How do I learn to take a compliment better?

Dear Liz,
Since undergoing gastric bypass surgery I find that coworkers and people in the community relate to me differently. I also find myself getting attention from men that is uncomfortable. My friends tell me I should accept compliments and enjoy the attention but I find myself uncomfortable. What should I do?
– Skittish

Dear Skittish,

The ability to take compliments well is definitely a skill that many women struggle with – including me. I tend to make jokes to fill the awkward silence that follows a compliment. But we’re not here to analyze me, are we?

To answer this, I am turning to my friend, fellow blogger Jim LaPierre who runs the BDN blog called Recovery Rocks. Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist, and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life.

Here is what Jim had to say:

First and foremost, you should know that what you’re experiencing is completely understandable and actually very common. As a therapist, I’ve walked a lot of folks through the adjustments of gastric bypass and other ways in which people experience significant weight loss.

It’s a sad reality that in our culture that people are treated differently based on appearances. Not only do we tend to emphasize thinness as attractiveness; we also associate it with being successful in countless personal and professional areas. You may notice that your boss is a little more attentive these days or that your social circle is a little more inclusive of you.

Emotionally this is a very mixed bag. People who are significantly overweight usually feel that in many respects they are invisible to others. Perhaps you’re not accustomed to having people stare or indicate that they find you attractive. This may be unwanted attention and/or something that you want but struggle to be comfortable around. The key is to get comfortable in your own skin in order to maintain your dignity and self-respect.

To be comfortable with self is no small thing. It’s self-acceptance. It’s self-respect. Most of all, it’s relating to yourself with the same kindness and care that you show when you relate to others. Those of us who survived being bullied, teased, abused or neglected usually come to have very negative senses of self and we have what counselors call, “negative self-talk.”

My friends in recovery call it the “inner critic” or the “itty bitty sh*tty committee.” It’s the perfectionist side of us for whom nothing is ever quite good enough. I have two suggestions and both of them require using your imagination and being completely honest with yourself.

First: Go ahead and stand before that mirror and imagine that you are looking at a friend. How does that change what you see? Are you looking beyond the faults and appreciating the whole? How does s/he look? Are they acceptable? Are they becoming healthier? If this were your friend, would you encourage them? Would you want them to have lots of support with adjusting to change? Would you want them to share their struggles with trusted others and be able to just be real about how hard this is?

Whenever you’re stuck, imagine a friend in your shoes. Whatever you’d suggest to them? Stop overthinking. Stop avoiding. Just take the advice you’d give.

Second: Taking (appropriate) compliments matters. My challenge to you is this: Prior to your weight loss, were you gracious in receiving praise, recognition, or appreciation for things that had nothing whatsoever to do with your outward appearance? Too many of us are stuck in a negative self-image or experience discomfort with relating to others due to anxiety or depression. I’m a big believer that all of us need and deserve to be affirmed, validated, and valued.

Good luck!

~ Liz

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