How Compliments Make Me Feel Awkward (and how I keep thinking my brain operates like Windows)…

This isn’t a real post, it’s half a post. It’s another one I redrafted several times, but I kept lapsing into serious rants about self-image. In short, this is really just a follow-up to the previous post, about getting a compliment during a note passing incident with a strange man, and feeling very anxious about a post I had written (about me feeling anxious about writing).

Firstly, I can’t cope with compliments. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t really know how to react. My brain gets a Windows error. Then I freeze up. Then this happens:

It’s really hard being me. And having a brain that runs on Windows XP.

I also said, y’know, that no one had ever said… that  particular thing to me before. Which, wasn’t strictly true. My point was, it sounded completely alien. Seriously, like klingon or something. It’s not a word I would use to describe myself… I mean, not that many people would (except maybe narcissists. And Christina Aguilera), but in my case it really clashes with my haphazard personality. I spend my days sitting at my desk in joggers or lurking in coffee shops wearing ripped jeans and Chuck Taylors with gaping holes in them. This reality makes compliments like that hard to take. Also, I have an extensive catalogue of disparaging comments that stretches waaaaay back into those dark days of ‘high school’, which contribute to my general deflection of compliments.

I’m beginning to wonder if insults stock-pile in the psyche. Maybe they’re like a worm virus: one negative comment sinks in, replicates itself and then forwards itself to… everyone in your address book… (Okay, maybe I didn’t think this metaphor through properly). What I’m trying to say is, maybe the damage control of negative comments is difficult to manage – much like that of a worm virus. You think you’ve sorted the problem and then months later, it will reappear and wreak havoc all over again and you become super-infected by negativity. Unless, of course, your psyche runs on Mac OS X.

In which case, my psyche got infected during my teens. Puberty wasn’t kind to me. My nose went from being one of those cute-button-noses to looking like it was broken (but it wasn’t). In addition, I had goofy teeth and it was only when puberty hit that I got landed with the hellish years of orthodontic treatment. My skin mutated into hideousness and my eyebrows, for some reason, grew seriously out of control (they rivalled Madonna’s in the 80s). In a time before GHD straighteners, my hair transformed from long, blonde adorableness to a frizz-tastic, static nightmare, which seemed to take on a life of its own – reaching forth from my head and attaching itself to the polyester v-neck jumpers worn by everybody in the school. On top of this uncomfortable set of changes, I was at an age where suddenly fashion and style were important. And I didn’t have a clue about either (I still don’t).

Here’s a run-down of a few high school incidents that readily spring to mind:

  • One day, a popular girl marched up to me (popular entourage in tow) and asked me HOW ON EARTH I could wear blue socks with black shoes. I was stumped for a response, mainly because I hadn’t even realised the error of my ways. Looking down at my shoes,  I flushed with red trying to think of something to say. Eventually, I uttered: ‘It’s a free country…’ a popular response in the mid-nineties as it was applicable to almost anything. Sadly, its applicability did not stop it from being super-lame. The girl snarled and stomped away with a herd of her fashioncentric friends, as if my mismatching socks and shoes had somehow been a personal attack on her.


  • Once, during an English class, we had to play a description game, where someone had to guess which person in the class was being described to them. My classmates described me as: ‘She’s got blonde hair, and big teeth’. Bingo. The boy who was guessing (who I also happened to have a pretty big crush on, at the time) instantly pointed (that’s right pointed, without actually saying anything) at the girl in the back corner. Me. Blondie big teeth.


  • In a drama class, we had to improvise an argument with another person. My drama teacher reiterated (several times) that the argument was to be purely fictitious and we were not to make personal digs at each other. My partner shrugged at me and murmured: ‘You got a big nose’. AND THEN DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING ELSE.


  • A boy I was going out with, broke up with me because every time he saw me, it made him feel physically sick. (True story).

It’s a fact of life that high school is hell for the under-confident.  I think the fourteen-year-old me is the one who hears compliments, and they’re just so hard to believe in and amongst the hundreds of big nose/big hair/big teeth insults. I feel like I’m being lied to. This is partially due to my school days, but mainly down to watching way too many American high school movies in which the “unattractive” girl is dated by a cool jock in order to win a bet.

For the record, I still don’t understand fashion. And sometimes I still wear inappropriately coloured socks with black shoes. Sometimes I wear socks that don’t even match each other. With holes in them (take that, girl from high school!). Sometimes, I’ll get up and I won’t even change out of my pyjamas – which are fleecy and pink and covered in little cakes. Sure, you can call me beautiful but you haven’t seen me eat cold, leftover bolognaise direct from the fridge. At four in the afternoon. Wearing fleecy pink cake pyjamas. Using only my hands (take that, boy I used to go out with!).

This post doesn’t really have any sort of conclusion. Except that high school was hell, and compliments make me uncomfortable.  But I think I said that at the beginning.

So, moving on… Here’s a little follow up about my anxious feelings of writerliness (that’s totally a word). A few things have happened over this past week to settle the nerves. One of them was watching Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creativity, which I found kind of beautiful (take that, compliment guy with red biro!) and inspiring.

Anyway, next time, a proper post. Promise.

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Comments: 8

  1. Steven Chapman April 23, 2012 at 10:42 am Reply

    It could be worse, your brain could run on Vista *shudder*

    I went through a series of confidence shattering nicknames* at school as well; high school was pretty much five years of hiding out, blending into the shadows and trying to pretend I wasn’t stuck in my own personal vision of Hell. Not only did everyone else seem to know what they were doing, everyone else seemed to be comfortable with their place in the hierarchy of ‘coolness’. Even the other ‘ugly’ kids seemed comfortable with the labels they were given. Meanwhile I just took confidence beatings one after the other until I went from a reasonably outgoing, verging on cocky, Year 7 student to the nervous, inhibited, social outcast that I am today.

    *having eyebrows like Morgan Freeman in Dreamcatcher, and teeth that resembled a piano that had been dropped from a skyscraper didn’t help.

    I’m sorry but I couldn’t help but laugh at those incident from school *snicker* I remember going through so many things like that but seeing where those people ended up (thank you Facebook!) makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

    Whatever they said they had their own sick and twisted reasons for saying so and you shouldn’t hold onto the hurtful memories. Take those compliments (can’t believe you only get one every once in a blue moon!) and store them in your memory warehouse – right there, in that empty space where those insults used to be.

    And what’s wrong with mid-afternoon bolognaise scoffing! Sounds like a normal weekday to me :D

  2. WilyGuy April 23, 2012 at 11:27 am Reply

    Umm, Narcissist = Christina Aguilera, right? that’s basic algebra.

    I live for a good compliment…but I don’t want to hear it in person, it makes me uncomfortable. I want to deflect it.

    Thanks for giving a voice to this strange phenomenon I feel.


  3. Simone April 23, 2012 at 7:42 pm Reply

    oh, dearest. high school is a terrible place for humans. junior high school was so bad for me that i pledged to stay continually fucked up throughout high school. that was the only way i was going to make it through that bullshit – stoned and drunk. it worked!

    i don’t trust compliments either. but i’m paranoid as fuck. probably from all the drugs i did in high school.


  4. Sam K April 23, 2012 at 8:59 pm Reply

    Well I knew you in high school and despite what you may think you were beautiful then too. Don’t object, I have photos of a 14 year old you that will prove it x

    ps. I am also freaked out by compliments

  5. alonewithcats April 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm Reply

    I know I’ve tried (and failed) to make you switch to Mac before. But I really do feel that it would complement you. *ahem*

  6. Emma April 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm Reply

    Thinking about high school makes me all angry and itchy-like. Mismatching socks are a necessity to modern day life, and currently I’m eating cold leftovers on the couch with no utensils and I’m in my dog walking outfit, which I pulled off a hook in the bathroom. I believe this qualifies as ‘Life of the writer.’ And I think what I am feeling is something like ‘Professional Pride.’

    Awesome post.

  7. The Suniverse (@TheSuniverse) April 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm Reply

    High school was a horror show.

    I tend to discount compliments because I think people are liars. Unless I like them, at which point I think people are geniuses.

    I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but if you point out those fucking bastards who insulted you, I will gladly kick their asses. Fuckers.

  8. Rad April 27, 2012 at 11:55 am Reply

    I have no idea why you think you’re unattractive. Well, except the hint at the top of your blog where it says ‘neurotic’.

    And given the men we’ve seen in some of the novel extracts lately, be grateful the guys that approach you are sticking to notes and giggling….

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