I have yet to talk to one victim of narcissistic abuse who doesn’t struggle with receiving complements on some level. I certainly am one of them. You may be able to relate to my story.
Growing up, my overtly narcissistic mother was very critical of me. She said it was for my own good but it really didn’t feel that way. My self esteem was about non existent.
Just before I turned 17, I met my ex husband. At first, he showered me with constant praise. Eventually that stopped, & he became very critical. Of course, he denied that because he didn’t say words like, “stupid” or “fat.” He implied them by saying things like, “I’m surprised you don’t know that” or, “well, you certainly aren’t small…” By the time that marriage ended, I had no self esteem.
For most of my life, if people complemented me, I would tell them why they were wrong. Eventually I realized this made people uncomfortable, so I started to smile & say thank you. I was still cringing inside, & thinking of how wrong they were, but at least they didn’t realize that. I was more or less satisfied with this arrangement for a long time.
Eventually though, I decided it was time to consider complements rather than blindly shoot them down. I realized that people don’t usually say things with an ulterior motive or to hear themselves talk. When they pay complements, they sincerely believe what they say. I still struggle with trying to believe them, but knowing this helps.
Then I read about shame & suddenly things made sense!
When a person is subjected to narcissistic abuse, they develop a deep root of shame thanks to the gaslighting. Being told how terrible, ugly, stupid, flawed, mentally unstable & more they are over & over does this. So when someone complements this type of person, one of two things may happen..
Cognitive dissonance can happen. That is the term for the very uncomfortable feeling of receiving new information that clashes with one’s core beliefs. Being told you are something good after believing that you are nothing but bad creates a very painful cognitive dissonance. The automatic reaction to cognitive dissonance is often to reject the new information immediately. That isn’t always wise though. That new information should be questioned!
Another possibility is the complement triggers shame, because the person feels they have somehow duped this poor person. They feel shame because they believe they were being deceitful.
If you experience these feelings when someone gives you a complement, I would like to encourage you to challenge this. I can’t promise you’ll become completely comfortable with complements, but at the very least, you will learn to feel better about them.
Remember what I said – most people don’t have any ulterior motive for paying someone a complement. They’re simply being nice & sincere.
Consider the complement. I would bet the same thing someone praises you for is something the narcissist was quick to criticize about you. Narcissists are quick to tear down anything good they see in their victims, so that alone should prove that it’s true.
And never forget to pray. God will be more than happy to help you to heal in every area! Let Him do just that!