I love to give compliments. I want people to feel good about themselves. I’m not afraid to tell a random stranger that they “look great”. But, just like most of us…the compliments I give are usually based on physical attributes—not always, but often. And while it feels nice to both give and receive compliments, they can also be complicated.
The compliment conundrum
We have a compulsion in our culture to constantly comment on each other’s looks, to the point where it’s considered rude if we don’t mention a friend’s new haircut or recent weight loss.
I got a lot of attention growing up for being good at sports, and I’m pretty positive that the attention I received fuelled my passion to succeed—I also let that attention and success define me. I was “an athlete”. But, the same is true when we give people attention for the way they look.
I developed an eating disorder in high school. I was never overweight, but I was never the skinny girl either. After losing a significant amount of weight, too much weight, for the first time in my life I was getting compliments and attention for something other than my athletic abilities or academic accomplishments, it was for the way I looked.
And while compliments can seem harmless, constant remarks on appearance, even in a positive light, can create weird fixations that we wouldn’t necessarily have had otherwise. When we receive repeated compliments, we learn to value that, and we fear losing it.
How compliments can fuck us up
Its crazy, but the very thing that is building us up, can also be tearing us down.
For example, if your entire life people have told you how young you look, and you identify yourself as someone who looks young, what happens when you don’t look as young anymore and you lose that positive reinforcement? Do you also lose your identity? It’s a dangerous game when our identity gets tied up in external validation.
Validation is not dissimilar from a drug. You snort the powder, take the pill, throw back the shot and that high you get becomes addicting. Unfortunately you can’t get validation from a sketchy dude in a dirty alley…ok, you actually probably can, HA. However, you can definitely get it from places like Instagram and Facebook. That “like” is a little temporary high and the more likes we get, the more we crave and the fucking crazier we become!
BUT here is the thing…DO NOT mistake validation for value because they are two very different things.
It’s important that self-esteem and confidence come from within. Ya ya, sounds like some bogus hippie shit, but I know from personal experience that external validation does not and has not made me happy. Happiness and self-confidence is bigger than a number on a scale, or likes on an IG photo or sitting with the cool kids. Do these things make us feel good, YES, but they don’t = happiness.
The longer we rely on outside entities for validation, the further away we drift from ourselves. The further we are from cultivating the most important relationship we will ever experience in our lives — the one we have with ourselves.
I’m 31 and JUST starting to gain an understanding of what it means to build confidence from within. Those things that once defined me: “being an athlete,” “being lean,” those are fluid and constantly changing, but they are not WHO I am.
I am: an only child, a daughter, a friend, a third wheel to my couple friends, sarcastic, mouthy and opinionated.
So…where da fuq am I even going with this?!
Spend a moment to reflect on where you get your confidence from and what truly makes you happy. Those things will come to fruition when you are working to achieve your full potential, adding value to the world, and are present in the moment rather than focussing too much on meaningless shit like IG likes or the abs you used to have.
That’s not to say we can’t give each other compliments—if you look hot, I’m still gonna tell you. But I think we need to be mindful about when, where and of what value those compliments are. Let people know their value in your life. Let them know that you are looking past the physical, to truly see them, and ask them to see you back.
This week, I challenge you to give a compliment unrelated to someones physical appearance. Maybe even take it a step further and let them know the value or impact they have on your life <3 Happy Sunday.