On Being One… And Of Women And Compliments

Compliments, or rather the way we accept them, are a reflection of our sense of self-worth. Paradoxically, while most of us like hearing praise, we have difficulty accepting compliments. because both are at the core of our self-estee, women have difficulty accepting compliments about their looks, whereas men have difficulty accepting compliments about their skills .

Today, I would like to review women and compliments. Let me start by inviting you to view one of Amy Schuman short video which is perhaps a hilarious example of this (Warning: Graphic language).

From an evolutionary standpoint, women evolved to be “givers.” This makes sense since women were, and continue to be, the ones to become pregnant and have to nurture their progeniture, not just for the 9 months of pregnancy, but up to the time the child was of an age when s/he could fend for him/herself. In general, givers have a difficult time accepting things, whether it be a compliment, a gift or even attention from other people and particularly their mate.

Because we can only define ourselves when compared to others, compliments have a way to get to the heart of our discomfort, our sense of insecurity about who we are, and our place in the world. So rather than accepting a compliment, women (and to a great extent men) have been conditioned/programmed to reject the message that she is worthy.

Part of the responsibility lies with the media, social and otherwise, which does its best to destroy a woman’s self-esteem in order to make sales. Perhaps too many women believe they won’t be “beautiful” unless they wear a certain brand of make-up (for the record, the cosmetics industry is a $230 billion a year industry!), carry a certain brand of purse, wear a certain brand of shoes, or are a certain body type (for the record, the weight loss industry is a $60 billion a year industry!). From Madison Avenue’s perspective this approach makes sense since if advertisers can convince you of their message you will buy their products.

Family is also responsible inasmuch as girls are usually taught to be modest. However, I would encourage all women (and men) to stop blaming their parents for who they are and to take responsibility for who they choose to be.

Of course, we men don’t make easier since we are evolutionary programmed to be visual. Because we evolved as hunter-gatherers we developed a very keen sense of imagery. Of course, Madison Avenue has also done a “good” job of convincing us that we are “worthy” if we have the “right” looking mate on our arms. But Madison Avenue is not solely to blame. Most movies brand “winning” men as the one who is the toughest and always gets the pretty girl. Even less than “macho” movies carry the same message. Perhaps the “guiltiest” party here is Disney where the fair (and usually helpless) maiden falls in love with prince charming (or other hero-type). Seldom do the characters exchange any semblance of an intelligent dialogue (Shrek being, for example, an exception). Rather, they look into each others’ eyes and walk into the proverbial sunset to live happily ever-after. Really?

Circling back to our evolutionary process, because women evolved to be nurturers, they also evolved to be conflict-avoiders. Receiving a compliment can be perceived as becoming the center of attention and creating tension with others around you. Women then tend to deflect the compliment back to the person who offered it as a means to make others feel more comfortable since you then believe you will not be perceived as superior to the rest of the group.

Perhaps hardest of all is accepting a compliment from your partner. This is interesting insomuch as your partner, perhaps even more than your parents, knows (or should) you intimately and is best placed to offer a compliment. Yet, most women find it difficult because, if they have a low self-esteem, they will feel obligated to live up to the expectation offered through the compliment and fear, of course, that they will not measure up. Exacerbating the problem may be the belief that your partner will leave (i.e., stop loving you) if you fail to live up to the compliment (i.e., your partner’s love is conditional). In fact, by rejecting your partner’s compliment(s) you are more likely to cause the relationship to end, either because of the stress you feel over having to live up to the assumed expectations or because your partner begins to either resent the way you reject the compliments or stops complimenting you all together since you won’t accept them.

However much difficult it may be, I would encourage all women to gracefully accept sincere compliments (i.e., no cat-calls or fake compliments meant to get into your pants), whether offered by men or other women, with a simple “thank you” and a smile. Accept the fact that you are “good enough” or “pretty enough.” In fact, even if it is an insincere or back-handed compliment, simply say “thank you” and smile and let it roll off your back for an insincere or back-handed compliment speaks more about the person who uttered it than it does about you. Cut yourselves some slack. Try it… you may be surprised at how it affects your self-esteem.

With love,

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