Compliments are nice to hear, there’s no denying it – getting positive feedback always helps to boost confidence and brighten your day. But have you ever had a moment where a compliment you received turned sour the longer you thought about it? Over the last year, I’ve been more aware of how some compliments have been manipulated by the way we use our words. In some cases, these compliments can become destructive to the speaker or the receiver of the compliment. But there are ways that we can catch these comments in the act and reverse their negative effect for all parties.
Take a moment to think back to any moment that someone, or even you, have said something along the lines of “you are so much smarter/more beautiful/stronger/etc. than I am.” I can think back to a few times that I’ve used this form of praise. In hindsight, I realize it was damaging for me to compare myself to someone else. There seemed to be a subliminal urge or need to lower my own confidence to increase someone else’s. Once I started paying attention to how I felt about myself after saying this kind of thing, I recognized that I was just damaging my own confidence. Without realizing it, I had been perpetuating the idea that we need to compare ourselves to other people in order to feel like we’ve accomplished something or are successful. When we convince ourselves that we’ve failed to live up to someone else’s success, we feel bad about ourselves. (And nobody wants that!). I can guarantee that the person you’re trying to compliment probably wouldn’t want you to lower yourself to boost them up. As an alternative to the aforementioned negative dialogue in sheep’s clothing I’ve begun to say things like “your strength is really inspiring”, “I always learn so much whenever we talk”, and so on. These kinds of compliments present positives for both parties and drag no one down.
I’ve talked to people, mostly (but not limited to) women, who receive “compliments” from significant others like “I want to show you off.” I encourage you to ask the intentions of this type of commentary. Question it. Most times when I’ve asked for the explanation, it usually has more to do with physical appearance than anything else. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tell your partner that they are attractive or give/accept compliments on their appearance, (definitely keep doing that!). What I’m saying is that the basis of “showing off” has an underlying tone of possessiveness and you have to be careful how you project your view of your partner or mindful of how your partner is projecting their view of you. Instead of phrasing it like you’re an award that has been won, you can rephrase and say, “I’m so excited for my friends/family/coworkers to meet you." By saying this, you are giving more of a compliment to the individual and their personality than something as superficial as their looks.
Language is a powerful tool and it has influence on the speaker and the person to whom they are speaking. The way in which you speak about yourself to others acts as a model for how people can talk to you or about you. The language you use in these scenarios is an often-overlooked aspect of self-care that should be brought into question. If the way someone talks to you or about you doesn’t make you feel good or help you to grow positively, you have the right to question it.
Written by: Megan McKague