When I say I don’t want compliments….

Today in Uncomfortable Self Awareness Revelations: I have finally figured out why I end up feeling worse after asking for feedback than when I struggle in solitude. In the immortal words of The Captain from Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” It’s a problem of definitions. To me, feedback means “providing facts, data points, specifics, examples, ”  To so many others, it means, “Say something nice and/or encouraging.”  I ask for honest feedback. I get praise. It makes me weep.

Generalities are like grains of sand inside my mental shoes. They chafe and grate and rub me raw. They require interpretation and are filled with irritating, incomprehensible nuance. I love interpreting nuances of meaning as an intellectual exercise, but as soon as my emotions are engaged, the stress builds high.

Facts are solid, sturdy things that can easily be passed from person to person without much distortion. Praise is fragile and slippery, so it all too easily falls into the deep emotional hole labeled “polite lies said by people who secretly pity you and want you to go away.” Once it’s in that pit of despair,  it feeds the flames of self-doubt.

Facts seal doubt away, burying it under a solid flow of data. The flow will sometimes hammer my ego to the floor at the same time, but that pit of doubt? It’s still filled. 

I cannot reliably interpret general compliments, however honest they may be. They’re indistinguishable  from polite lies or veiled insults regardless of their objective truth. I can’t tell them apart from their painful cousins, so they end up in the same place. The emotional moat praise must cross to reach my heart is life-deep.

Building a bridge over that gaping pit takes a lot of specific fact-bricks and a LOT of trust. I have to deeply trust people before I believe praise from them–and that trust has to be built and rebuilt with lots and lot of fact bricks every time an ego quake brings all the confidence crashing down. It takes tireless effort to build a bridge strong enough for compliments to safely cross over.

I can only think of five people who’ve built a bridge like that, ever. I married one of them.
I can adult when necessary. Except in extreme circumstances, I will manage courteous thanks and a polite semblence of gratitude for praise-y generalizations. But since you’ve gotten this far, I’ll tell you a little secret: I’m usually not thrilled. I’m not grateful.  I’m often bruised deep inside, and my trust will take a long time to heal.

Give me specifics, or give me silence. I’m entirely unreasonable that way. 

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