Doggy-paddling the waters of life

I feel the need for a confession or two this morning.

I don’t actually want to be a Psychologist. Being a doctor of any kind has never been a dream of mine. I respect them, and admire their dedication to their field, but I’ve never felt it was what I was meant to do with my life. The amount of money it costs, the time that would have to be sacrificed, the high standards I’d have to be slaving to meet in an education system that teaches in a way that’s nearly opposite to how I learn best…

So why am I pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology? Because of a few reasons. 1) it will allow me to help people who really need it. ) when I talk about the subject of relationships & how people treat one another, people will actually take me seriously instead of telling me I don’t know a damn thing. 3) MONEY: it will bring me a high enough income that I will never have to worry about starving or paying rent or anything like I do right now. 4) MONEY: it will allow me to fund my real dream. 5) MONEY: it will give me a big enough income to be able to support a family, regardless of whether my future wife works or not (like if she goes on maternity leave).

But I have to be honest. It’s not really what I want. It’s not really what I wanted for my life and my career. It’s not my dream. I can’t have my dream; not without going a totally different direction first and pursuing something I don’t want. I’ve even gotten to where I don’t really talk about my dream much any more. I used to talk about it with anyone who wanted to hear; but my ex room mate liked my dream so much, he’s started trying to steal it for himself. And after 8 years of working to make my dream a reality and not really getting even an inch closer, I’m loosing hope. People have offered to help in little ways, but to see my dream become real, the things they can’t help with are often the things I need the most help with. And, honestly, now that I’ve been forced to take a year off from university by circumstances brought about by my choice to move to Vancouver, I’m…

Well, I’m totally lost.

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Compliments are not meant to be for me, they’re supposed to be for you

I do not usually take compliments well at all. I’m great at giving them, of course. I compliment people when I think they look good or look sharp, and I compliment them when they accomplish a task well that is more complex that tying their shoes, unlocking a door or pouring water. I think people need to be complimented honestly, and much more often than they are. I think they deserve to have their efforts or skills acknowledged and (for lack of a better word at the moment) praised. People compliment each other less and less these days and I feel that’s wrong. We’re quick to insult, but slow to compliment, and that’s just wrong. both men and women deserve to be told when they do something that is not easy to do or requires a large amount of heart/skill beyond simple, mundain tasks.

An example – There’s a particular woman I consider a good friend of mine. She’s young, smart, has a great job she enjoys, is single, and has plans and dreams. She’s an amazing writer, and was about to start on her second book-sized fan-fiction, a sequel to the first. Sadly, her sister die suddenly and unexpectedly this year, leaving a daughter under the age of five parent-less. Things were not clear for a while; there were a few options  for the child. The child could have been put up for adoption; happens all the time, a lot of great people were orphans, right? She could have been uprooted and sent to live with her family overseas; sure, such a huge move would have sucked for the kid, but people have been through worse. My friend had some trouble of her own for a while coping with the loss of her sister, too, but was getting help, and had even begun dating a new guy. My friend seemed to be getting her life on track, and the future of the child was a bit unclear, but seemed pretty average for today… until my friend made a hard choice and made a huge sacrifice; she took the girl as her own and has adopted her; the little girl can now stay in the US and continue growing with the same friends and in the same schools, no being uprooted, and still being a part of the family she has known since birth who love her dearly.

That is a very selfless, noble act. She has given up a lot of things, now and in the future. Her new boyfriend kind of stopped talking to her so my friend is unclear as to what’s happening with him. She’s had to cut back on her twitter and other social networking from tweeting every few minutes to once a week. Her writing will likely be put much more onto a back burner. The chances of meeting a single guy willing to date her knowing he’d become a step-dad were much smaller. People my friend meets in the future that don’t know about how she became the mother of the child might judge my friend differently, assuming the girl was hers out of wedlock (yes, there are assholes who still look down on this). So much of her time is now going to be devoted to caring for this little girl; and she is doing so while being denied the experience of pregnancy and child birth, with all it’s pain and joys and wonder (yes, I’m told it sucks in a lot of ways, but I don’t know anyone that would ever trade it away).

This was a hugely noble act, and I flat out told my friend as much. She deserved to hear it, and deserves to hear it a lot more often.

I tell my female friends when they look attractive, and when they look very attractive. I tell guys when they wear a shirt I haven’t seen before that I think is kewl. When I’m gaming, if a team mate makes a good shot on an opponent, I tell them as with enthusiasm. When someone does something like painting or other mundane task with a fair amount of skill, I let them know they did a good job, once again with at least a bit of enthusiasm. Heck, I even compliment people when they wash dishes really well (you’d be amazed how much of a lost art even hand washing dishes has become). Sure, I balance that out by bluntly telling them that they’re acting like idiots when they’re acting like idiots; but I never play down when they make effort to do something well, even if that is simply making themselves look attractive. Yes, I even tell my guy friends when they’e looking sharp, slick or pimp. I’m straight, and I am man enough to recognize when a fellow guy would be competition with the ladies; for all you homophobic people out there, that does not make someone gay, so get the f*ck over it.

There are a lot of people, women especially, that don’t like it when I compliment them. They don’t just have trouble accepting it, they flat out reject the compliments. They roll their eyes like I said something idiotic, they tell me I’m insane, tell me “Not one bit, you’re mistaking me for someone else” and similar things … they just flat out reject the compliment. Frankly, it actually hurts me when they do that. It’s like a slap in the face. Sure, once in a while it might be silly, but these women don’t reject it this harshly only once in a while; it’s almost all the time. Frankly, it gets tiring. It makes giving compliments hard work. If so many people are making it such hard work to compliment people, no wonder we don’t compliment each other enough. I think everyone should start just saying “Thanks” when they receive a compliment, at the least. And I think everyone should compliment everyone else much more often.

Except me; don’t compliment me. It’s wrong to compliment me.

Wait, WTF? I can hear your thoughts now – “Isn’t that just a little hypocritical?” or maybe “Isn’t that just a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type bullsh*t?” Yes, actually, I must admit that it is, and it’s wrong of me. I am not so stupid as to not recognize that this is a huge flaw in me that I need to work at fixing. Now, don’t get me wrong; I really want to be complimented, and I want to be deserving of those compliments. I crave not just the approval, but the admiration and honest praise of my peers. I think we all do. I don’t think anyone actually dislikes being acknowledged for skill in something, especially something they enjoy. In the above example, when I told my friend how her actions were very noble and I admired her for it, she rejected the compliment like I’d told a very pathetic pun joke and brushed it aside. I didn’t tell her, but it really did hurt that she dismissed me and my opinion of her so easily. I felt like she didn’t respect me or my opinion, especially when that opinion was of her.

So why is it so blasted hard for me to not accept compliments from others, and why to I play them down so much myself? I honestly think it started in childhood. When I was a kid, going to church & school they always taught me that we should be kind to others and compliment them. They even would say it directly to me – that I, myself, was supposed to be kind to others and that I should compliment them. But I learned a couple things as well that no one bothered to even realize I was learning, let alone attempt to prevent from sticking. I rarely got complimented when I did things right as a kid; being the welfare hellion with the bad parent seemed to mean I was forgotten when I did something right. So I learned that I’m supposed to give compliments, not receive them. Bullies and friends at school would tease me & my brother a lot, often by complimenting me then when I’d say “really?” they would then tell me they had lied and I was really just a piece of worthless sh*t (ok, not always those specific words, but you get the idea). Those same bullies would then compliment each other honestly. Nowhere near enough people tried to combat that by complimenting me honestly, either. That was a pretty common practice from grades 1 all the way through into my adult years; not just the kids at school did it, the ones at church, that I was told over and over again I could trust and was supposed to trust, would do it the most. This taught me that whenever anyone compliments me specifically, it’s 98% of the time an utter lie meant to bait me into an insult, but when they get complimented, it’s honest. After these behaviors being pretty much the majority of what I experience over and over again for 20 – 25 years, is it really any wonder why I don’t take compliments well or believe people easily when they compliment me?

And yet I still crave to hear those compliments. I crave it desperately. I have a burning need to know I am liked, that I’m worthwhile, that I’m even good at things. But guess what else I learned as a kid – wanting that is wrong. Apparently wanting to be complimented is selfish & vain and those are supposedly evil things. When it comes to my wanting to be complimented, I start feeling like I’m imposing on others when I ask what they think of something good I’ve accomplished, no matter how small. I feel like I’m being selfish & rude just for hoping they’ll compliment me, because I’m supposed to give praise, not get it. I’m not allowed to be in the spotlight, not even for a few moments. If I get a compliment, suddenly I didn’t do anything good or praiseworthy, I’m instead an attention whore & a braggart and should be punished. So of course, I do what any good or “christian” person who grew up like that would do; I beat myself up emotionally for hours, just for wanting that recognition & praise.

Oh, and there’s more. Growing up, my co-ordination and mental/emotional development was skewed due to my Asperger’s & ADHD, though we didn’t really know about those until I was 12 – 14 years old. I felt like such a failure in boy scouts. I earned 1 badge in all those years – my computers badge. I failed every other badge I tried for miserably, and when I did get anything right that was on-par with my peers or even sometimes a little better (though I admit that often it took me longer than others to get the same results), even after I was diagnosed with my “disabilities,” they got heaped praises for a job well done but I got “That’ll do” and brushed off. That taught me that no matter what I do, I have to do things at least 10% to 100% better than the average just to be recognized at all, and if I don’t do it that much better than everyone else around me, it’s complete crap & worthless, no matter how good or solid it really is.

So, quick recap of the things I have grown up believing because they are what I had been taught:

  • It is specifically my job as a person to compliment everyone around me, and to do so with honesty & enthusiasm. Often. And repeatedly.
  • I, myself, am not to ever expect to be complimented, or to want it or need it. That’s just wrong and may get punished. Asking for it is ven worse.
  • If I am given a compliment or praise, it is almost always a flat-out lie and they’re making fun of me in their heads or behind my back, even if they’re my best friends.
  • When people compliment or praise others (as in anyone that isn’t me specifically), it’s sincere.
  • My peers are not really my peers; they are my betters. Period.
  • For me to be considered with the “low-average people,” I actually need to produce quality in the upper 5% or 10% of my peers, and for me to be considered just a little above average, I actually must exceed the best quality levels of the work done by peers by huge amounts.
  • It doesn’t actually matter how good I perform or how equal my performance is to another who was given high praise for the same quality work as me; My performance or quality is never really equal and never will be. At best it’s mediocre, no matter how good at it I get.

And people wonder why I don’t take compliments well or shoot them down. Or wonder why I put up with such abuse from my ex-girlfriends. I put up with it because I had grown up being taught that that abuse is my normal, and was meant to be my normal. I grew up being taught that, though it’s abuse for other people, it’s just another day for me. Because I’m “different” from everyone else, and always will be.

Right?

In my head, I know these beliefs are utter bullsh*t. I do, honestly. But knowing them in my head is not the same as believing them in my heart. And you wanna know something I realized? These bullsh*t beliefs were embedded in me through conditioning. I was frikkin conditioned to believe these things. Which means I can be re-conditioned to believe the truth, that I’m a worthwhile and unique person with great things to contribute to society & my fellow human beings … Right?

Well, yes, but that’s way easier said than done. With conditioning of this magnitude, it’s not something that can be done over a few weeks, and definitely not something that can be done by myself alone; there’s too many people repeating the behaviors around me that created the conditioning in the first place, thus reinforcing those negative,damaging beliefs. And a lot of the people doing those behaviors don’t realize that they’re doing it at all. Heck, when I compliment someone and they reject it forcefully like most people tend to do, it reinforces the belief that I’m not even good at complimenting people properly and should just stop trying to be a nice person because I suck at it & life.

So how do I re-condition my thinking & beliefs to feel worthwhile and to feel like I am just as much a person as other people? I need friends to compliment me more often than they criticize me. I need my talents & skill recognized twice as often as my flaws. I need to hear I’m doing a good job more often than I’m hearing that I’m making mistakes. And guess what, people? We all need that. If you’ve ever read “The One Minute Manager” then you know that formula; apply it to your every day life, not just your work. when you compliment someone, take that extra 2 or 3 seconds to make it that much more sincere. It doesn’t matter how small the thing is; recognize me/them when I/they do good. When gaming with someone and they do something well, tell them it was good, even if you’re playing competitively against them and especially when you’re teamed with them. You don’t have to be all soft or mushy or exaggerate; just tell them they did a good job and mean it, then tell them more often for littler things than usual.

We’re really shooting ourselves when we fail to praise or recognize skill, especially when that quality of skill is repeated many times.When someone gets really good at something, people start to expect them to be really good at it and so stop complimenting their high quality performance because they feel that high quality is now the norm. Don’t fall into that trap. If you fail to keep recognizing their skill, they may feel under appreciated and that their skill is no longer good, and will either improve further (which rarely is the case) or they will get lax and not put the effort out to b as good (which is more often the case). When the former happens, they often will begin pushing themselves too hard and burn themselves out, and in the later case they fall into a depression and burn themselves out.

The flip side of the coin is people who get too much praise and it goes to their heads. This can happen, but it’s often easier for a person to bring themselves down off a high horse than to dig themselves out of a pit of depression & low self-esteem. When I write something (like a blog entry), it’s easy for me to think it’s awesome. That really doesn’t count for sh*t, though. A lot of people say that the only person who’s opinion matters is yourself; that’s far from true. We’re social creatures by nature; we need the companionship of others or we will go insane. That means we need others to like us enough to hang out with us, right? Which means we need them to have a positive opinion of us. So their opinions actually do matter, for the sake of out own mental health and stability. We’ve got lots of people, friends or no, that are quite ready & able to help us off our high horses when we get too full of ourselves. The problem is that few people know how to get up onto a high horse in the first place. (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.)

So do yourself and everyone else a favor – start recognizing their good deeds, choices 7 performance more often, even with the little things. If everyone started doing that, then we’d all be getting those little bits of praise we all really do need to survive and succeed. And when someone gives you an honest compliment, as hard as it might be, don’t brush it off or reject it; just say thank you and try to honestly appreciate that someone really does think you’re not actually a total failure at life.