Saturday, July 30, 2011
“Even monkeys are cute”
That is what she said to me as a small child. I was a small, quiet, polite, pretty child, or so I have been told. I had long ponytails, cute chubby cheeks and a delightful smile, or so i have been told. I remember people would smile a genuine smile when they saw me. They would come up to me and say how pretty I was. I imagine that I probably said “thank you” and smiled at them. I imagine that at one time it felt good to have that happen. That’s what a compliment feels like…. It feels like acceptance… It feels good right?
I guess my feeling good was not what she wanted. Over the years she would replace the pleasant compliments with Her comments of “even monkeys are cute”. People still commented and said how cute I was but I slowly stopped hearing them. I slowly stopped feeling good about their well intended compliment.
I don’t remember when but eventually I would feel dirty or bad when someone would say they thought I was pretty. I often wished the earth would just open up and swallow me whole when someone would say something nice to me. I would even discount their compliments by saying “you need to get your eyes checked”. I eventually stopped thanking people for compliments. Slowly but surely how I looked, my hair, my skin, my smile, my body was made to be invalid by her words and actions. Who I was became invalid.
A compliment would be said and then the thoughts would come:
Why is that person saying that?
Do they really think I am pretty( nice, smart, etc)or are they just saying that.
Am I pretty (nice, smart, etc)?
If they only knew me they wouldn’t say that.
What do they really want from me?
What is this compliment going to cost me?
Please just move on in the conversation…
God, I’m so embarrassed!
I would literally stop breathing and try to move the conversation on…. I was embarrassed. I was shamed to be complimented. It hurt me to have someone say something nice to me. Sometimes it still does…
So where does that come from? Not being validated. When you are born, you are a like a blank tape. You are waiting to record life experiences that you will build off of as you grow. The tape that is initially made is the one that you will carry for your entire life. You will watch it over and over again. You will reference it. It will be the bases of who you learn to be. My tape was filled with many instances of repeat situations: person compliments me, mother says ” even monkeys are cute” At first i would feel good then immediately feel ashamed, feel bad, feel small, feel insignificant to everyone else, feel embarrassed, feel undeserving.
That tape ran for years and sometimes it still runs. Thru therapy I have learned that it’s ok to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated. I have learned that people can mean a compliment when they give it. I have learned that compliments aren’t necessarily fees for something else.
How does one go from being scared of a compliment to being able to take it in. A part of my process on this road of survival is “breathing the compliment in”. I had to learn to stand there and take the compliment. I couldn’t disassociate. I had to hear it and then allow myself to feel it. It was unbelievable the amount of tears I shed the first time I allowed myself to actually be in the moment of a compliment. I cried for the pain of hearing it… But also the pleasure of receiving it. I was told to acknowledge the compliment by saying “thank you” …and with those words breath it in. What a concept! Accepting a compliment! I had to learn to accept a compliment.
I still struggle with compliments… Not as much as I used to. Many compliments are triggers for other things for me and thru therapy I am working thru those. But the moments when I do get complimented and I can feel it and breath it in are some of the most cherished moments of my life. It validates my existence and reminds me that I am here and someone sees me and sees something they like. We shouldn’t need others to validate our existence but it feels good when someone does. When your childhood tape is filled with lack of positive validation along with reinforcement words and experiences to support that, it leaves a person without self love skills.
I have children of my own and since they were born I refer to them by saying ” heh handsome” or “come here beautiful”. I try to say something positive everyday regarding their personality, appearance and actions. It’s my job as a parent to give them a tape filled with positive reinforcements. The world is tough enough. I want my kids armed with a positive childhood tape. That way when the world is cruel, someone is harsh and they can’t find it in them selves to have the strength… They can at least hear my voice saying you are beautiful, you are smart, you are handsome, you are valued.
Have you experienced this? Can you relate? Please share with me..