Recently, I was talking to my therapist — yes, therapist. Yes, I go to counseling. No, I’m not crazy (at least I don’t think I am). No, I’m not ashamed that I do this. I actually would recommend that most people try counseling at some point; it’s incredibly helpful. Anyway, we were discussing my ongoing struggle with self-confidence.
She asked me straight up, “Why do you think you have such an issue believing that you are just as cool and valued as you believe all other people are?” (sidenote: therapist or otherwise, make sure you have people in your life who will ask the straight-up kinds of questions. Clear questions often produce the clear answers you’re seeking)
I thought for a minute and then the lightbulb over my head lit up, and the cute little lightbulb sound effect went off. Bing!
“Ohh,” I said. “I think I know. It’s because words and feedback are so incredibly valuable to me, and so often I hear praise from people about other people. When I talk to people, they’ll beautifully rave about other people in their life, which is awesome! It’s great to speak highly of others. But it’s also sort of detrimental. Because I hear and hold onto cool things about those others, but feel a lack of positive feedback directed at me about me, it makes me feel less worthy and valued. I think that phrase ‘You must get this a lot’ is a bunch of crap because we definitely don’t hear compliments about ourselves a lot anymore, at least not to our faces.”
Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but I doubt I am (sidenote: this post is definitely not meant to be a personal cry of desperation to receive more compliments from you all). I don’t know what it is about our culture. Maybe it’s because we often assume that everybody else already recognizes and believes in their own strengths, talents, and beauty so they don’t need to be reminded that they’re great. Or we believe if we do not yet have confidence in ourselves, we have to go on this epic, solo mission-journey to find it, without anyone else’s help and if we receive or accept feedback and compliments, we won’t ever achieve our mandatory, individualistic confidence. Or possibly it’s because we fear planting seeds of arrogance, so we don’t accept compliments directed at us and we don’t easily hand them out to others.
I think we assume a lot of things about each other – I certainly assume people understand my way of thinking, when they often are not even remotely on the same page. We may assume a little too much that people already know their own strengths and good qualities. In reality, I think everyone is hearing how cool everybody else is and feels the weight of a lack of praise and feedback about themselves. “I hear you talking so highly of that person over there, but…what do you think about me? Am I doing okay too?” Sometimes I want to ask that question; sometimes I just need someone to tell me that they think I’m doing okay. We could all use a little more love to our own faces, right? Why are we so good at directly giving “constructive criticism” but not loving compliments?
So, attempting that whole “be the change you wish to see” mentality, my goal is to become better at directly complimenting people when I notice something I admire. It takes a lot more courage and vulnerability to do that than to talk about somebody’s strengths to someone else, but I think it’s worth it. It’s worse to not let someone know what you like about them. It reminds me of that one episode of The Office where right after offending her in front of a group of people, Michael confides to the cameraman that he thinks Pam is a wonderful artist, but he would never say that to her face. Let’s take some wisdom from the great Michael Scott… and do the exact opposite of that. What’s stopping us from looking someone in the eye and telling them what we love about them, or what they’re excelling at, or just how wonderful they are?
And for some reason, it feels like compliments themselves have gotten a bad reputation, like if you tell someone they’re cool one too many times, then poof! They’ve become a terrible, horrible narcissist. I really don’t think it works that way, people. I actually think that lack of self-confidence correlates with a lack of direct, genuine, positive feedback from our communities and loved ones. We think not depending on anyone else will boost our self-esteem, but I actually think it’s hurting us all. We need that feedback — as human beings, we crave that, whether we recognize it or not. It creates this intimacy that we greatly desire. Sadly, in our individualistic, community-is-slowly-depleting, “It’s scary to look someone in the eye and share a loving thought, and vulnerability equates to weakness” society where we all keep each other at arm’s length, we cut off the opportunity to grow together through the intimate act of sharing positive feedback about one another with one another. We’re really great at putting our friends and family and acquaintances on display for others, raving about them when they’re not around. And we’re really good at conversing with people when we’re talking about how great other people are. Why can’t we tell everyone directly how cool they are, how funny they are, what you love about them?
Can we be brave enough to give a genuine compliment straight to someone? Then maybe the phrase “You must get this a lot” will become more true — and that’s not a bad thing at all, but would just be a testament to the natural recipe for love and confidence.