On Compliments

You have to love yourself or you’ll never be able to accept compliments from anyone.

Dean Wareham

If you know me, you know I am a social media user (Fine. Addict.). Depending on the platform, I leverage my accounts for different reasons. I’ve mentioned them in a previous blog, so I won’t go into details here. Lately, I’ve been using Twitter as an outlet for dealing with a lot of emotions I am struggling with generated by my personal and professional lives. I have found a number of kindred spirits to whom, being acquaintances and in some cases anonymous, I can express myself in ways I cannot with close friends and family. Partly, that’s because I know how much those IRL are handling themselves. How can I add to their burden? Things are overwhelming for many. Even my closest colleague, the person I look to model some of my behavior because he’s been through a lot of crap and still finds balance, asked for a COVID-19 free zone. I tend to chat and exchange silliness with Twitter friends I have met to blow off steam, quell anxiety, and distract from my troubles.

A few days ago, one of my Twitter friends sent me a message. It was a follow up from a topic we’d been discussing publicly on Twitter that had spilled over into DMs (direct messages). I love to discuss ideas and gather viewpoints from many sources, and I especially appreciate deep and thoughtful exchange. I do not know this person in real life, it’s a virtual Twitter account, and the person behind the account could be an illusion. I am always cautious about sharing certain details (having had a stalker in real life last year that found me through Facebook, it’s a concern I have), and when things go beyond general friendly banter, I am leery. The message was very nice, kind, and complimentary. A bit effusive in its content. Which made me uncomfortable.

In my life, there have been times when others don’t like me because of who I am and what I do. That can be hard, because I can’t be anyone else. I do what I do because it’s a passion that fires my soul. Then there are times when people just don’t vibe, for whatever reason. That’s just life. What I find most difficult, though, is when I feel I am not being seen for who I am, through rose colored glasses that seem to only see the positive. No one is all good or all bad; no one is all shiny and not dark. It’s the combination of opposing forces that creates the unique individual we all are. Achieving balance, zen, whatever you want to call it is what I strive for in my own personal life, and is what I feel is critical to being authentic. I do not aspire to be seen as half (or less) a person. The exchange bothered me so much I felt an intense recoil, and I sought refuge in writing. When I feel so much, my favored expression is through poetry. The discrete cadence captures the rhythm of emotions as they swell and swirl inside. Here is what I wrote.

“I don’t like being put on a pedestal.
No one should be, ever.
We can be admired and loved, but the minute we are seen in a way that is blind to imperfection we become less.
We cannot grow without the bumps and bruises.
We cannot be better if we are seen as perfect.
We cannot truly be appreciated until every flaw is revealed and cherished.
We cannot be authentic without our cracks.
They are what make each of us a unique treasure to be celebrated.”

Of course, after I shared all this with a friend, she told me something that’s also probably true: I don’t take compliments well. That sometimes, people are simply conveying how they see you. Truly expressing appreciation. And isn’t that a gift? Because as we are often our own worse critics, our internal focus can be skewed and we ignore or downplay all those things that make us shine that others see and we cannot. We see the funhouse version of our reflection in a mirror instead of what we truly look like as seen from the outside.

I went back and reread the exchanges, with new eyes. And realized that my initial recoil was probably driven both by not being used to compliments on something I take for granted as being just me and by my previous bad stalker experience. And I was able to accept the compliment as it was intended.

Balance. I’m still trying to get there.