Can't You Take A Joke?
When I was a kid, the phrase "can't you take a joke?" was a familiar one. As I passed puberty I slowly navigated the funny scene and got away with getting, or pretending to get, most jokes, I started to strengthen my inner belief that others were their own beings and their interpretations of me didn't necessarily reflect my goodness-- I started to take fewer things so personally, at least on the outside.
My tender innards, were still, well, tender. And it was as if that translated to the self-deprecating pattern women are expected to form. I was as good at taking a compliment as I had been at taking a joke. I sucked at it.
Don't Throw Away The Compliment
I accepted compliments like I would molding bread proudly presented by a dinner party guest. Feign a smile and when they weren't looking, pressed foot to trash-can pedal and in she goes.
Only I didn't notice what I thought was mold were poppy seeds and the loaf still warm with love.
When someone would say, "I like your skirt," I'd either trash the thing or how I looked in it. Yea, you, too?
As I got better, this shifted to telling the complimenter how cheap it was. This wasn't much better than tossing the good bread in the trash. Perhaps it was closer to composting, but the bread was still good, and kind, and full of love, and I couldn't accept it.
Downplaying a compliment is throwing away love.
We might think it humility or modesty. But this kind of appearing humble is pride's best disguise. We loathe so intensely our own being that we go out of our way to help others loathe us, too. This is just as self-centered as the arrogant bitch who stole your boyfriend. We say that she thinks she's better than everyone else; you think you're worse. When in fact she's hiding her shame with power, and your hiding your power with shame.
Breathe a moment. You might already know this, but perhaps you forgot to tell your tongue and teeth before they formed the words, "Oh, it's nothing really," the last time someone raved about the food you made or the scarf you knitted or the class you taught. You might have even left your house thinking, "damn I look good, wonder if anyone will notice?" And when they do, you toss away their compliment like moldy bread.
Can you imagine someone handing you a thoughtful, maybe not perfect, but thoughtful and nice gift on your birthday, smiling half-heartedly in full denial that you deserve anything, and chucking it when they walked away? That's what it's like not to take a compliment, you're throwing away gifts from those who want you to know they see you. There could've been money in the card a top the gift and you'll never know.
Compliment V. Affirmation
What I really want to point out here is the difference between a compliment and an affirmation. An affirmation is a statement of heart felt truth. This is the definition I am going to use. Webster says it's a validation, a confirmation. I added heart-felt because that's what I'm hoping you leave with -- a feeling in your heart that is true.
Sure an affirmation could be telling someone their skirt is blue, or their eyes are brown, or their hair is curly. It could also be saying, "I laughed at every line. In fact, the whole room was laughing. You're really funny." or "When you listen to people I see them relax. One women's eyes even welled up. it was as if I could see the trust in her for you from across the room."
Affirmations are undeniable.
Compliments are opinionated judgments.
Perhaps you disagree on the color of the skirt, you see blue, your boyfriend sees black, but the point is, you're stating the obvious. The person may be a little weirded out, but their not going to deny it. You may have had the experience of someone saying to you, "You got your hair cut!" And you're like, "duh, idiot. I know, I was there." When instead they mean to say, "wow I just noticed you got your hair cut and __________________ (this is how I feel about it)."
If they tell you how they feel, and it's nice, it's a compliment. But maybe every time this person has complimented you on your hair, you've blown them off, thrown their warm bread in the trash. And so now they're trying a different tactic. Affirmation.
Problem is, when affirmations are not played thoughtfully, they can come across like, "Hey stupid, I'm gonna tell you something obvious." The moment is awkward, and you're caught wondering, well, do they like my hair, or think it looks like their Uncle Reggie's mullet?
For an affirmation to make a difference, it must be heart felt.
I don't mean gushy, I just mean honest and intentional. Pull something out from under the surface of stating what they already know. If when you see someone and are impressed with how they carry themselves, instead of chickening out to tell them you like their outfit, you might say, "Your presence in this room is powerful and inspiring." Lots of people can put together a few good looking garments, but few can carry themselves with the authority of self-loving awareness that raises chins from chests. Let them know you see them.
Look in the mirror and give yourself some mundane compliments:
Notice how they are all visual, or mostly. And about something the person has "on" not the person herself.