Trauma Therapy Session 19: Post day 1. Phobia of compliments.

Last night I was a complete mess prior to this session. Once again struggling with navigating some of these conversations. An increasing part of me just wanted to back away from therapy but I recognise the drivers for that are fear based and not productive. Chris offered a brilliant quote today one from Obama… ‘You only have to be 51% sure’. Well I am more than 51% sure I should continue and more than 51% sure any reasons for wanting to stop now are not good ones. So onwards I March.

Writing things down helps…

We talked a little about an email I sent last week where I flagged a few of my key areas of focus right now. I had regretted sending that email almost as soon as I did, but Chris was reassuring stating that it helps to understand the flow of thinking and they are all relevant important topics. We agreed to hone in on one of them which I have been avoiding forever… Accepting compliments.

Compliments, smart beautiful, kind

Why compliments…

It is something Stephen has asked me to raise repeatedly with Chris and something I have avoided because I know logically my position in this space is wrong and yet for all the years I have tried to tackle it I have never been successful in even denting the surface.

So what’s the issue with compliments…

I hate them. I wish I could articulate just how much I hate them. I know lots of people who don’t like compliments but that would be a mild statement for me. I have such a physical and mental aversion to them. Some times my skin crawls when Stephen compliments me, often if he pays me a compliment I find myself internally berating myself to try and somehow balance the effect.

For Stephen what he sees is I either say nothing, sometimes roll my eyes, often respond negatively either with casual remarks like “Don’t be daft.” “No I’m not.” Or sometimes I reply with what I know is a really harsh… “You must have been desperate.” “Don’t be stupid.” “You must be blind.”

I know and acknowledge this must be so frustrating for Stephen. I do tell him he is wonderful for not giving up on complimenting me a long time ago. And I do pay him lots of compliments (I think). But I just can’t accept them, not just from him but from anyone. He is often on the receiving end of my most dismissive or unkind responses, I guess because he gives me the most and perhaps I am most comfortable with him so show him how I feel more.

What have I done in the past to tackle this…

I have on a few occasions tried to be more tolerant of compliments. For a couple of months I tried to respond with a simple thank you and when that remained unbearable I tried just saying nothing. I have tried that a few times over the years and I always end up running out of energy to sustain the reply with no real reduction in how awful I feel. So I inevitably give up.

When exploring my beliefs around compliments. My view being not accepting them makes me stronger. Chris pulled a classic manoeuvre and shifted the focus from me to the kids. Forcing me to acknowledge the benefit of compliments and my desire for our children to receive and accept them. I was mindful their environment has been totally different to mine which led in to a debate about growing plants and then changing their environment. My argument being that if a plant grows in harsh conditions sometimes changing the conditions can have a detrimental impact on the plant. Chris’s argument if that was the case I would still be in an abusive relationship. My counter argument maybe I am in an abusive relationship with myself or maybe my desire to maintain a lack of acceptance of compliments is a way of managing how many changes in my environment occur. As always it was an interesting and insightful debate. Many of the points which we raised I had never considered in that way before. I am half tempted to go away and research plant growth in changing environments.

The genius attempt…

The suggestion chris and I discussed today was to enlist Stephen’s help. He has to limit himself to one compliment a day. Just one. And I have to make eye contact and reply with a thank you.

I am rather excited about this approach as I know there will be an immediate relief from a measured flow of compliments. I am also hopeful as it is not an approach I have tried before, it might work.

Key Takeaways…

I need to nurture this ‘What about someone else of what if it were my children’ skill. It is a great way to try and build more compassion for myself when I am comfortable giving it to others but not me.

I acknowledge the logic that receiving compliments is normally good for your mental health and an important part of any relationship.

I should remember my Process for dealing with the negative emotions when they come up. Recognise, Acknowledge, Investigate, Nurture.

Most importantly and something I have recognised for a long time it is really important for Stephen that I learn this skill. And so if I needed any more motivation this in itself would be enough.

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