Gift-Wrap Guilt: Why Compliments Can Be So Painful And How To Soothe The Sting

I never did well with compliments.

People would tell me how they enjoyed a gig after I'd played. And I'd always make self-deprecating jokes. And find a way to quickly move on.

David Bird Cognitive Hypnotherapy Leighton Buzzard, Fear of Failure, Perfectionism, Perfectionist

It wasn't until I saw a friend play with his band I saw the impact it had. "That was awesome, you guys were great!" "No. We weren't"


I genuinely thought they were great. I really did enjoy the show. And yet my friend didn't. But how?

We all perceive things differently. Just start a group conversation about 'good' music, films, or sports teams. Watch the carnage ensue. And a lot of that can be down to past learning and experience.

What I'd learned growing up was getting things wrong could lead to humiliation. And the fear was so strong, there was only one way to protect against it: absolute perfection.

Of course, I was always on edge. Because if we focus in enough we find imperfection. Things can always be a little better. So I constantly anticipated that humiliation. Which doesn't bode well for the kind of relaxed focus that yields the lowest mistake-rate flow states.

It went deeper though.

Compliments brought discomfort because I didn't feel I deserved them. To me, no performance I gave was good enough. So it felt fraudulent to accept. And their dismissal was a way of deflecting the guilt that seemed to come bundled in.

It took some time to fully understand that. But having the interaction with my friend had me recognise something important: if I could enjoy his performance when he didn't, then the same could be true reversed. And that's when the next realisation came:

I'd been rejecting my complimenters' gifts. And we know what it's like to have a gift thrown down, unappreciated.

I'd eventually begin to practise what a singing teacher once taught me. "You might not agree, but after a while you just learn to smile and say thank you".

And I didn't agree. Not at first. But I did begin to notice how much more my complimenters appreciated having their gifts well-received. And, funnily enough, after a while, I did begin to believe them just a little bit more.

(Struggling with perfectionism, fear of humiliation, or worrying about getting things wrong? Cognitive Hypnotherapy in Leighton Buzzard can help you. Get in touch to learn how).