Why Won’t a Compliment Stick with Me?

love2eatinpa, 08 February 2010, 14 comments
Categories: Day to Day Stuff
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For as long as I can remember, I have always had a hard time truly believing a compliment someone has given me. I can certainly say thank you if someone gives me one, but I don’t digest it. Hence, my self-confidence and self-esteem has never been the greatest.

When asked recently to name some things I loved about myself, I really had a hard time thinking of anything. After not binging for over two years and losing weight, I can say that I do love my body. I especially like how my muscles look when I’m working out. I feel strong and confident that way. So while that is a good thing, it’s pretty superficial. I really wanted to come up with some more substantial stuff, things that were on the inside of me.

So once again, I brought it up to my therapist. I told him that I felt like a cup that had a little hole in the bottom of it. If someone ever gives me a compliment, it sticks with me momentarily, but it gradually drips out the bottom.

My therapist explained that my proverbial cup has a hole because my brain was deprived of true compliments my entire childhood. He said freedom will come when I can take in a compliment and make it a part of me.

He also pointed out, very importantly, that as I have now become aware that I have this hole, I have a choice to make. I can continue to support the hole, or I can take steps to put a plug in there.

He then, as always, asked me questions that make me think and come up with answers, like – why won’t I take a compliment in? What would it do to me? Why do I not give creedence to the message someone is trying to give me? Whew, all good questions! I didn’t, and still don’t, have an answer for them. I need to let it simmer for a while.

There are a couple of things that I think are at play here with my self-confidence issues:
1) I just got done reading a really interesting in a book, called “Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating” by Geneen Roth (thanks, Mary Kate!) One point that really resonated with me was “you begin living a lie, eating one way in public and a totally different way when you are alone. “If they really knew the truth about me, if they knew how much I could eat, if they knew how devouring I am, they would be appalled.” From there it is a short distance to, “If they really knew me, they wouldn’t love me. Who I am is not worthy of love and must be hidden.

When you lie, sneak, pretend to others, you lie, sneak, pretend to yourself. When you tell yourself that you are not worthy of eating in full view, you tell yourself that you are not worthy of being seen and known in full view.”

2) As I’ve mentioned before, my mother was not the biggest nurturer and while my memory could be wrong, I don’t recall her being a person who ever empowered me as a female. She certainly applauded my good report cards and sports achievements, but she didn’t pass down to me the real stuff -that I should believe in myself, I could be anything I wanted to be, I was a good person, I was beautiful, etc.

3. Lastly, my father gave me a lot of compliments, mostly relating to athletics, that were over the top. I knew it was his way of being proud and probably trying to be a good father who thought his daughter was talented, but I always saw his compliments as being not real because I knew that in reality, the level that he put me at compared to other people was untrue. I recognized from early on that they were well-meaning, but superficial.

So I think that all these things combined, that went on through my childhood and even through today, have contributed to my lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. But now that I am aware of this, I now have the opportunity to try to reverse all the stuff that was (or was not!) put in my head for all those years and figure out how to plug up the hole in my cup so that I can be a woman, wife and mother who is confident in herself.

So I have started to come up with a list of things I love about myself. I think that would be a good start.

Are you good at accepting compliments? Any advice on how I can have one stick with me?

One Day at a Time... Nurture myself... Awareness... Letting Go... Listen to my Body

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14 Responses, Leave a Reply
  1. Jess
    08 February 2010, 5:12 pm

    I totally understand what you’re going through. I’m an “Act as If” kind of person when it comes to compliments. I crave the acceptance of people yet don’t believe them when they give me positive feedback about anything I do.

    It takes everything to say, “Thank you,” because even if I know in my heart they mean it, I have a thousand-and-one reasons why it could never be true. It’s part of the broken, “If so-and-so really knew me . . .” messages I (and others in our situation) have tattooed on our psyches.

    Our hidden lives, however, aren’t so hidden. People see more of us than we think, and we do act on those thoughts–some broken, some not. When I give compliments, I consider the emotion I have within, its reason, and what it means. I don’t compliment all the time (and I am still a huge critic of me and others, stemming from an arrogance I need to release to G-d coming up here soon).

    From your actions and writing, this is what I have experienced since I’ve “met” you:

    You’re a generous person who wants to help others. Exposing your weakness (and we are all bound together in this weakness) so others can grow from your experiences gives hope to desperate people searching for an answer. I appreciate that your life isn’t perfect because it reminds me that my recovery from binge eating is progressing. Most of all, when I read one of your journal entries, the loneliness goes away. I know that when I come here, someone who knows how it feels to desperately want to be a “normal eater” but can’t. Your solutions, ideas, challenges, and hope allow me to believe that some day I will be a person writing from the other side of 24 months of abstinence. So there is a slew of compliments, take ’em or leave ’em.

    The most important thing is that they are true and that I know when I arrive at this website, I’m home–just like when I walk in the door of a meeting. That fellowship gives me strength to make it to the end of the day, and that makes me smile.


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    yes!!! i crave compliments and pats on the back, but then i kinda don’t believe them once they are said. *sigh*
    thank you so much for your very kind words, i appreciate it and know, coming from you, they are heartfelt. will i take it all in and digest them? well, i’m really going to work on that. i can, however, say is that i appreciate that you feel that way about me and my blog, that i am somehow helping you.


  2. Diana
    08 February 2010, 6:30 pm

    A lot of us have a difficult time with compliments. I have a hard enough time saying thank you and not pointing out all the bad things or qualifying it!

    When I made my 50 things I love about me list it was very difficult. Especially not putting qualifiers. Why is that? Maybe you need to fake it till you make it. Put down things you think you may like about yourself…no qualifying. It may be that after a while you grow to love them and it comes easier. Good luc!


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    i hear ya, diana, i often qualify the compliment too — oh, you think my hair looks nice? well, i just left the beauty parlor, it will never look this way again until seven weeks from now.
    holy crap, 50 things? yikes, i was just trying to do 10! you and jess both said to kind of “act as if” or to fake it, so maybe that is what i will think of when i try to make my list.


  3. Anonymous Fat Girl
    08 February 2010, 7:29 pm

    So many things in this post struck a cord with me. For one, I’ve always struggled with taking a compliment. I’ll put on a smile and say “oh, thank you!” but I don’t really believe it. Sometimes I’ll say, “are you kidding or just trying to be nice?” I’ve never really thought about why I don’t take a compliment well until now.

    My mom also wasn’t a nurturer or close to me when I was a young teen or young woman for that matter. We never had “girl talk” and I never felt like she understood me.

    It’s interesting thinking about the potential for a connection there.


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    i wonder if that is the missing link with a lot of us, i know it plays a huge role for me – we weren’t nurtured by our moms so therefore we turned to food for comfort and nurturing. yet i’m not angry with my mom, i’m sure she did the best she could. i can only take what i know and move forward.


  4. Yum Yucky
    09 February 2010, 10:08 am

    I had no guidance, no nurturing, no hugs growing up. Just a roof over my head with food and clothing – the basics. Compliments were definitely hard to accept in my twenties. That was the most difficult time.


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    how did you get over that, josie? are you able to accept them now?


  5. Patsy
    09 February 2010, 11:47 am

    Same here… If someone compliments me, I had to add a negative comment to it… Like “Wow, you look great – you’re really losing weight”… “Yeah, but I’ve still got a L-O-N-G way to go…” Why can’t I just say “Thank You”? lol


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    i totally hear you! i wish we weren’t wired this way. i’m going to see if putting together a list of things i love about myself can help get me over this hump. giving thought to my therapists questions should help too.


  6. jackie callahan
    09 February 2010, 8:52 pm

    I never could accept compliments until I started doing affirmations for myself. When I first started, it felt awful, it was so uncomfortable to say nice things to myself, but little by little, after years of being very faithful to the practice, I started to believe the compliments. Equally important was learning to short-circuit the negative self-talk. Every time I hurled an insult at myself, I would catch myself, say, “No, that’s not true, in fact I am…” and give myself an affirmation. Yes, at first, it’s downright painful, but little by little you start to break down the walls. As I’ve said before ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics – but you don’t have to have alcoholism in your family history, it works for a history of dysfunction of any kind – and if parents don’t know how to teach self love to their children, then this program applies) helped me so very much. It really helped me to learn to love myself and that was the first step toward, accepting love, nurturing, or even simple admiration.
    Compliments WILL stick when we start believing them ourselves. Take it in! You deserve it! Truly!


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    thanks, jackie, for the info and support. i am working on the “things i love about myself” list and i’m also questioning, at my therapist’s suggestion, why i can’t hold on to a compliment. i will keep looking at my list and hopefully, as it did for you, the affirmations will help me to love and nurture myself so that the compliments will stay with me instead of dripping out the bottom of my cup. 🙂


  7. mishree
    02 September 2012, 7:06 pm

    I have the same problem as you do. Growing up, my mother was always hypercritical despite the fact that I was a pretty good child, well behaved and did well in school etc. She would nit pick about the smallest things like -why didn’t I get 100% instead of 98% on my math exam. In my teenage years she turned towards appearance. I didn’t grow very tall and she thought making me exercise would make me grow taller. So she would attack my appearance saying the cruelest things- that I was ugly, fat, looked horrible for being short to get me to exercise. I never grew beyond 5 feet-for no fault of my own really. I ate well and exercised…it was just in my jeans to not grow, I suppose. My parents are both taller than I and so is my brother but height etc. are determined by many things, not just how many stretching exercises you did. Anyway, the criticisms stuck and now I can do nothing about the way I look. My father on the other hand like yours gave me such exaggerated compliments that no one could possibly believe them, least of all me, especially since my own mother kept telling me the opposite. This gave opportunities to others-my relatives, neighbors to pick on me and put me down. My parents never once defended me. So I never grew up with a healthy sense of self esteem. However, I have come to accept myself just the way I am-good or bad. I have also realized that good/bad are relative terms especially for looks. I have seen some unbelievably ugly girls being called gorgeous by their families, bfs and even themselves–it all boils down to perception and who is willing to believe what. I also realized it ultimately doesn’t matter. This has helped me to become more free of other people’s opinions of me. I feel that I am fine just the way I am, I am neither great nor the worst–somewhere in between and that I am neither better nor worse than anybody. If someone finds me pretty, so be it if they don’t so be it. I am who I am. When people give me compliments, I tend to not believe them-mostly because I suspect ulterior motives and agendas or just a social nicety. But I try not to over analyze or let it bother me because it is their problem and their opinion. A simple thank you works and I move on to something else. No need to make things more complicated than they already are. Ever since I have accepted my self as I am, without judgement, I don’t need compliments and criticism also doesn’t affect me much. Of course if someone did show sincere appreciation it would feel nice but I can never tell for sure. Criticism comes by often and I have learned to see when it is constructive and when it is not and when it is a result of jealousy and ill will.
    As for my parents, sometimes I cannot believe my mother’s cruelty but slowly I am trying to get her out of my system. Who knows why she said what she said but that is her problem after all. My dad thinks he is wonderful and is proud if his kids just because they are his kids so what he says doesn’t mean anything-even if it is positive. Anyway, it is his problem if he wants to live in delusion. True happiness is not in thinking or believe you are wonderful but in finding out that it doesn’t matter one bit. What matters are your actions, your attitudes etc.
    mishree´s last blog post ..Guest Bloggin’ at Truth2BeingFit


    love2eatinpa Reply:

    hi and thanks for stopping by! i’m sorry that you had a childhood similar to mine, but wow, i am so impressed with what you have learned about yourself, what the truth really is, and how now of the rest of it matters. you are inspiring!


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