Compliments: how to uncover low self esteem in 10 seconds or less

Oh, great. These sandals are off limits now. Can’t wear them again. There’s obviously something wrong with them.

Someone complimented them.

screaming cat
This cat feels the feels.

HORRORS.

What’s wrong with a compliment? Only everything. A compliment about my appearance means that something about [my attire, my bearing, my makeup, my dumb face…] drew someone’s attention, enough so that this person was moved to speak. This attention means I’ve failed at one of my goals in life, which is to lie low.

I know. That’s not supposed to be my goal in life. All the after-school specials told me I am supposed to BE MYSELF! LET MYSELF SHINE! DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING! But what if “being myself” means hiding my light so far under a bushel that no one can tell my bushel from anybody else’s? We’ll return to this question in a bit.

Back to compliments.

The aforementioned footwear compliment happened  as I was leaving work the other day. I was minding my own business when I happened to pass someone on the stairwell. I know her by sight, as she works in the same section of the building, and I went through the familiar cost-benefit analysis that comes with the decision to greet or not to greet. Greeting calls attention to myself, but constantly being the one to respond to a greeting may make me seem unfriendly. I decided on eye contact, which means smiling as well. Eye contact and smile returned. Awesome. A successful stairwell interaction.

But then…

“Great sandals! We all need a little sparkle now and then!”

Oh, fudge ripple.

I laughed and thanked her, continuing down the stairs, but inside I was screaming. “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM? Are they inappropriate office attire? Are they too sparkly? Are they dumb shoes for babies?”

dumb shoes for babies
The dumb shoes.

My compliment phobia isn’t confined to footwear. Someone once complimented my purple shirt; see ya later, purple. Which is all well and good. Yesterday, however, someone complimented my hair. WHAT DO I DO NOW? I know that shaving my head is an attention grabbing move and thus out of the question. I finally thought I’d found an acceptably nondescript style, but now do I have to try to master an even less eye-catching configuration?

I assume you get it now. Compliments = something is wrong. Something is sticking out from the tight ball of mediocrity that I hope to make my appearance. Wrap it back up, please. Smooth it over with plaster, a nice nondescript grey paste that can harden into a smooth shell. I’d be happy to fit in with the rest of the furniture.

grey stools ARROW

Which probably sounds a little dramatic. Or heartbreaking? But there you have it.

What about other types of compliments? Given the fact that I am seriously approval-seeking when it comes to work and school, you might think I’d love compliments about my performance there. And you’d be partially right, but I have a whole different set of complexes for those situations.

So, finally, back to the question of appearance: is it wrong to want to disappear into the background at all times?

I want to say, “Of course not! That sort of attitude in no way indicates horrible self-esteem and a wealth of emotional damage,” but I’m trying this whole thing where I’m honest with myself.

So what to do? I’ve made a list for myself:

  1. Learn how to accept compliments gracefully. I found a Lifehack post that gives some suggestions.
  2. Try to believe compliments. It’s probably not very nice to assume that everyone who compliments me is a big liar-pants. I know and respect some of these people, so isn’t it kinder to give them the benefit of the doubt?
  3. Take more risks with my appearance. I’m going  to wear red lipstick today. For reals.
  4. Try to let my personality shine, without worrying so much about the outer shell. The after school specials also promised that real beauty comes from within. Time to test this theory.

Any other suggestions? Post them in the comments!

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