Why Complements Are So Hard For Victims Of Narcissistic Abuse

When you grow up with a narcissistic parent, you can’t help but to have a root of shame.  This is because shame is a very powerful weapon to help a person control another, & narcissists are incredibly talented at using it to their best advantage.

One of the many problems that shame causes is the lack of ability to accept a complement in a normal, healthy way.  I admit to struggling with this to this day, although much less than I have in years prior.  In my younger years both as a child & younger adult, if someone paid me a complement, I would tell them why what they said was wrong.  Anyone could have done that thing I did, so it’s nothing special & I’m not smart.  Or, I’m not pretty because I’m fat & ugly.  You get the picture.  I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you have behaved in much the same way.

While this may not appear be the biggest problem shame causes or even a huge interruption in life, it can be an incredibly annoying problem.  It also can compound the shame that is already there.  When you don’t know how to do something so simple as accepting a complement, it makes you feel stupid.  Most of us have been told by the narcissists in our lives how stupid we are, so feeling stupid validates their cruel criticism & adds to the shame they have made us feel.

So why do people do this?  Is it really that hard simply to say “Thank you” & go on with your day?  Honestly?  Yes.  Yes it is that hard for some people.  The reason is that complements go against our sense of self that we learned from the abusive people in our lives.  Parents in particular have a great deal of power over their children’s sense of self because they are there during their children’s formative years.  Anyway when a complement goes against that sense of self, & it triggers shame.  It goes against that sense of self, & causes a person to feel as if they have tricked someone into believing they are much better than they really are.

This is a very difficult habit to overcome, especially after a lifetime of functioning this way.  It is possible though.

As always, pray.  Ask God to tell you the truth about yourself & listen to what He has to say.  Let Him help build up your self esteem & to help you to see that the narcissist in your life lied to you.

Remember too, when people say something genuinely complementary, they aren’t doing so from a place of selfishness.  They are saying something they truly believe, something that comes from their heart.  You can trust what they say.

Consider what the person has said too.  Why do you think what they said is wrong?  Is that something you honestly believe yourself or is it because you were told to believe it by the narcissist in your life?  If it’s because of the narcissist, ask yourself why you would continue to believe something told to you by this person.  Narcissists lie & try to destroy their victims.  They don’t do constructive criticism, so what they said was clearly NOT meant to help you!

If you’re still struggling, ask God to tell you the truth about this complement.  Is it really true or are you whatever bad thing you’re thinking you are, then listen for His answer.  You are going to be very pleasantly surprised by what He has to say to you.

I know it can be hard, but please try to remember simply to say “Thank you” the next time someone complements you.  Countering their complement makes them feel uncomfortable & adds to your shame, so why do it?  Instead, simply thank the person who was kind enough to complement you.  The more you do that, the easier it gets to do.  And, the more you argue in favor of the complement & against the criticisms of the narcissist, the more accurately you will see yourself.  You might even start to like what you see!


Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health, Narcissism

21 responses to “Why Complements Are So Hard For Victims Of Narcissistic Abuse

  1. Cynthia, this is well done. The first sentence of the second paragraph is defining. I have a question. Did your mother have OCD as well? I have a relative whose mother was OCD. She was a kind soul and helped many, but she was organized to a fault. The relative could never do things right in her mother’s eyes, whether it was putting dishes in the dishwasher or making the bed or dinner. To this day, the relative suffers from anxiety, paranoia, depression and esteem issues. Keith


    • Thank you!

      No, she didn’t. I think her constant criticisms were about control of me, not OCD.

      That is sad for your relative! Meaning to do damage or not, that behavior was so destructive. How sad for both of them!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Cynthia. It is sad. It hit home when my relative said her therapist asked if she was OCD. She inherited and learned this from her mother trying to please her. Keith


        • Sounds like a rather insightful therapist!

          That makes sense. Children often learn ways to please their parents, good & bad, & tend to carry those habits into adulthood without thinking about them. I hope your relative is doing better now with this knowledge!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Cynthia, she is managing her challenges better, but they will always be present, it seems. Keith


          • kavyag


            Even strangers are critical of me and friends too it’s like they know how I feel about myself and they hit my self esteem as if my narcissistic family gaslighted them about me even though they don’t know my narc family. I feel like people in Society are conspiring against me – unfortunately many trauma survivors feel like that know 😞


            • I understand how you feel. Felt the same way myself. I don’t think it’s personal though.. people sense something different about victims of narcissistic abuse & people often hate what is different. Add in folks with their own issues (many of whom are afraid to face those) & that means many victims will be treated badly, even by those who aren’t narcissists.


  2. Linda Lee/Lady Quixote

    Great post, Cynthia! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That abuse survivors have difficulty accepting compliments makes it all the more difficult for them to change their negative opinion of themselves. They reject any positive information.


  4. kavyag

    I feel that it is better people don’t compliment me or at the same time criticize me too I only like neutrality where I don’t have to feel anything anymore.


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