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The Joy and Pain of Compliments


I love compliments! I love giving them to people I know and to strangers on the street. I love seeing that little bit of joy spark in their eyes, how their face lights up. And I love receiving them! Today, walking home, a lady shouted out of her car window that she loved my hair! How lovely is that?!


Not everyone is as happy as I am, though.


Sometimes, the person receiving is so happy about the compliment, that the light stays, and that’s wonderful.


In many, they’re not used to compliments so, after the initial joy, comes the doubts; the ones where they don’t feel they deserve it; they don’t feel they deserve the kindness; they can’t believe what was said is true.


I work with a lot of women and girls who are like that. They think so poorly of themselves that anything good said must be a lie, or a platitude, someone just being kind (there is no just about being kind; every act of kindness matters).


In my book, La Vie Est Belle, I talk about compliments, and how I encourage others to see them. I like to see compliments as gifts; gifts that need no wrapping, that can be very small, but can often reach our hearts more than any gift before.


We’re all busy. We live in a world where busy-ness is encouraged, even celebrated. We run from one task to the next, squeezing in all the things we feel we have to do. We rush around, heads down, thinking five steps ahead of what’s on our to-do list. Then, add in the extra worries of health, the environment, politics, the future for children, and why on earth does yoghurt exist (okay, that might just be me 😉). Few of us schedule in time to relax, to do self-care, to be a human being and not a human doing. We can go through our day to day, feeling that we aren’t being truly seen; that people are often all too eager to take but rarely give back; that others have forgotten that we have needs and wants, too.


Our brains are so busy with everything.


But, then, someone stops and gives you a compliment.


Someone, someone who is worrying about how they’re going to get the 1,512 things done in their 1,440 minutes that day, notices you and decides to gift you some of their very precious time by paying you a compliment.


You, yes you, have something about you that has made another person stop, focus, and go out of their way to give you a compliment. They could have used the time to start on one of their tasks, or to take a breath, or to roll their eyes at the person walking so slowly in front of them a snail would overtake them, but they didn’t. They saw you and chose to give you that moment, that piece of time they’ll never get back, to tell you something they thought was wonderful about you.


That’s a beautiful present. And you deserve it.


But.


Not all compliments are good compliments, even with the best intentions behind them. The compliments from strangers are moments in time; they don’t know you so their words are based on who they have seen in that brief interlude. But compliments from people in our circles, friends, family, acquaintances, can be well-meaning but are often received loaded with judgement, guilt, fear.


Many of these compliments are the ones that lots of women, and some men, are given.


You look great! Have you lost weight?


You look so slim in that outfit!


Your hair up/down/curly/straight that way makes you look so much younger!


Following only meeting via Zoom, you’re so much prettier in person!


I love that you just don’t care what you look like!


You look so pretty when you smile.


You carry your weight well.


Your hair looks great! Have you done something different?


You look really good with makeup on.


You deserve to be much smaller with all the exercise you do.


You, as the reader, as the giver of some of these compliments, may think these all sound fantastic. What wonderful things to hear!


In my work, as a confidence coach with my Community Interest Company, I hear many things from my clients and workshop attendees, and I know from my own experience, when I had no confidence, about how these compliments feel, believing they highlight our insecurities.


I’ll give you reasons why the above compliments are not the best to receive, and simple alternatives.


What the compliment giver says:

You look great! Have you lost weight?


What the receiver feels:

I can only look good as a smaller person.

I am not accepted in the size my body is naturally.

I have lost* weight but it’s due to health issues/stress/grief; are my emotional needs less important than how I look?


*I talk about language in my book, too; the words lost and gained are covered in terms of weight.


Simpler compliment:

You look great. Or, it’s so lovely to see you!


What the compliment giver says:

You look so slim in that outfit!


What the receiver feels:

Do I look the size of a bus in everything else?


Simpler compliment:

You look wonderful! Or, it’s so lovely to see you!


What the compliment giver says:

Your hair up/down/curly/straight that way makes you look so much younger!


What the receiver feels:

Do I look ancient otherwise?


Simpler compliment:

You look wonderful! Or, it’s so lovely to see you!

Can you see the theme developing here? 😉


What the compliment giver says:

Following only meeting via Zoom, you’re so much prettier in person!


What the receiver feels:

Do you think I look awful on Zoom calls?

Does everyone think I look awful on Zoom calls?


Simpler compliment:

It’s fantastic to meet you in person! You’re even more fabulous in real life.


What the compliment giver says:

I love that you just don’t care what you look like!


What the receiver feels:

I do care!

Do they think I look awful?

I’m going through so much; can’t they see that me being here is what’s important?


Simpler compliment:

I’m so glad you’re here! I love spending time with you.


What the compliment giver says:

You look so pretty when you smile.


What the receiver feels:

Do I look awful the rest of the time?

Are they saying I’m miserable?


Simpler compliment:

Your smile lights up the room.

Your smile makes me happy.


What the compliment giver says:

You carry your weight well.


What the receiver feels:

Are they saying I look fat?!*

How else am I meant to carry it?! In a basket?!


*Fat is just a descriptor, like magenta and rectangular.


Simpler compliment:

You look so good!


What the compliment giver says:

Your hair looks great! Have you done something different?


What the receiver feels:

Does it not look good the rest of the time?



Simpler compliment:

You look wonderful! Or, it’s so lovely to see you!


What the compliment giver says:

You look really good with makeup on.


What the receiver feels:

Do I look awful without it?

Are they saying I need to wear makeup all of the time to be acceptable?


Simpler compliment:

You look wonderful! Or, it’s so lovely to see you!



What the compliment giver says:

You deserve to be much smaller with all the exercise you do.


What the receiver feels:

Do they think I am exercising incorrectly because I’m not smaller?

Are they saying I don’t look good because I’m not smaller?


Simpler compliment:

You are so fit and strong!


There are some that feel compliments should never be about external appearance, and I can understand their reasoning; however, I, like many others, like to be told I look good. I spent so long hating what I looked like that, now, I like to be told complimentary things about how I look.


However, I am not, and neither is anyone else, just about their external appearance. There is so much more to me than my pretty frocks and hair flowers, just as there is so much more to you than the clothes you wear, or how you do your hair.


I feel compliments can include comments about external factors, as long as they aren’t likely to be misunderstood, but that it would be better to focus more on all of the wonderful things that make us who we are.


Tell someone that you love their hugs.

Tell someone that you feel joyful when you hear them laugh.

Tell someone that their company makes you happy.

Tell someone that you feel brave because they are so supportive.

Tell someone that they are appreciated.

Tell someone that they are wonderful just for being who they are.


And, when someone gives you a compliment, believe the person means it and say thank you. And remind yourself that you deserve to be told wonderful things 💜💙.




If you feel you would like to work on believing that you are fabulous, book some one to one coaching with me; you’ll be believing you’re fantastic in no time!



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