The Torture of Compliments

In response to an essay my friend Betty C wrote over at Fetlife musing on the concept of “forced adoration” as a shadow twin to forced humiliation, a relatively common BDSM practice, a writing that quickly made Kinky and Popular (a kind of greatest hits stream for the kinky social network), my friend Ferrett made this blog post ruminating on the importance of being able to accept compliments and promptly declared yesterday “National Accept-the-Niceness Day.”

In the writing, he quotes my response to Betty that, being tied down and subjected to incessant, though ostensibly sincere, compliments, “I think this would be a hard limit for me. I feel horrible just thinking about it happening to me.”

My initial impulse was to send Ferrett a message further explaining my view on the matter, but as I organized my thoughts, I wanted more and more to put this out there for others to read.

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Part of the trouble stems from the fact that I like myself. A whole hell of a lot. While I recognize I can be a bit of an oddball, and it’s impossible to expect everyone out there is going to like me, I’ve worked very hard to become the person I am today, and I am precisely the person I want to be. I am extremely proud of this fact, but I don’t typically talk about this or really anything about myself much in positive terms around other people except in rather controlled settings – i.e., essays I can edit and review and run through my “boasting filter” –  as self-promotion has a way of coming across as arrogant and alienating others. Compliments from others confirm what I know to be true about myself but digs up the pride that I would never want others to see.

Paradoxically, and what I believe most people suspect is the trouble when I am “notably neurotic about accepting kindness,” I didn’t always feel that way. There’s a rather insecure wounded inner child sheathed in a cocoon of hard won self-actualization.

It’s easy to declare “this is me, that is me, I am this finite collection of traits, behaviors, beliefs,” but in truth, sometimes it seems more like personality and self-concept are an agitated soup swirling in a cauldron with debris floating to the surface whenever it damn well pleases, convenient or inconvenient, invited or unwelcome.

It’s a bit like I was writing the other day to another friend who is trying to find her place in the world (exploring her career, dating, etc):

I was thinking tonight of our conversation about your having so many sides to your personality and not knowing which one is the “real you” or how they play into your true identity. Honestly, I think that you’ll figure out who you are, where you should be, based on paying attention to how you feel when you explore those different sides, show them to the world. Let your happiness be your guide. (I know this can be hard for me because I tend to disconnect from my feelings, but it’s important). They’re all aspects of you, and it’s up to you to figure out which ones you want to accentuate, to bring out within yourself.

It’s like we start life as these rough drafts, and through the advice of others and our own desires, we edit ourselves into what we want to be – it’s all us, even the stuff we edit out – it’s just we emerge from that process a more polished person.

So I don’t know if you necessarily need to figure out who you are, more maybe figure out where your “center” is – it’s like all of these facets of yourself, of your personality – are spokes on a wheel. There is a center guiding them all, mobilizing your life, and that is what’s important.

It could be subtle, invisible to others – and even to you.

I feel like if you listen to yourself, (and are patient and committed to an unbiased examination about the things you learn about yourself) you’ll find it.

In this way, the affection-starved self-loathing teenager that I once was still lives along one of those spokes within my psyche. She’s desperate for others to notice her, to esteem her, to love her.

And that’s what fucking scares me.

Though the person I am today could live in a vacuum without approval, fueled by self-love, passion of intellectual pursuits, and sheer stubbornness, this teenager is emotionally starved, teetering on oblivion. Therein lies the danger.

There’s a phenomenon known as “refeeding syndrome,” observed in Holocaust survivors and many individuals who are fed after long periods without food evidenced typically in hospital settings. The physiologic shock to the system of reintroduction of nutrition after the body becomes accustomed to not having food causes radical chemical imbalances which can prove to be fatal.

I feel this sliver of myself stir sometimes when presented with kindness. She is feral, half-crazed, wants to gorge until she explodes.

So in a sense, it’s not that I don’t believe the compliments or that I’m unwilling to accept them, in my own time, on my own terms – it’s just that losing control of that process is beyond terrifying.

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