Don’t Discount Yourself

Dear self,

I’ve noticed a habit you have, and I want to talk to you about it. It’s not a good habit, or I’d be congratulating you for being awesome. It’s a bad habit, but not one I want to slap your wrist for, because, knowing you, you would just apologize.

And you already apologize too much. (Don’t apologize.)

This habit is similar, because it makes me so sad for you—and it’s such a hard habit to correct, because it comes from a place of genuine modesty and even kindness. It’s a habit many women share, a habit we’ve all developed because we don’t want to overstep ourselves or seem bitchy or whatever it is we’re all trying to avoid.

Have you figured out what it is yet?

It involves a few words and phrases that seem innocent enough. Only. Not really. Just. Well. Words we use to prevaricate, words we writers systematically eliminate from our books because it means we’re not sure what we want to say. But. Sort of. Kind of. Enough. Yet.

Still confused?

It’s the habit of discounting yourself, of evading compliments, of not taking ownership of your accomplishments, however small you may think they are. You think you’re being modest—and most of the time you really do feel that your accomplishment is not worthy of praise. But you’re selling yourself short. You’re telling whoever wants to compliment you (and the rest of the world with them) that you do not deserve praise, that you have not created or accomplished something worth noting. You are saying to the world, “No, I am NOT worthy of your praise or even your notice.”

I’ll stop now, because you’re giving me that look that says, “Well, I’m just being honest, and I’m really not that—”

Well (I can say well, too!), JUST STOP IT. Just stop and listen to yourself.

“I’ve only been dancing for about a year.”

“I’m not published yet.”

“Well, it’s not really that hard to make.”

“I haven’t done enough reading to make me an expert, but…”

“It’s sort of goofy-looking.”

“It’s just the pattern; I only knit it.”

You see what I’m getting at here, or shall I go on?

You’re not the only one to do this. Many of your friends do the same thing. It’s something we’re trained to do, I think, though I’m not sure when the indoctrination starts. As kids, we’re taught to say “please” and “thank you” and all the rest. But when are we taught to deny compliments all together? Was “thank you” not sufficient for expressing gratitude, and we decided we debase ourselves in acknowledgement of praise?

Trouble is, when you bow out of a compliment, you’re essentially saying that the giver has no taste. Think about it:

Person A: “Wow, you made that?! It’s gorgeous!”

You: “Well, you can see that some of the wires are loose, and I was really just following a pattern.” (Subtext: “You’re clearly blind, and anyway, this is something so commonplace, a monkey could make it.”)

Person A: “Whatever, think it’s nice.” (Subtext: “And here I thought it was pretty. See if I try to compliment you again!” Or, worse, “And here I thought it was pretty. I must have horrible taste! Now I question my entire belief system…”)

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but no one wins in this situation.

I can see you feel bad now, so let me give you a little advice. You won’t want to hear this, I know, but try to listen and accept what I’m saying without trying to dismiss it or wave it away with the rest of the nice things I tell you. So listen up:

You are talented. You are skilled. You are worthy of praise and deserving of notice. You work hard and earn the things that come to you. You are amazing, and you can say, “THANK YOU!”

Now you’re rolling your eyes and telling me that’s not advice. So here’s your mission:

Accept praise. Express gratitude for compliments. Stop trying to deny your own worthiness, skill, and creativity. Take responsibility for the good that you do, as well as the bad. The next time someone says something nice about you, smile, and say your thanks. You can do it—you’re a talented and gracious woman.

So, there, self. I hope you listen to me and take my advice. This is one of those instances where you’ll want apologize for something that’s not that bad and pretend none of this ever happened, but I know it’ll light a little fire somewhere inside you. Maybe the next time someone compliments you, you’ll think of this moment and offer thanks.

Maybe you’re saying thank you right now. Telling me I’m wise and you should listen to me more often.

And you know what I say to that? THANK YOU.

Sincerely,

Your self

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Discount Yourself

  1. Love this, Kristin. It’s like you crawled inside my head, untangled all of the compliment deflecting mechanisms, laid them out on the table for me, patted my hand, and then said, “You don’t need to carry these around anymore.” To which I’d say, “Thank you.”

  2. This really hits home. Where I grew up (particularly in the social class to which I belonged), dismissing yourself was a skill you learned early and often as a woman. It never serves you to get too “uppity” ’round these parts if you aren’t a white male. Unfortunately, breaking this habit is a hard one, as in my experience ingratiating yourself to people tends to be the only way to do things like keep a job or get a loan or whatever; especially because my version of fighting against these things involves going against conventional feminine “beauty” standards (I don’t wear make-up and tend to keep my hair short, that’s it… I know it doesn’t sound all that rebellious, but I do still get a lot of crap for it). I can leave the house looking “ugly”, or I can be neutral (rather than forcefully cheerful and pleasant), but I can’t do both if I want to meet with anything other than a giant wall of resistance.

    This post also makes me think of two people: One of these people is very dear to me, and is very reluctant to share the fact that he is pagan with most people because he’s had so many problems telling people about this in the past. It makes me very sad, because I feel like he should be able to share who he is with people without fearing their reactions. The other person is an older woman who lives where I grew up; she is everything I claim to be afraid to be in this comment: outspoken, genuine, and not traditionally feminine in any way. She is something of a pariah around here, but I think she sees that as all the more reason to be who she is. When I was a kid I really didn’t understand her, but as I get older, I realize that she’s actually really awesome.

  3. Humility is a sad trait of the insecure. Being humble though is being kind, welcoming, open to emotion and ignoring subtle insults, intentional or not. Arrogance is always cruel and self serving. Kristin, it’s an up hill battle but you are a Voice for all of us Pleasers.

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