Everybody loves compliments. They make us feel good about ourselves and tell us something about what people appreciate in us.
What makes for a great compliment? It always has these three things:
- The sole focus is one or more qualities of the person receiving the praise.
- It’s backed by evidence. Either the evidence is glaringly obvious (a beautiful new outfit) and therefore needs no additional explanation, or the giver elaborates on why they appreciate said quality.
- It is genuine and given wholeheartedly.
While a lot of compliments can be taken at face value even if they don’t include all three pieces, there are some that can be dangerous to us introverts. I’m talking about forms of praise that are widely acknowledged as positive but may serve to limit you rather than help you grow. Here are four of them.
4 Potentially Limiting ‘Compliments’
1. The Good Girl or Boy
Most likely heard during childhood when we are forming who we will eventually be, this compliment is misleading, albeit usually given by loving parents with the kindest of intentions, I’m sure.
This is high praise to a child who is seeking the approval of the grown-ups in their lives (i.e. all of us). However, this compliment was most likely earned through being quiet, submissive, suggestible, or otherwise manageable, so it does little to acknowledge the qualities of the child and does more to appreciate the lack of inconvenience to the adult.
Such a compliment sets the stage for being overly deferential and possibly self-righteous. By nature, introverts like you and me tend to be quiet, thoughtful, and observant, which may in fact result in a caregiver having an easier time managing us. Yet being labeled as “good” may result in grooming kids to value compliance over expressing themselves. Given often enough, there is the danger that children learn to take their “goodness” too seriously.
2. The Good Listener
Introvert, is this you? You listen, empathize, and show steadfast support for those who need it. You genuinely care for others’ wellbeing, you want the world to be a kinder place, and you do your part in making it so. After having listened attentively to a friend for hours, taking in all the details of the current crisis occupying their mind, speaking only to acknowledge or otherwise validate their every emotion, with thoughtful observations and insight, you swell with pride when that ultimate prize is conferred upon you — your friend says, “You’re such a good listener!”
First of all, your friend is lucky to have you. The opportunity here is to explore whether you also value your own time and energy. Having listened a while, would you interrupt the conversation in order to accomplish something that needs doing? Do you make yourself available for listening, even when it’s not entirely convenient for you?
3. Easy To Work With
At your workplace, you do reliable work, are flexible, volunteer to help others, take on additional work, cooperate with team members, and provide any information that’s requested of you. You dislike conflict, but when presented with difficult situations, you handle them with restraint and thoughtful consideration for others involved. You’re easy to work with, and you pride yourself on your professional standards.
You are most likely very well respected within your workplace. The opportunity here is to explore whether you are also devoting similar effort towards identifying and pursuing your own career goals. Do you have a sense of what actions you need to take to achieve those goals? Does this inform your daily priorities at work? Are there things in your work environment that you constantly tolerate but never attempt to change?
4. Supportive Partner/Spouse
Your partner depends on you. You listen and give great advice, pick up any slack at home caused by unpredictability in their schedule, give plenty of space, understand and support their need for a life outside the one you share, communicate your appreciation of the person they are and what they bring to your life just by being in it.
Loving and supporting your partner gives you joy and is undoubtedly the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. Without reciprocation, however, this can also breed resentment. The opportunity here is to explore whether you also receive the understanding that you provide. Do you feel valued in your relationship?
Join the introvert revolution. One email, every Friday. The best introvert articles. Subscribe here.
How to Start Valuing Yourself More
All of the above “compliments” are given to thoughtful, considerate, compassionate people — in spite of the intention behind the labels. They’re also most likely awarded to those people who habitually give preference to others’ convenience at the cost of their own. I know, because I’ve been there many times.
So what can save such compassionate people from the mantle of martyrdom? Boundaries!
A boundary is the point at which you end and I begin; the point at which your convenience begins to encroach on mine; where your goals differ from mine; where my time and energy are more important than your needs; and the point at which voicing my opinion is more important than keeping the peace.
Now, there was a time in my life when I looked at having boundaries as being transactional. I wanted to give and to give with all of my heart. That made me happy. Truly! I didn’t think I wanted anything in return. I didn’t want to be someone who did things for others only to expect something in exchange. I held on to this standard until I met people who didn’t think anything of taking what I gave while never calling me “good.”
Like me, if you’ve had any of the above compliments associated with yourself, reflect on what boundaries you have in place and what you may need to ensure that you are paying attention to yourself. Is there a chance you are limiting yourself by being happy with these labels instead of striving for more? Would you continue with your current actions if you weren’t being called “good” in return? See this post for more helpful advice on setting boundaries as an introvert.
While many introverts tend to be highly considerate of others, boundaries provide balance. While the introvert’s quiet nature may seem to give the impression that “it’s all about you and I’m okay with that,” having boundaries says, “I’m important, too.” When you can voice your boundaries and have them respected, then you know you’re building on solid ground.