Narcissism – Just Say Thank You

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I don’t mean to thank someone for being a narcissist because no. I am talking about learning how to say thank you when a compliment is given.

Does it freak you the fuck out if you get a compliment?

When Mountain Girl and I first started being friends, she gave me this glowing compliment. She told me how much she loved my writing and how I could make her laugh and cry. She referred to me as a humorist.

She is a talented and accomplished professional musician. I work in a cubicle. 

I felt uncomfortable and actually told her to shut up and I changed the subject. I may have hid my face behind my hands because that is a reasonable way for a grown woman to behave.

You know how you have that one pair of pants that are cut just a little off and, while they kind of fit, they really don’t and when you sit down the seam cuts into your crotch? I was uncomfortable like that. Well, her compliment didn’t make my crotch hurt, but I had that level of being uncomfortable. 

I don’t remember exactly my train of thought, but I am certain this is in the ballpark:

She’s just being friendly. She’s a friendly person and that’s what friendly people do. They say friendly things. And how the fuck am I supposed to hear a compliment about my blog from a real professional artist? That’s crazy. I’m not in that league. 

Children of narcissists feel they aren’t good at anything.

Unless, you are in a golden child/scape goat situation, the golden child usually can’t fail. I was not a golden child.

I found out at a young age that I pretty much sucked at everything. I also learned that life was easier if I continued being a fuck up because excelling at somethinggratitude had worse consequences.

My dad lost his shit when I started working in I.T. He worked himself up over my new career for months. 

I just thought I was so smart. And did I know that he had a chance to work in data processing? Yeah..yeah he did, but he turned it down because it’s a dead end job and it really doesn’t take the brains people think it does. Also, everyone at his work went to him for all their computer issues. He didn’t need a computer programmer title, being great at the computer was all the reward he needed. 

Even if I’m good at something, I don’t know how to feel good about it.

My experience is, that if I am good at something, I feel tremendous anxiety. My experience is also that I’m not really good at anything. 

I know it’s bullshit. I can’t possibly suck at everything. No one sucks at everything. It’s also possible that I’m good at a few things.

What I should have done when complimented was say thank you, I should have thanked my friend for the lovely compliment and basked in the glory that is me.

That was hard to type.

I can talk about what a motherfucking bad ass I am in this space. But really, it is way more self-deprecation, not self-admiration. But to say that I’m good at something? I mean, just say those words without being a smart ass? That’s when the anxiety kicks in and my nasty little internal voice cranks finds the volume control up to 10. 

I don’t know if I’m a good writer or not. I know I’ve improved. I know I have my moments. I also know I don’t edit enough because it’s boring. I buzz through ideas and post them without waiting for the ideas to flesh out. I’d probably improve if I exercised a little patience and took the time to edit.

I’ve been doing the same type of work for 28 years now. If nothing else, I have to admit that I’m at least proficient. It’s impossible to do something for 28 years and not be a little good at it. Unless you are stupid, and I am pretty fucking far from stupid.

Narcissism doesn’t get to win. At least, not all the time. 

It’s easy to tell you guys thanks when you say kind things to me because I’m typing it. There’s still anxiety because I really do suck at getting compliments, but it is easier to not deflect because I can’t see you.

I want to learn to be more gracious. I want to learn to say thank you.

I don’t think I’m ever going to be completely comfortable with compliments.

I’d be happy if I could just to the point where I at least appear comfortable with accepting a compliment.

I don’t hate compliments. Are you kidding me? I love them. I love being told I’m good at something or that I’ve entertained someone. I just wish people could write them on a note and slide them under my door.

 

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60 comments

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  • Great piece – and I SO GET IT! Friends compliment me on my skin. Good genes, I say (which is true). And I think, yeah -good skin on a fat girl. BFD. Friends compliment my writing and I think, yes, I can write – but they’re being nice. In the “real world,” why didn’t my query letter inspire that editor to call me for the whole, amazing story? I hate the underlying fucking fragility. And I’m OLD. Why haven’t I grown up and gotten over that shit? I may be better, but I doubt I could live enough years to become completely zen and mature about everything.

    And Michelle – YOU CAN WRITE. Famous words to Erma Bombeck (do you ever go to the workshop? I’ve been to two; still struggling). Anyway . . . thanks for putting yourself out there in your amazing blog. Hugs from Cleveland — Kate

    • I went to the last workshop and it was AMAZING. I can’t WAIT to go next year. And I get the SAME skin compliments and respond EXACTLY the same. HAHAH. good genes.

  • I’m 65 and I’m still completely amazed that people actually like me! It’s crazy how odd I feel when someone is excited that I’m present. I’m pretty sure we never outgrow this. We just have to take private moments to remind ourselves that we are indeed wonderful and worthy.

    • Ruth Gordon… great name ( real or not)…I like me but it’s hard to think others do because I’m quiet. I had a wonderful therapist that told me to ” act as if…”. It works! Still inwardly feels strange but not paralyzing.

    • Ruth, as a 61 year old, I can’t tell you how delighted I was to read your reply! I’ve never had much time for mantras but I’m trying “I am worthy” currently. I hope it’ll become a core belief (maybe when I’m 70?).
      I’m not going to tell Michelle how much I enjoy her writing and how much it resonates with me because I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. .

  • OMG. I am the golden child. I never got that until today. Which is weird, because I’m oddly confident at times. Brazen almost. And yet there’s a little voice inside me that says “why are you so confident…you’re not that special” (that comes from spending years with a narcissist…)

    Thank you for the epiphany.

    I think.

    (And for the record, you are an amazeballs writer, you’re hilarious, and you have a lovely ass. You don’t need to say thank you. But don’t call me a liar because that is the absolute truth. 😉

  • When I was in elementary school, I would get my feelings crushed when bullies made fun of my little brother (whom a devastating illness had left damaged both physically and mentally). My mother took me aside after one particularly bad incident and gave me the verbal armor I still refer to even now, as an adult. “Your inferiors can’t hurt you. Your superiors won’t.”

  • I laid in bed the other night and tried to think of even one thing I love about myself. I know it sounds dumb, but I had a difficult time. Other people might love something about me like “how she makes me feel when I’m around her”, or “the way she smiles”- but I can’t experience that. After much deliberation I came up with: I love about me that I am a good mother and have empathy. That took hours of insomnia but I got there. It’s a short list st so far, but I’m working on loving myself. One for your list could be: you are the kind of friend I could tell anything.

    • I love SO MUCH MORE about you, but I get what you are saying. You are a good mother and you are empathetic. You are also considerate and HILARIOUS and talented and generous and you are also a friend who I can tell anything. As you well know. OHHHH AND you are someone I can hug without internally freaking out, so there’s that. 🙂

  • About a year after I got married, my father and I were talking on the phone and he told me not to fuck it up.

    I hear you, sister. And you’re awesome. I’m glad we’re friends. <3

  • I could have written this. Except my childhood dream was to be a veterinarian, and my father told me I’d end up being a meat inspector. Like Jhari, I have also learned to “act as if,” and just say “thank you” when someone gives me a compliment (usually). As for the self love, I have done a lot of inner-child work. Seeing my younger self as terrified and improperly loved and nurtured has helped me develop self-soothing skills and compassion for myself. But I still struggle on a daily basis with, “why would anyone like me or be interested in me.” At 52, I’m beginning to think that might not ever go away.

    • I am right where you are. I accept there are things about me that will not change, but accepting it helps me. I would like to be different, but I’m done with beating myself up because I’m not.

  • My mother frequently said I was lucky my husband “put up with me” not because I cheated, did drugs, gambled or ? (Because I didn’t ) but because I didn’t have the same housekeeping standards that she did!
    And I went to law school after having 6 kids. “A waste of time and money — just selfish”
    Now in ‘later years’ struggling in therapy with why I have little confidence in myself!

  • Dear MIchelle’s door – why can’t I fit this note under you? Is it because you are stuffed so full of other notes. Fine. Be that way. I’ll send this digital note directly to M. Y’all are the bomb in too many ways to elaborate. You’re welcome

  • Yup. It’s taken years for the post-compliment squirming to simmer down to a slight tremor. I still don’t quite believe them, so I usually chuck ’em into the mental closet with all my other issues. Keepin’ it tidy, yeahhhh

  • I think that stuff began to crumble for me a little the first time I won a motorcycle race and came home with a trophy. I was unloading my motorcycle and gear and my dad saw the trophy and said “What’s that?” I told him “I won.” He didn’t say anything, but he and my mother showed up to watch my next race.
    You’d think that, being a musician, I would have learned to handle compliments about performing, but since I could never really satisfy myself with my playing, that never really worked for me. What actually did work was working as a line cook for ten years. People tend to say something when they get a meal they really enjoy, and after thousands upon thousands of them, you learn to make them that way. So yay for being promoted from dishwasher when I was 18!
    Your room seems to be sort of stuffed with little notes about the truth of your delightfulness, (that is too a word spell check) so really, can you breathe in there?
    Maybe you don’t have a responsibility to be perfectly gracious when receiving praise, and maybe that’s OK too. I do understand what you’re saying, though, and perhaps now would be a good time to remind you of the hundreds of times that reading your blog has made my day a better one, especially when those days didn’t have much else to recommend them. Face it, girl, you rock so hard they have to recalibrate the seismographs they left on the moon to account for your sheer awesomeness…

  • Great post. One of my most vivid recollections from 7th grade was having someone in band tell me I’d played something well. I said “Thank you” and one of the girls in one of the higher seats scolded me and said you shouldn’t just say thank you to a compliment or people will think you are stuck up. I was absolutely mortified. Fortunately at this point in my life I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that although I’m far from a rock star at anything, there are some things I do reasonably well, and it’s OK to just say “Thank you” when people are kind enough to notice it.

    Can still sorta hear First Seat Flute Girl’s voice in my head when I do, but I ignore her. 🙂

    Love the post above this one with the motorcycle race story. That’s just awesome.

  • First let me just say/add you are an excellent writer. You made it into management in career, even though you chose to go otherwise. A woman in IT. You have many talents I am sure we don’t even know about. My piece of advice is to actually compliment yourself for your talents. It gets easier to accept with a thank you from others if you believe it yourself. I know it sounds easier said that done, but you can do it (I know there are certain things I am good at. I own them. I refuse to let anyone take my talents in those arenas away from me. I can’t accept all compliments but I have learned to say thank you to all of them without feeling like a fraud and I see that as a “win”.)
    I think you’re already at least halfway there, because you write a public blog. Give yourself credit for putting yourself out there–and I think you put yourself out there because there’s a part of you that knows you have a talent to share. Embrace that part of you.
    That’s my unsolicited advice 😉 But I think of it this way, each time a child of a Narcisse can make any sort of step in owning themselves, especially their awesome parts, it is a step well taken. Thank you for the steps you’ve taken, even if you stumble, and sharing it with us.

  • OMG – if I could write this would have been what I would have written except I didn’t grow up as the daughter of a narcissist. I have huge trouble accepting compliments or being able to talk myself up in a job interview. I totally suck at those.
    I don’t get compliments about my skin but I do get people saying ‘You can’t be 51 – you don’t look like you are that old at all’ and I have no idea what to reply. “Well I am” is about all I can manage. One lady went into a long thing about meeting up with me to crochet because the one lady she had met up with was much older than her and she felt we were closer in age – the other lady was 46 and I had just turned 51. I never heard any more about meeting up to crochet with that lady again – maybe she didn’t want to be friends IRL with an actual old person – who knows ? I brushed it off saying it’s her issue not mine but there is still a part of me that wonders if I was actually younger if she may have wanted to get together for a crocheting morning one weekend.
    I love reading what you write – never stop – unless you run out of things to say then totally stop – if you want to of course !!! LOL
    Have the best Friday when it gets to you xox

  • What does it say about a writer when the comments are also fun to read? It means you are a greatness magnet. Oops I should have slipped that under the door……

  • I totally get where you are coming from, and have exactly the same issues.
    My parents are both malignant narcs who tried soooo hard to obliterate me from existence, it was insane.
    You truly are a brilliant writer. I so look forward to your posts, they are hilarious and so refreshingly honest, at least about the ‘mistakes’. Allow yourself to be honest, too, about your gifts and talents- it will be like a warm hug to yourself.
    Also, and I wish I’d said this at the time, when I have read your other pieces of writing- equally fab to read- there was a picture of you. Goddam it, you’re gorgeous. How comes you never told us?! Oh yeah- daughter of a narc- I totally understand- no-one bothered to tell you you look lovely. Anyway, take it from me…..it’s true. 🙂

    • Honest about my gifts? THAT’S CRAZY TALK!!! Hahaha..yeah, that might take a while. And thank you so much. I do try to be honest about who I am and it is wonderfully freeing.

      Randy tells me every day that I’m beautiful. Every single day. I don’t see what he sees, but I really do try to.

  • Message received. I promise to never compliment you on how hilarious, smart, or thought-provoking you are. If anyone ever brings up my having said your writing has actually made my life better I will vehemently deny that I ever said any such thing. I’m sure I will continue to read and laugh and reflect deeply and profoundly on your wisdom and life experience but you won’t hear how great it is from me.

    Okay, I might slip up once in a while.

  • This is the equivalent of a note being slid under your door: I read all the time. I mean, all. the. time. And, I’ve been “trying” to be a writer my entire adult life. Which is a very long time. So I think I qualify as something of an authority on it when I say to you: You are a good writer. Whether you accept that bit of information or not, it’s still going to be there. So, you might as well accept it. And you don’t even have to call it a compliment. Just….information. OK?

  • I also hate being complimented. I always feel that as soon as someone says “you’re great”, I’m going to do something to fuck it up and then they’ll change their minds about me. Great post.

  • Totally relate to this, so much so at the moment. My lecturers don’t understand my self doubt, I could tell them but I feel so stupid at my age having to admit that I am still trapped by a self image created when I was a child. I wish I could shake it off but no matter what I achieve I still hear that voice telling me that I’m only excelling because either a) the standards aren’t high enough or b) everyone else is stupid as it can’t be because I’m actually smart or good at anything.

    • We truly were separated at birth. I hear the same things. You do the best you can and I will be over here KNOWING that you are capable and smart and rocking it. XOXOXOXOXOX

  • Unlike you, I was not raised by a narcissist. Both of my parents were kind, loving and supportive people. Like you, however, I also don’t like getting compliments. They make me uncomfortable. I like to think it’s due to the fact that I am a humble and compassionate person, keenly aware that the world does not revolve around me. I have enough self love and love toward others that contributing some goodness into the world is all the compliment I need. You give yours by making people laugh and smile. It’s my belief that you’re a gracious and humble woman. How wonderful!

By Michelle

Michelle

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