Sunday, 21 August 2016

Off Topic: Compliments That Make Us Uncomfortable

I was listening to the Thinkergirls on Friday evening and a topic came up that gave me pause. One of the presenters commented on how she now hated a jumper, because someone who she did not like had complimented her on the jumper. For me, it was one of those moments, when it really touched a nerve. Suddenly I was thinking about all those times when I've given someone a compliment and that compliment has not been taken gracefully. It's always felt like a bit of a hit--suddenly, it's out there that someone I hold in high esteem does not like me, or considers me unworthy. Either way, it's a pretty good sign not to talk to that person again.

A part of human nature seems to be to divide people into two categories--people that we consider to be our equals, and people that we consider to be our inferiors. I don't think that we necessarily do this consciously, and I think it is different from divisions that people create between themselves and others through ignorance and upbringing, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. I think we seek approval from people who inspire us, and want to create some distance between ourselves and people who we fear may not be good for us. To some extent this is a good thing--a teenage girl would be right to immediately distance herself from an older, unrelated man for example. Unfortunately, there are times when the human brain over-reacts, and when someone we do not hold in high esteem compliments us on something that we are secretly feeling insecure about, it can dig up a score of unpleasant feelings, and a strange feeling of dislike toward the the person, and the thing that was complimented. 

As I said in the first paragraph, I've been on the receiving end of this (ie the person who gave the compliment,) and it is not a nice experience. That feeling, of realising that someone who I (previously) held in high esteem dislikes me is not a nice one. It can rattle around uselessly inside my brain as I wonder what I've possibly done to offend them, or why I'm just not good enough. It's a complete waste of my time, of course, as I'm not responsible for what other people think, and as long as I treat others with respect, I'm not responsible if they decide that they do not like me. That said, if you don't like a compliment from me, fear not. You're unlikely to get another one.