glance down at my body.
I didn’t have the strength to stick up for myself back then. If anyone did compliment me, a true real genuine compliment, I would never have been able to accept it anyway. It takes courage to accept criticism, but quite possibly even more to accept a compliment.
Building confidence and self-esteem is never quick or easy. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things, mine was to force myself out of my comfort zone and get on a plane to Australia. I never thought I’d have the confidence to travel, but ended up doing over four years’ worth.
It’s the old ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ cliché. The bad stuff in life teaches us more than the good stuff sometimes. As for bullies, they obviously have very little respect and love for themselves if they have to belittle another person to make themselves feel better.
We live in a world where we’re bombarded with expectations of how to look and how to act, so we grow up with critical eyes for both ourselves and others. The media makes sure we’re feeling like we’re not good enough in order to sell more products. They’re feeding off our insecurities and encouraging critical outlooks, and our compassion is getting lost somewhere within that.
So what can we do to help kindness be a little easier on the ears? Practice accepting compliments. Practice, Practise, practice. Instead of jumping in automatically with ‘no but’, stop for a moment and listen. Shut off that critical inner voice and think about the person giving the compliment. Can you be kind back? It might have taken them courage to give you the compliment too. The might be feeling a bit shy or embarrassed. Surely a ‘thank you’ is better all round? And not a fake one either – really try to feel it! If you don’t completely believe the statement, that’s ok, but you can still thank the person for taking the time to saying it.
Through time and practice we might be able to shift the balance of criticism and compliments so they have the same importance. We might start to remember the compliments more. We might even really start to believe in them.
We need to practice giving compliments too. Genuine compliments, when your heart tells you to, not ‘oooh what a lovely…errr ..tie’ as they’ll sense your insincerity. Unless they really are wearing a very lovely tie.
Behind a true compliment is true kindness, and we sure do need a lot more of that in the world. We all have a responsibility to share and promote kindness, and the first stage is to start trying to accept it.