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Is it just me, or do you really, really dislike being complimented over looks? Like, I don't tend to mind so much unless it's family. But when my family compliments how I look, I just don't like it. At all. And it makes me uncomfortable and I don't know why. Of course they always say 'just accept the compliment, would ya?', but it genuinely makes me really uncomfortable-

And I don't exactly know how to say that and politely ask for nothing like that because this side of my family have very, very strong emotions-

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Depends a little bit for me. A friend I'm chatting with complimenting an aspect of my appearance that I chose, like hair style or shirt or jewelry or something, I'm usually fine with that, maybe sometimes a little awkward. A stranger unexpectedly complimenting something about my natural body... that gets really uncomfortable and I'll likely only manage as much acknowledgement as is required to be polite and hope there are no further such comments. So it's mostly those three factors: how well I know the person (and more particularly, how comfortable I am with them), how startled I am to be getting addressed at all, and whether I'm being complimented on something I have any control over. When it gets into compliments on things that seem to commonly be perceived as related to dating or sexual things, I want out now please go away I don't exist anymore. And sometimes, somewhere along the way my mind will assign meanings to things that probably weren't intended, at least not consciously, like if it's something that can be taken as reinforcing problematic beauty standards or gender stereotypes or something. I'll generally assume it was unintended unless presented evidence otherwise, but it still gives me a bit of icky feeling when that happens.

If the natural appearance vs appearance choices thing is part of your issue, one thing I've seen done in more controlled environments is to restrict compliments to only things that aren't a person's body. I've also seen anonymized compliment systems (with some sort of usually-human filter in place to prevent misuse or harassment) that can, oddly, blunt the impact of discomfort for many (feels less direct and personal, sort of like how eye contact can be very uncomfortable), and designated times for compliments to happen, but those probably aren't super useful on the daily. But you might be able to establish what things you are and aren't comfortable with getting complimented on (it tends to be emotionally easier to accept a sort of redirection than a plain rejection).

One other thing I experience... or, I guess, two. One, I'm uncomfortable with receiving complements that I believe are untrue (but a lot of odd little factors can play into that, so I can't really define it clearly). Two, even though I can recognize that it's flawed thinking wrapped up in layers of some toxic cultural ideas, I have this idea that it's bad to agree with (or, by association, accept) a complement and that I should instead resist or downplay it.
AliRevellian wrote:
But when my family compliments how I look, I just don't like it. At all. And it makes me uncomfortable and I don't know why

Yeah I'm the complete opposite, I don't like it or dislike it. Someone complimenting your looks is just that, a compliment. Feel good about it. Or ignore it and move on. They're just words.
And I would add that, imo, asking 'for nothing like that' is just rude. If someone compliments you, especially family, they're being kind and telling you that you look nice. Asking them not to comes off as either saying 'I don't care about your opinion, shut up' or 'I know I look good, you don't need to tell me' which is quite cocky. I would not do this.
I think you may be missing the issue, Yesugei. Feelings simply happen, and even with a lot of practice, it can be difficult to redirect those feelings when they appear. There is also nothing wrong with asking someone not to do something that bothers you; people are allowed to have boundaries, and having boundaries that one is able to clearly express is healthy.

Concerning compliments in particular, everything you said is the same kind of thing women hear all the time if they express discomfort with being catcalled or otherwise "complimented" in an inappropriate way. "Don't be upset when you're told you'd be prettier if you smiled more, they're just complimenting what a pretty smile you have." "Don't be upset when he makes suggestive comments at you, he's just complimenting you because he finds you attractive." Etc. Those sorts of "compliments" are (I hope) obviously problematic, but similar discomfort can easily show up in other areas for various reasons, just just telling the person experiencing it to just appreciate or ignore it is not the slightest bit helpful. It just tells that person that their feelings don't matter, that their feelings are less important than the feelings of others, that their desire to not be made uncomfortable is less important than someone else maybe feeling a little sad or grumpy that their attempt to make someone feel nice (assuming it was even in earnest) had the opposite effect.

Suggesting they work on how they respond, such as using CBT or such to retrain how they react over time can potentially be valid, but most of the time, that, too, will only actually help if the person you're telling already feels a positive connection to you, and even then it's not certain. But a "just get over yourself" approach will cause more harm than good.
Zelphyr wrote:
Same kind of thing women hear all the time.

I literally never mentioned men or women in my reply nor did I check the posters profile so their gender did not alter or influence my reply. I gave my view on what op asked. Don't play the gender card.
But whatever the case, I made my point and I'm not really interested in debating it.
Accept the compliment, or ignore it and move on. Stop letting words have power over you, let that go on long enough and you'll develop one hell of a victim complex.
I wasn't playing any card. I was presenting a well-known example for comparison. :/
Sanne Moderator

Hey gang, just a quick official moderator note:

We'd really prefer if people didn't discourage others from setting and maintaining their personal boundaries. Not everyone experiences life the same way, and what is not a big deal for one person may be hugely uncomfortable for another. Experiencing discomfort from unsolicited compliments is a valid way to feel, even if it doesn't make sense to another.

Please focus on helping the OP find ways to set their boundaries instead of discussing whether or not their feelings on this are valid, thank you.
Sanne Moderator

AliRevellian wrote:
Is it just me, or do you really, really dislike being complimented over looks? Like, I don't tend to mind so much unless it's family. But when my family compliments how I look, I just don't like it. At all. And it makes me uncomfortable and I don't know why. Of course they always say 'just accept the compliment, would ya?', but it genuinely makes me really uncomfortable-

And I don't exactly know how to say that and politely ask for nothing like that because this side of my family have very, very strong emotions-

As someone who's grown up being bullied for my looks, and had people trick me into thinking they liked me, and has also been fetishized for their size a lot, getting compliments on your appearance can be a really complex experience. I can think of a lot of reasons why you may feel this way, but I think the bottom line is that you're allowed to exist comfortably without having to deal with unwanted compliments. Good intentions don't mean you owe feeling good about it, you know?

My best advice is to acknowledge their strong emotions, but to make the request simple and without blame. Something along the lines of:
I appreciate you think so positively about me. Unfortunately, getting nice compliments makes me feel bad, which I know doesn't make a lot of sense, but it just is that way for me. Can you help me feel more comfortable by not complimenting my body? I would really like to hear nice things about the things I choose, instead!

You could elaborate that 'things I choose' means stuff like the colors of your clothing, maybe you made some cool art, or you kicked ass with an exercise routine etc. :)

One important thing to note is that you can't force anyone to change their behavior, obviously, and you have to make peace with that knowledge before you engage. You're asking people for their support, and if they're unwilling to do this for you, then that is only a reflection of their lack of support of you. It does not mean you're being unreasonable or making a fuss over nothing. You're communicating how something makes you feel, which is not something you choose, but you choose to ask for an alternative that lets people say nice things without making it about your body to meet them halfway. If such a simple compromise is too much to ask for from them, that is on them, not you!

I sincerely hope that they will oblige you in this, but if they don't, please know you didn't do anything wrong by asking something like this.
AliRevellian Topic Starter

I guess I could have been vague, but, Zelphyr and Sanne, that was helpful thank you.

I have a feeling a lot of things root back to a few years back when I experienced some 'not-so-favourable' experiences with how people treated me. I won't go into detail, but it was worse than catcalling. And ever since then, I feel I have been extremely more aware of the idea of 'people aren't who they seem at times', and that may taint my outlook, but it makes me uncomfortable nonetheless. It sounds weird, but I'd rather my appearance and chosen looks go, no unnoticed or unappreciated, just not really commented on. Something like 'hey I like your earrings' isn't that bad, and I'm more okay with that, but there are some days where any compliment feels really bad. I can also see this occurring in myself because of my dysphoria as well, as I am a trans man, but have not undergone anything. I look pretty androgynous in real life, but I don't like being seen as a girl and thinking that's how people see me, especially certain people who I won't name (in regards to not only the situation a few years back and the repercussions of it in how I look at people now compared to before).

And it's not even just that, it's just that it gives me this really weird feeling, almost like fear or anxiety upon given a compliment. Ergo, I can't push it off. If I do, it makes me feel worse. I will tense up a lot of the time and avoid it, and end up sounding like the jerk when I just don't know what to do. Like I said, I have a very emotional family on my mom's side who compliment people a lot and are extremely family oriented and such. So, naturally, it's just really hard for me. I don't want to walk into a room and instantly be complimented for how I look. And maybe that also just taps into a fear of being judged on look, no personality. Or anything of the sort.

See this is really hard for me to explain, it's just that certain people in the family get hurt extremely easy by the smallest of things and I'm just worried about saying anything because they'll be upset by it. Which kind of bothers me because it is just boundaries, but I also feel like most people in my family aren't going to understand that it makes me feel uncomfortable. But I will try, I will, I'm just a bit nervous about it,
AliRevellian wrote:
Is it just me, or do you really, really dislike being complimented over looks? Like, I don't tend to mind so much unless it's family. But when my family compliments how I look, I just don't like it. At all. And it makes me uncomfortable and I don't know why. Of course they always say 'just accept the compliment, would ya?', but it genuinely makes me really uncomfortable-

And I don't exactly know how to say that and politely ask for nothing like that because this side of my family have very, very strong emotions-

If it's just your family, and not a blanket-dislike, then could it possibly be because they expect you to appreciate it? Any social interaction that comes loaded with the implication that it might be transactional (they've said a nice thing, they expect a nice interaction in return) is probably going to make you feel awkward if you're indifferent to it otherwise.

Obviously, all social interaction is transactional in some way, but some are more... expensive than others, if that makes sense.

On looks: I tend to not put any effort into how I look and because of the societal expectation for women to look nice, it is hard for me to not kneejerk at being told I look nice and immediately think "Can you appreciate something about me that I CARE about, please?" I just equate compliments for my looks as not being taken as seriously as I'd like and it's hard to separate that from gender baggage. But this also all goes on in my head and unless someone presses the issue, I just thank them and dismiss their existence from my mind.
If I'm understanding things right, it's not that compliments from your family bother you more, but rather that they come more frequently and are harder to "reject?" (Quotes because I think the weight of the implications are a bit heavier than fits, but it's the word I'm able to grab right now.) And I'm unsure if when you say "any compliment" you still mean any appearance-based compliment or any compliment at all, but for the moment I'll assume the latter.

Hng I type too much so into collapses things go.

Some Self-Advocacy
I'd still encourage working on the polite/friendly rejection/redirect (along with looking into ways to learn to be more comfortable with compliments again, whether it's a formal or informal therapy thing), as well as doing a brief status announcement (or picking out individuals who can help spread the word more subtly in advance) to preemptively dissuade folks if it's some sort of event, like family gatherings. This can mean imagining the scenario over and over (you saying what you want to say in the way you'd like to say it), actually practicing it to a mirror or a wall or a pet or whatever, etc. If you want to go a step further on that, you can consider the responses you might get: what the best possible and worst possible outcomes could be (they don't even have to be realistic), and then thinking on much more realistic, most likely outcomes between those extremes, and how you'll handle them. That's actually getting into a therapy tool called "Coping Ahead," where you mentally play things out in advance so you can plan how to get through; a key thing there is include that focus on how you will (not "should," but realistically can) handle it, not just stopping at the "what if this happens?" It'll most likely bring up some of the stress of actually going through those things, but it should make the stress at the real moment a bit more manageable.

As for more of the how/what to say, I'd encourage an initial focus on "friendly" - things like presenting it with a warm/understanding type smile, generally bringing it up and expressing it in a manner that minimizes any sense they you're calling anyone out. Just a "hey, here's a little FYI I think it's important you know" sort of thing. When dealing with individuals that will inherently create a more "singled out" feeling, it might also be helpful to use language like "it bothers me when people do this" instead of "it bothers me when you do this." (And if they try to worm around things to be some "special exception," it's absolutely reasonable to inform them that they are included in that "people" - and if appropriate/honest, maybe you an present some other perk that they actually do get with you that others don't, or generally reiterate that they are valued in your life.) If friendly or an otherwise "let's not make a big deal of this" kind of manner doesn't work, it's good to be able to back it up with calm-but-firm. "Yes, I'm serious about this. It's something that honestly bothers me. I'll need to work on this in my own time, but please respect that compliments actually make me feel bad."

Perception Management rambling
You described this as something that "sounds weird" a couple of times. Under the circumstances, I don't think it sounds the slightest bit weird, at least not in that it's anything to be ashamed of (just in case you are actually feeling that way). However, I do find that language along those lines can still help with some of those who may find the problem unrelatable. I think that, conceptually, I'd almost relate it to something like putting things away or putting a curtain around it; it's still there and known, but it's not as distracting or awkward to deal with (for the other person) as seeing the room in a mess or being able to see but struggle to understand the inner workings of some complex machine. It's a little, "this is a thing, it exists and must be dealt with appropriately, but all you need to worry about is not bumping into/tripping over it." More fundamentally, it's an ultra-simplified explanation.

"Why is xyz such a big deal?"

Because my brain just works a little weird sometimes.

Because I'm dealing with a trauma you don't need the details of.

Because psychology is strange.

Something that some of the folks in my life have gotten used to me saying (not just as a super-simple explanation, but also as a little bit of a tension defuser) is "brains are meat and meat is dumb." (They aren't actually meat, as in muscle tissue, but the point is there and it comes across better than "brains are fat...") It's a simple, attention-grabbing, and somewhat humorous way of pointing out that everyone has their odd little quirks that don't always make any sense. I've also found it helpful when I find myself struggling with something that I know the "right" answer to, but just can't seem to act on it; or when I know some particular thinking pattern is unreasonable, but it's there anyway.

Actually, if you see me talk about mental health things much, you might notice that I tend to speak of my mind/brain as if it were a separate entity from me. For me, that's a coping mechanism that, among other things, makes use of how simple phrasing can change how we see something. I'm realizing that it probably ends up looking like I hate my brain... but the "relationship" is more like pet and owner. My brain doesn't always work the way I want it to, and sometimes it even gets in my way, but just scolding it won't actually solve anything. It might change what the main problem is or create new problems, but it won't help it learn the things I want it to do or provide any reason to try them. I'm also still responsible for it, both for taking care of it so it can do its best, and for handling any of the problems it might cause even if it was acting against my wishes. I need to work more on the "the better care I take of it, the better we'll get along and accomplish things" part, but it at least sometimes helps me step back from blaming myself too hard for struggling with things, so I can try to focus on how to work with the struggle instead of being stuck just feeling ashamed for having that struggle.

A Signal System
You mentioned that it can vary on whether any compliments can be okay or not, and it made me wonder if something I've seen some genderfluid folks do might also prove useful to you (and I've seen a similar thing used in other contexts, too). The sort of prototypical/stereotypical genderfluid person tends to experience their different gender states quite distinctly, sometimes to the point that which pronoun set feels comfortable will change, and some will even have multiple names based on which gender they are experiencing at a time. They don't always feel up to signaling through full presentation stereotypes, though, and I'm not sure the idea of announcing one's personal status at least once every day so others around you know how to best interact with you is appealing to anyone. A tactic some have taken to is to have a designated signal accessory, like a bracelet, necklace, pin, etc, to be the announcement. It can be the the presence of the accessory means one thing and its absence means another. It can be that different variations of the accessory have specific meanings (sort of like colored bracelets I've seen where both the color and a statement on the bracelet expresses their comfort level with some particular type of interaction, often with a green/yellow/red scheme for "go ahead"/"ask first"/"don't approach").

If you can work with your family to establish a similar code with you, that could be a passive way to let them know what you're comfortable with. An interchangeable system like above could work, or there's also a stackable option, where you could use multiple variations of the accessory to basically list all the things that you're comfortable with. In either case, it'd be good to have a variation that expresses basically "just don't," but it'd be good to also establish that no accessory present should also be interpreted as "just don't" or "nothing is comfortable." Whatever it is, ideally it would be something with good visibility, all variations should be easy to distinguish from each other from a distance, and having some word or phrase that can act as a reminder of the meaning could be very helpful, especially starting out. You could include an item that signals some kind of restriction, with the intention being that they ask what the restriction is before expressing any compliments - like say if you're feeling fine with skill-based compliments so long as they aren't about some particular skill that just doesn't feel okay at the time.

I think it might also be helpful to establish from the start a variation that says you're okay with some form of appearance-based compliment, for two reasons:
  1. It gives them the idea that you'll be okay with it at some point. This can help with convincing them that you are working on it (even if you aren't actively or consciously working on it, just maintaining boundaries still counts as working on resolving the issue, and it's none of their business how, specifically, you're doing that unless you decide you want to share it), which can potentially reduce having unhelpful advice pushed on you over and over, including those who may otherwise insist that you just "need to be complimented more." Additionally, some people have an easier time cooperating now if they believe they can proceed with what they wanted at a later point, and may be more resistant if told something will never be an option. (But there are also people who work the other way around, where the unfulfilled "promise" creates a desire to do it, while an outright "no" can be accepted and gotten over faster. There are also those who'll go either way under different circumstances.)
  2. If there ever is a point where you feel either that you would appreciate such compliments or that you would like to check on if it's changed or allow for a bit of somewhat-controlled exposure, you'll have that already-established way to communicate that. (Just have somewhere you can hide the thing away in case it gets to be too much.)

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