While at Readers’ Studio, I was chatting with Elinor Greenberg and Diane Wilkes. During out chat Elinor turned to Kooch Daniels and commented that several of my blog posts incorporating Tarot and psychology were some of the most insightful writings on the topic that she had read. I immediately made a self-deprecating comment along the lines of “knowing my own bullshit”. Elinor commented “Just accept the freakin’ compliment”. That stopped me dead in my tracks. Like a lot of people, I find it easier to take criticism than praise. Why? What is there in my soul, my ego, that cringes at compliments?
I wasn’t always this way. As a child I was very much a solar baby – soaking up all the attention and praise that I could get. I was a very good student and relatively well behaved child. In fact I was often embarrassed by teachers telling my mother they wished they had a “classroom full of Debbies”. Looking back now I realize that I began shying away from praise when it began to cause mocking by peers. One incident in my junior year of high school is still seared into my psyche. I took typing and steno (because why the hell not?). During one class the teacher asked for volunteers to read the transcription we had just completed. I can’t remember if I volunteered or was selected but as I was reading it I could hear a voice from behind me mimicking and mocking me as I read aloud. I felt so hurt and defenseless. I started tearing up and knew I couldn’t let them see me cry because (as I’m sure many of us remember) high school can be quite a dog eat dog environment. Another classmate sitting next to me realized I was close to losing it and told the mocker to cut it out. I will always appreciate her defense of me. I managed to finish reading without breaking down but it really took the joy out of that class for me.
Looking back I realize that kind of thing happened a lot to me. Not as cruel as the mockery and mimicry but being teased for being a brainiac, egghead, using $100 words. Even friends would make comments about my vocabulary so instead of feeling proud about it, I ended up feel embarrassed, shamed. Even in my family I’ve heard comments like I “think too much” or that I’m the “smart one” as though it makes me an outsider. I sometimes joke that I’m a Lisa Simpson in a Bart & Homer kind of world. It’s funnier to say than it is to experience.
This is just my roundabout way of explaining why I resist compliments – because I always assume they’re actually backhanded insults; ways to mock and tease me. I hate feeling that vulnerable and exposed so I go into an offensive position – I make fun of myself before they can do it. I treat it like a joke so they won’t realize how much it truly hurts me. It’s amazing and sad to me that after 30+ years that incident still causes pain. It’s not as painful as it once was but there is still tenderness and soreness attached to the memory. It’s ironic that when I was on FaceBook I got a friend request from the same person behind that incident. Just another reason I prefer to not be on FaceBook.