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Complimentary, my dear Watson - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Complimentary, my dear Watson
When somebody gives you a compliment, how does it make you feel? Is it a good feeling? Is it a physical feeling, or is it thinking something good -- thinking as words, I mean -- or is it more like the way you experience things like warmth and comfort, or what? Is it something you want to go and get more of somehow, like a food you like; or is it more like something that's nice when it happens but you can't make it happen again (though you might be able to increase the chances of it happening again), like winning a competition?

[If you're going to try to answer any of that lot, please don't just say "Oh, you know," because I don't. Imagine you're trying to explain colours to someone who's been blind since birth.]

On the University Counselling Services website, it says "Allow yourself to feel pleasure at what you have achieved and reward yourself for each achievement." I don't understand what they mean by "allow yourself" -- it sounds as though they're accusing me of preventing myself from feeling pleasure at it. If I am, then it's only in the same way that I'm preventing myself from feeling pleasure at eating Marmite. I just don't like the taste; in the same way, I just don't feel anything at the stuff I've "achieved". I don't think I know what counts as an "achievement", because it seems to be at least in part circularly defined as "the things you've done that make you feel good about yourself". I don't have any of those. Really, honestly, that's not just "false modesty", it's genuine total incomprehension. I do not know what it feels like to "feel good about myself". If it's something I've felt, I wouldn't know how to identify it, and I certainly wouldn't be able to correlate it with the things I've done in any meaningful way.

There are things I've done that other people say things about, and mostly I wish they wouldn't, because I don't like being praised for things that I don't consider praiseworthy (the best analogy I can find is to suggest that you imagine how you'd feel if somebody said "You're really good at getting drunk", or "You bully people really effectively"). Then there are things that people don't say things about. They're less of a problem. I don't really feel anything about them. Then there are things that, when I do them, it makes the slightly queasy feeling of guilt in my stomach go away for a couple of seconds before I remember the next thing I'm supposed to be doing and haven't done yet. Is that absence-of-discomfort what "feeling good about myself" means?

And I really don't know what "rewarding myself" means. I don't want a candlelit bubble-bath, chocolate, a day of pampering at a health spa, a manicure, etc. I don't want or need any more CDs/books, and if I bought myself a CD or a book every time I managed to do the little things I do (like managing to do the laundry or tidy a room or send an email or something), I'd be even more broke than I already am. The only "reward" I want, the only thing that I can think of that I want, is to actually be a functioning member of the human race. If I could produce that for myself on demand, I wouldn't need to balance chocolates on my nose as a "reward" for getting up in the morning. I can't do anything, and I've tried so many different shapes of stick and so many different flavours of carrot.

I don't know how to fix this. The thought of being like this forever makes me cry, and I'm tired of crying, it makes it really hard to even pretend to do my job.
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barrysarll From: barrysarll Date: June 8th, 2005 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't like being praised for things that I don't consider praiseworthy

I can certainly understand this much; there have been times when I've been praised in such a way that I assume either people have totally missed the point, or I've been making efforts in completely the wrong direction.
But when I'm praised for achieving what I was trying to achieve, or for looking like someone I'd like to look like, then it glows.
j4 From: j4 Date: June 8th, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I don't like being praised for things that I don't consider praiseworthy

Then it glows

What does this mean, though? How would I know it if I felt it? Is it a physical feeling, a mental feeling, what?

I can't think of anything I'd be likely to be trying to achieve that I'd want to be praised for. Most of the things I'm trying (and failing) to achieve come under the heading of "actually being a functioning member of the human race". Does that just mean that I'm doing the wrong things? I can think of things I'd like to do that I'd think were more worthwhile, but I can't imagine how it would feel to be praised for doing them, because I've not done them, and have no way of doing them. If that makes sense.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: June 8th, 2005 04:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
It can have a physical component; sort of a glow, not unlike the sort of warm flushy feeling that comes with first being hugged by someone by whom you've really wanted to. Emotionally it's like being fed - in particular, for me, like being fed somewhere I had long given up on ever being fed. Hard to adjust to, but nice.

Also, many of the compliments I have had over the past few years that have lingered have been for things that I have been trying hard to achieve, and that has a really heartening element. Things like being a safe person to be around and shoulder to cry on and person to be opened up to; have always wanted to be that and done my best to be so, and there's a great pleasure in that being recognised and judged a success.

Also also, there's the question of who it's from. Having good things said about my writing by a professional writer whose work I greatly admire and whom I don't know well in person, for example, is a different sort of heartening to having it ooged over by friends of long-standing. The latter is encouraging and helpful and helps motivate me to write more, but the former is a different sort of special.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: June 8th, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
That went off almost finished; what I want to add to the last para is, getting a positive judgement from someone whom at some instinctive level it is obvious really knows what they are taslking about in that area has weight.
pippaalice From: pippaalice Date: June 8th, 2005 04:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I swing between desperately craving any compliments at all for any reason and feeling uncomfortable and wanting to scream 'Don't you see, there isn't anything special here!'
j4 From: j4 Date: June 8th, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
When you're desperately craving the compliments, do you feel good after you get them? Or is that when the swing happens?
marnameow From: marnameow Date: June 8th, 2005 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been thinking about (bit of) this a fair bit over the past few days.

I *can* get a glow-ish feeling from achievement or praise, but the praise can only work as an add-on to the achievement. Example: If I make an interesting,, pretty-coloured well constructed skein of yarn, I'll look at it and think 'I *made* that! Go me!' and feel slightly smug, and a bit happier, and if people compliment me on it that happy-metre might go up slightly. But if I spin up a skein that I'm not happy with (and this is far more common) I'll not get that initial 'wow' and if people compliment me on it I have to restrain myself from pointing out every last one of its (to me) numerous and glaring flaws, and I end up feeling worse about things.

And it's much easier to be happy, I find, with a *physical* thing I have created than with any amount of other achievement - hence my deep escalator failure feelings right now, that are not being compensated much at all by the fact that I have used *three* up ones already today and that's a thing I couldn't do three months ago.

We were also talking about rewards on Monday, and the impossibility of making them work most of the time, specifically, again, for gettng me on the escalator. Margaret suggested that I could see Glastonbury as a reward, or purchase myself some spinning bits, but that's not going to work because it'll happen or not, anyway, regardless of me getting on the escalator. So the only reliable reward is feeling better because you've done a thing you should've. (Although if I ever *do* get on that down escalator, I will probably be giddy-high for days afterwards.)
j4 From: j4 Date: June 8th, 2005 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll look at it and think 'I *made* that! Go me!' and feel slightly smug, and a bit happier

Ah. ... I think this is the bit I'm missing. To the best of my recollection, I've never felt that. But then, I've never done anything that's the sort of thing that would make people feel that, as far as I can tell. (Though thinking that could be just because I've never felt it. IYSWIM.)

So the only reliable reward is feeling better because you've done a thing you should've.

Hmmm ... mostly, though, it's not "feeling better", it's feeling "less awful". Which I suppose is the same thing in a way, but I sort of wish there was something more exciting to aim at than "feeling slightly less shit for a couple of seconds".
verlaine From: verlaine Date: June 8th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a lot of trouble believing people are right when they praise me, as traditionally I don't get much done that I consider worthy of praise. But I try to be glad about having made someone *else* happy enough by my actions that they wanted to vocalise that.

I don't know much about being a functioning member of the human race myself, but I do know that *my* human race would be a lot less functional without you in it, so that's something maybe.
uon From: uon Date: June 8th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
If someone compliments me ("You're a good programmer"), I tend to feel very uncomfortable, disbelieving, and confused: is this person confused, misinformed, after something, or just taking the piss? Figuring out how to respond is something I find commensurately difficult. Effusive praise is a pretty good way of making me avoid you.

If someone compliments something I have done ("I really like this program you wrote"), I tend to feel warmed and cheered up, as if I've just received good results from a hard exam. I feel reassured that, however much of a fuckup it might have been, someone else has liked what I've done.

I've got any number of daft theories about why one of these situations makes me feel uncomfortable and the other doesn't, but life is too short as it is.
j4 From: j4 Date: June 8th, 2005 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm interested in the daft theories if you have time to write about them any time...

BTW I just realised I never said that I really liked the badger kanji you did for me. I need to get round to uploading it and replacing my crap icon with your good one.
livredor From: livredor Date: June 8th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think happiness is a form of faith, to a very large extent. If good things happen, it's almost always possible to put a rational argument for why one shouldn't be happy about them. After all, there are so many miserable things happening in the world at this very moment, and so little certainty that the good situation will persist. So when you make posts like this I can only nod; I can't give you any reason you why you're wrong to look at things in a negative light. Like any sort of faith, it's hard to attain if you don't have it to start off with, because you get into a chain of meta: in order to have faith, you have to have faith that the faith is worth wanting. Being pleased with your achievements is a subset of this, I think.

With that preamble. When someone gives me a compliment, assuming it's a wanted compliment, I feel pleased. It's a lot like thinking something good, if I'm to pick out of your options. It's on the same continuum where the trivial part of it is the feeling that comes with realizing I actually have slightly more money than I thought I did, and the extreme version of it is how I feel when someone I've been pining after for ages turns out to reciprocate my feelings.

In some ways a compliment is like a kind of present. As such, I can sometimes feel embarrassed by too big a compliment that I don't feel I deserve, and there's also a secondary embarrassment of not knowing how to reply. It does make me feel good about myself too; not so much because I think I have no good qualities until someone comes along and points them out, but because it makes me feel that I'm the sort of person who is worth the bother of being nice to.

There's compliments on things that I've achieved (I'm so impressed you got a PhD! I really like this journal post of yours! Thank you for making such an important contribution to this community!). Compliments on things that are just the way I am and I don't really take credit for (you're so pretty! you're so clever! you have a lovely name!) are still nice to have, even though they can be a bit more awkward. It's analogous to being given chocolate, (not so much to eating chocolate, it's not a physical pleasure I think), it's just, yay, someone is being nice to me! I matter to this person!
From: minnesattva Date: June 8th, 2005 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Garrison Keillor has got my upbringing exactly right, and he's a lot more eloquent about it than me, so if you know anything about him, you know the kind of social mores I grew up with: it's not a matter of having low self-esteem, or being deprived of praise or appreciation, or anything like that; such things just simply aren't an issue, and if you don't ever think of them, then you don't worry about them. I didn't, at least. This sounds like the kind of thing that leads into "Then I realized, of course, that I'd been extremely unhappy", but I didn't, because I wasn't (or so I think).

As I got into my teens, when everyone is sensitive about everything, I started to hear that I had poor self-esteem and that I was rude to people who gave me small compliments. And to some degree, these things still happen; stealthmunchkin thinks I have an absurdly low opinion of myself whenever he tells me I'm the greatest, funniest, beautifullest, whatever, and I sort of shrug it off. He thinks it's unfortunate that I don't realize how cool I am.

But I just shrug off nearly everything sometimes (this is a trait that was also praised for in my youth: "nothing bothers you", my elders would say admiringly, "it all just slides off like water off a duck's back"), and that's probably why I'm though to be either disturbingly down on myself, due to my lack of enthusiasm on the subject, or very impolite, due to my lack of enthusiasm in receiving compliments. I'd never thought of myself like this until it was pointed out to me, and that's when I started worrying about it and being unhappy.

I'd never thought of myself like that. I thought more like you seem to, that doing the minimum needed to get by is no reason to reward myself. I wasn't interested in rewards, I was just doing what I thought I should.

I was, tacitly, brought up to believe that you shouldn't congratulate yourself too much, that no one likes bragging or arrogance. Going for gracious modesty, I found myself a blundering adolescent loner. I've tried to improve on this but my immediate reflexive response to nice said about me is something along the lines of denying it. Admittedly, telling the person they don't know what they're talking about doesn't sound like the nicest thing for me to do, when I look at it that way.

Though it varies; if someone I know, like, or just admire is doing the complimenting, I'll probably do that "glowing" thing other people have mentioned (especially if it's a nice thing delivered by Internet or some other medium that means the person's not actually there with me at the time), which, in my case, means being happy and bouncy, to a degree that depends on the compliment and my feelings for the person giving it. It feels like I just got a little zap of extra energy. It's not like food to me, but I do like your competition analogy; I think I'd agree with that.
atommickbrane From: atommickbrane Date: June 8th, 2005 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I dunno, I generally seeing a compliment as being a bit of a quid pro quo - I do something and if [x] likes it or thinks I have done it well they might return it with a compliment. I feel pleased in this situation. There's the situation of course where you might be read wrong, or someone you completely disagree with compliments you, but that's not the real issue here. I think people may not be defining between 'saying nice things about one in day to day life' and what I consider 'a compliment'. But fannydangling about definitions is what I do - compliment me, hobag.

But it does lead me to something, the 'reward' system you mention before fails when it's trying to address issues of 'coping'. There's not much sense in rewarding yourself for getting out of bed, but what I do is think about it reciprocally, vice versa there's nothing in it for you to dislike yourself about getting out of bed, and reduce it to null-value tasks in yr head, which clears up more space for "complimentary activities" or whatnot.
gnimmel From: gnimmel Date: June 8th, 2005 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
If someone complements me directly, I feel uncomfortable, and have a tendency (bad, I know) to assume the complimenter is saying nice things as a sort of social glue or even lying to make me feel better. Over-the-top praise is a good way to stop me doing whatever-it-is that supposedly earned it. It feels a bit like being invited to participate in a conspiracy whereby you and the other person pretend that you're really great, which just feels dishonest to me.

OTOH, if I accidentally come across something positive that was said/written/whatever about me in a place where I wasn't supposed to be able to hear/see it, then I do feel pleased -- I think because it's more disconnected from the social mind-games that people use as a matter of course in communicating directly. That's a bit like a release of tension, insofar as it is physical. Normally if I hear comments about me that weren't meant for me they're not good ones though. :(
From: rgl Date: June 8th, 2005 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel slightly irritated by people complimenting me as a person, not least because I then feel I owe a compliment in return, which I don't like. Mind you, I don't like being hugged either...

When people compliment something I've done I sometimes find it useful as it helps me to build up a picture of whether or not the thing in question is worthwhile/interesting/whatever, and I would like to feel that something I have done (separate from me as a person) is good. I guess that would be an external (not quite the same as objective, obviously) definition of a positive achievement. However, as my dad would say "never accept praise from someone from whom you would not also accept criticism". It should be pointed out that I think my dad considers his professional life a failure because he never got an FRS or a knighthood, so his attitudes aren't necessarily the route to happiness.
beingjdc From: beingjdc Date: June 8th, 2005 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Permissions and injuctions, maybe they've been reading Berne, one of my pop-psychologists of choice?
j4 From: j4 Date: June 8th, 2005 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
karen2205 From: karen2205 Date: June 8th, 2005 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
When somebody gives you a compliment, how does it make you feel?

Depends who has said it/in what context etc. Generally it's a physical feeling of pleasure tending towards embarrassed blushing. Sometimes it's a feeling of self satisfaction - that tends to be when someone finally notices what I've been doing and I feel I deserve to have whatever I've been doing recognised. Sometimes my reaction is one of complete disbelief - this tends to be when 'compliments' come from men who are trying to pull me and I'm fairly certain they don't actually believe what they're saying to me.

the things you've done that make you feel good about yourself". I don't have any of those.

If you reword it to 'the things that make you feel happy' do you have anything?

I understand what you mean about other people praising you for doing things that just don't seem like achievements to you. I felt that when my LPC classes were amazed at how fast I grasped the tax stuff on the course. It's not an achievement - it requires, so far as I can see, a bit of common sense, logic and some maths. The same is true when I get stunned reactions when I tell people that I once performed ressucitation on someone - there was nothing brave or special about it. There was simply someone who'd stopped breathing and I had the skills to help him till an ambulance arrived.

But it's things like this that other people will see as achivements because they don't have the skills to do them - for example I know you to be musical so I go 'wow' at what you can do musically. To me, as an outsider, what you've done musically *is* an achievement because my talents don't lie in that direction - I could never achieve what you've achieved in that field.

The only "reward" I want, the only thing that I can think of that I want, is to actually be a functioning member of the human race.

Well, from the distance you seem to be doing a pretty good job of it - though I understand you're not. I suppose my suggestion would be to work out exactly what being a functioning member of the human race means to you. Does it mean alphabetising your book collection? Getting to work on time? Repaying your debts? Spending time with friends? Break it down into manageable tasks and then as you complete each one you can compliment yourself for completing it since it's one small step towards being that functioning human that you want to be.

I guess it might also be an idea to think about the difference between compliments coming from other people and how you react to them and how you feel about yourself. They are two different things (and yes, I'm sure you realise this, it just looks like you've jumped from one to the other in this post).
j4 From: j4 Date: June 8th, 2005 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you reword it to 'the things that make you feel happy' do you have anything?

Um... yeah. No. I don't know. I was going to say that reading makes me happy, but actually it just stops me having to think about anything real for a while. But it's not a thing that "makes me feel good about myself". It makes me feel nothing about myself. That's why it's good.

I don't think I know the answer. I'm not sure I understand the question.

To me, as an outsider, what you've done musically *is* an achievement because my talents don't lie in that direction - I could never achieve what you've achieved in that field.

That's nonsense, though. I'm a just-about-competent violinist, and a rusty pianist. If you'd been playing piano for over 20 years and violin for nearly 20 years you'd probably be as good if not better.

My parents got me to take music lessons and I just did them because, I dunno, they were there. I enjoy playing piano, and I was okay at it when I was at school, but I'm really not very good at it now. I enjoy playing violin in an orchestra because a nice sound can be made even if I don't play very well myself.

I suppose my suggestion would be to work out exactly what being a functioning member of the human race means to you.

I don't know, because I can't do it. It means being able to do things, even just the little life-maintenance things, being able to think, being able to learn, not being so USELESS at EVERYTHING. I want to not spend all day every day feeling like I'd rather be dead. If everybody else feels like that all the time and just gets on with their life anyway, then I'm even more monumentally useless than I thought, because I can't just get on with it. :-(
hairyears From: hairyears Date: June 8th, 2005 05:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
"...it sounds as though they're accusing me of preventing myself from feeling pleasure at it."

Not far off the mark, for some. Maybe not for you, but I never really mastered taking compliments or praise gracefully - obviously, I appear to - but inwardly I cringe, feel awkward, undeserving and cheap.

I guess praise is something that was used too overtly to manipulate me in childhood, cloyingly and repeately for no more than just being me and, equally, withheld manipulatively when I struggled with things that were actually difficult and wondered if they and I were actually worthwhile. The hostile uses of faint praise and sarcasm featured in my school years too; useful in Banking but decidedly not a benign upbringing.

In adulthood, I would say that satisfaction, satiation and acceptance of my own worth are mis-wired and disfunctional; part and parcel of depressive illness, and I suspect that that is the way I am, for life, no matter how much better I am these days in terms of life, living and mood.

Still, this works:

I'll look at it and think 'I *made* that! Go me!'

I fact, it rocks. I feel that a lot. And so should you, re-reading some of the things you've written and posted; you write beautifully, and there might be a great deal of satisfaction and fulfilment to be had in writing more.

Whether that would be satisfaction and fulfilment for you is, of course, another matter. I do not know what works - or could work - as a 'carrot'; I don't think I know you at all, J. Others do, and maybe they - and you - know very well indeed but haven't realised yet, or maybe haven't articulated the knowledge particularly well. See what turns up on LJ, on this post and elsewhere; see what works on a better day and hopefully remember it on days like this.

ali_in_london From: ali_in_london Date: June 8th, 2005 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
When somebody gives you a compliment

Assuming that it is someone whose opinion I respect and they're complimenting me on something that is actually legitimate, then I tend to feel the same way that I feel when I manage to solve a puzzle or work something out. It feels like I've been given something, a warm fuzzy thing, that bobs around me for the rest of the day and sometimes for longer. A few people have said it's like a hug and it is but only if the hug is from someone you really like hugging. It's not like a social "hello, nice to see you" hug.

I'm not sure I can fully define "legitimate". It can depend on the person giving the compliment, so someone who never cares about appearances in any way saying that I look nice isn't a legitimate comment, and I'd probably actually feel quite negative about it. Or if they're trying to compliment me on something I don't really care about, then I'd feel vaguely happy, but in a detached way.

But under the right conditions I feel a definite feeling, and it does seem to be similar to the feeling that other people here have described.
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