It has come to my attention recently that I have no idea at all how to take a compliment. Seriously.
Whenever someone tells me something positive about myself, I have this strange and powerful need to correct them…or worse yet, I feel this overpowering sense of shame. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned just to say thank you and not thrust my giant ball of crazy onto the other person (Well, most of the time anyway) but in my mind, as this is happening, my inner chorus of fucktards is just screaming at me all the reasons why what the person is communicating, is not only not true, but that I am so far BELOW the bar that I am completely undeserving of praise.
From my earliest years in school, before school, my parents enrolled me in Tumbling. Its like Gymnastics except without the bars, beam, and vault. It’s the floor exercise without the dancing…just straight tricks. You build up to doing 10 – 14 aerial (no hands) tricks in a row. Training for it was incredibly intense, and I did it until I was fourteen. I was damn good at it too. Trophies, medals, qualifications for international competition. Several trips to the Jr. Olympics (Because Tumbling is not an Olympic sport)…You get the picture. I ran myself ragged. Into the ground. Training 6 nights a week, often until late at night. I’d do my homework while I was doing the splits and working on my endurance training in the gym…or wait until I got home and do it until midnight then get up at 6am to go to school. This was in elementary and middle school. I’m not going to focus on the obvious effects it had on the development of my social life (I had, literally nothing in common with many of my peers, which essentially gave me a big fat target on my head socially) – instead I’m going to focus on the development of a mindset that has haunted me my whole life. The “No matter what you do it will never be good enough” mindset.
I vividly remember the first time I threw an incredibly difficult trick out of the foam training pit. The trick is called a “Double Back”. Essentially, it’s a back flip on steroids. Instead of just flipping your feet over your head once and landing like a normal person, you do two full rotations and then land. It is an incredibly difficult trick to throw because you have to keep everything tight and tucked in, your back rolled in a certain way…you have to get the right height…its one of those things that takes balls of steel. I was twelve. I landed it, I was shaking from the adrenaline. My coach was watching me…Instead of telling me what a good job I did – She looked right at me and said “You are never going to win this year unless you lose enough weight to get the height you need, keep your hips rolled under properly and point your toes. Do thirty crunches and get back in line…You look bloated in that leotard.”
From my earliest days, I was taught that believing compliments was the quickest way to not only get conceited, but to get complacent. It got to the point, from the illustration above, that instead of getting affirmation when I tried new things, and reached out of my comfort zone, took risks, you get the idea – I was actually scolded and punished for not being “as good as I could be.”
As you can imagine, this mindset pretty much dominated my thinking in everything. School, Relationships, Theater…everything I did. Even after I left tumbling it was there. That nagging voice in my head telling me that nothing I ever did was good enough, That I had to push myself past the breaking point to even be considered, and that in the end, if I ever believed I was good enough – I may as well pack my bags and go home because I’ve already fucked up. Add to that the fact that I have a thundering chorus of fucktards that live in my head and basically repeat every awful thing anyone has ever said to me pretty much on a daily basis. I’ve written pretty openly about my past relationships (the abusive ones and the ones that just fizzled because of one stupid thing or another, even the ones I ruined.) Yeah. Its getting to be more than a real pain in the ass.
This…problem…has been plaguing me even more than normal recently. Not just because of the problems that have occurred with other people – the back stabbing, the petty rumor mongering, the judgmental bullshit, the blatant abandonment – But because I am trying to, for the first time in a long time, learn how to move through it, feeling things, and not pull away.
There are a small handful of people in my life at the moment that are completely amazing. People that understand that this is the way it is, that I’m kind of crazy, and that sometimes I need help and perspective on things. People that will help me put that crazy in check. This makes this challenge harder for me in that – the impulse to pull away from these people is strong (Fear of abandonment) but its easier in the sense that they all already know that’s what I’m thinking and will all walk me through it.
Of this group, two stand out. One of them is like my brother. I haven’t had this kind of close relationship with someone since my best friend passed away suddenly in 2011. We refer to each other as siblings, and I know I can tell him anything. He sent me a package the other day with a gift card and some gummy bears just because he could, and he knew I was down.
The other is a very significant person in my life that I can (and have) also told any and everything to. I don’t get along with many women, at all so yes, both are male. This person has become my rock. He’s been there through some of the craziest stuff that I’ve been through from a social standpoint because of the politics involved in some of this stuff. He’s one of the few people in my life that understands my need for privacy as far as the details of my life go (as in – I don’t feel the need to share certain things with random people and social networks), he understands the impulse to shut people out and won’t let me do it. He has seen me REALLY REALLY upset and crying so hard from frustration and he still comes back to tell me I’m strong and that he isn’t going to go anywhere.
This all ties in because both of these men are very good at paying me compliments. My impulse when this happens is to list off as many reasons as I can for why the things they say are wrong. I actually do this a lot without thinking. Both of these men calmly walk me through why what I just said is ridiculous.
Compliments that I find especially difficult to deal with are ones about my physical appearance. I’ve put myself through a lot of things in my life that have made me have a very skewed sense of my physical appearance. The technical term is “Body Dysmorphia”. Basically I see myself as a morbidly obese awful looking mutant with terrible skin. Add to this my socially awkward derp and you basically have a recipe for “Worst High School Experience Ever.” It was. Many things that happened after that have only re-enforced these skewed perceptions.
It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to realize that they were skewed. Now that I know they are skewed, it makes things even more awkward to deal with. The pain of the compliment is there, the inner voice is going, and I logically know it is skewed – but Its REALLY HARD to stop any of it.
I have gotten to the point where I can just smile, and say thank you. I’m still at the point of trying to institute these patterns, get in the habit of doing it, and letting what the people actually said sink in…but I’m still not feeling the way I should be all the way yet.
Re-shaping some of these thought patterns has been one of the hardest and most frustrating things I’ve ever had to do. It is opening old wounds, it is making me think and re think things that should be second nature to me. The anxiety is causing a ripple effect and aggravating my PTSD. It’s a bitch.
Despite all that – It is totally worth it. I found out over the last few months from the people who weren’t colossal bags of assholes – the people who didn’t cut and run – the ones who didn’t abandon me…I found out from them just how awesome it can be to have people in your life that really love you. People that aren’t your blood relatives that see your flaws, and your struggles and not only accept you, but pay you sincere compliments.
For the first time in a very long time this week, I accepted a compliment without arguing the reasons why it wasn’t true. I still said them in my head. I still felt massively uncomfortable…but I smiled and said thank you.
Every day, things get a little bit better. Nothing about change like this is easy…but everything about it is worth it.
xo xo xo