“There is probably no better or more reliable measure of whether a woman has spent time in ugly duckling status at some point or all throughout her life than her inability to digest a sincere compliment. Although it could be a matter of modesty, or could be attributed to shyness- although too many serious wounds are carelessly written off as "nothing but shyness"- more often a compliment is stuttered around about because it sets up an automatic and unpleasant dialogue in the woman's mind.
If you say how lovely she is, or how beautiful her art is, or compliment anything else her soul took part in, inspired, or suffused, something in her mind says she is undeserving and you, the complimentor, are an idiot for thinking such a thing to begin with. Rather than understand that the beauty of her soul shines through when she is being herself, the woman changes the subject and effectively snatches nourishment away from the soul-self, which thrives on being acknowledged."
"I must admit, I sometimes find it useful in my practice to delineate the various typologies of personality as cats and hens and ducks and swans and so forth. If warranted, I might ask my client to assume for a moment that she is a swan who does not realzie it. Assume also for a moment that she has been brought up by or is currently surrounded by ducks.
There is nothing wrong with ducks, I assure them, or with swans. But ducks are ducks and swans are swans. Sometimes to make the point I have to move to other animal metaphors. I like to use mice. What if you were raised by the mice people? But what if you're, say, a swan. Swans and mice hate each other's food for the most part. They each think the other smells funny. They are not interested in spending time together, and if they did, one would be constantly harassing the other.
But what if you, being a swan, had to pretend you were a mouse? What if you had to pretend to be gray and furry and tiny? What you had no long snaky tail to carry in the air on tail-carrying day? What if wherever you went you tried to walk like a mouse, but you waddled instead? What if you tried to talk like a mouse, but insteade out came a honk every time? Wouldn't you be the most miserable creature in the world?
The answer is an inequivocal yes. So why, if this is all so and too true, do women keep trying to bend and fold themselves into shapes that are not theirs? I must say, from years of clinical observation of this problem, that most of the time it is not because of deep-seated masochism or a malignant dedication to self-destruction or anything of that nature. More often it is because the woman simply doesn't know any better. She is unmothered.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves
I have always loved Clarissa Pinkola Estes and her writing. Her book 'Women Who Run with the Wolves' was a revelation to me - because it also taught me a lot not just about myself, but people around me.
It is true that accepting a compliment can be a difficult thing. The saddest part is that oftentimes it's those of us who crave to be recognized or appreciated the most - the most wounded ones - are also, by default, the ones who are unable to accept it.
I have often wondered if that is one of the reasons why so many brilliant artists go off the rails upon achieving the recognition they have worked so hard for.
If your internal sense of worth is broken and wounded, the external recognition may assuage the symptoms, but does not truly address the cause. What's more, it may just create more discomfort, because the more one is told how wonderful he/she is, the more anxiety of being 'found out' sets in. It creates a kind of pressure to be perfect that can drive you to heights of achievement, but also into the depths of addiction or isolation.
The danger of insecurity is this then, precisely: it can be a driving force behind your success. Some of the most successful people in the world were driven by insecurity or desire to prove themselves. But like anything, taken to an extreme, it becomes a crippling device: the more you achieve, the more you are afraid, internally, that you are really a fraud - that at a drop of a hat, the castles you have built will come crashing down, and everyone will see the 'emperor with no clothes'.
What's more, if you encounter defeat or failure - and Life offers plenty of those, too - you will count them as proof.
In fact, we all live our lives accumulating external proof to our internal selves.
To find out what that default internal setting is for yourself or others around you, watch where these following words are said - or thought:
"I knew it. I knew it would happen/come to this/end like this/come to pass."
If it is said after something great happened, then you know what your internal setting is. You believed that something good would pass. You knew you had internal strength to pull this off. You had a sort of faith in the process and the world. You also believed on some level you were worth it.
If you are one of those people, then I will also take a chance and surmise that you are, indeed, one of those people able to take a compliment without discomfort. For these is a huge difference because humility and self worth.
If, however, you have found yourself saying the above words over and over again after a disappointment or failure - in the recent years or months - believe me - there is some work to be done. A tuning of your internal instrument. Maybe you need to consider changing the strings... Ask yourself: when someone tells you something nice about yourself, do you light up? Does it make you smile, or do you brush it aside?
I know it because I have been both of those people. I have also been with both of those people. And we all have both kinds in our families or close circles.
(to be continued)