What is a Filing Cabinet, you ask? Well, a Filing Cabinet is my metaphor for the repository of the compliments you were suppose to receive as a child. You were suppose to receive the message that you were wonderful, you were precious, you were beautiful, you were talented, artistic, athletic, thoughtful, caring, sweet, intelligent, creative, and smart.  Remember the movie The Help?  “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”
If you got these compliments as a child from a loving parent, then when you are complimented now as an adult, that compliment goes into the filing cabinet and finds it’s appropriate folder. If you didn’t get a filing cabinet as a child, then when you are complimented as an adult, the compliment goes up to the filing cabinet and gets stamped, “No such person here, return to sender.” That is when you, the sender of the message, feel the compliment come back and smack you in the face.

If you didn’t get a filing cabinet as a child, it is up to you now to create one of your own. To do that, you need to write down every compliment that you receive and put each compliment in a special container. I recommend that you go to Pier I or World Market or T J Maxx and find an attractive wooden box to put your compliments in. That way, you are acknowledging the compliments and you are also acknowledging the importance of keeping them. You may find it easier to ‘keep’ a compliment about your work ethic than about your physical appearance. Once I was seeing an absolutely lovely young woman. She was tall, slender, blond and beautiful. But, she was a runner and she felt that her feet were ugly because she put so much wear and tear on them. Because she felt that her feet were ugly, she determined that she was unattractive too and that no one could possibly be interested in her and so she rejected all compliments about her looks.

I have come across many other reasons why my patients or people who have attended my seminars have rejected compliments. My favorite excuse was from a lovely, middle-aged woman who had just graduated from ASU, Magna Cum Laude. I asked her if I could now say that she was smart? Her response was, “No, because I don’t know everything.” I was flabbergasted. Other rejections have included: “I can’t take that in because I’m not that way 100% of the time.” This, from a very positive young lady who wasn’t cheerful all of the time. She admitted to being cheerful 75-80% of the time, but wouldn’t or couldn’t take in the compliment because she wasn’t that way ALL of the time. Another professional person rejected a compliment about her skills on the job because, as she said, “I’m just doing my job and anyone could do what I do.” Another time, a mother of two sons ages 9 and 11 came to my office and the boys waited an hour while their mother was in session with me. They were extremely well behaved and I complimented her on their good behavior and on her being a good mother. Her reply was an uncomfortable “Thank you.” I asked her what she did with that compliment and she said she couldn’t take the compliment in because I hadn’t seen her yell at them the night before. Other examples have included: “You’re just saying that because you want something”, “I don’t deserve that compliment”, “You don’t really mean that”, “You’re only saying that because I pay you”, “There are a lot of people out there who are better than I am”.

By the way, my grandmother always said that “Comparisons are odious”‘ and she was right! Comparisons only make a person feel superior or makes them feel less than. There is no winning with comparisons.  Are you a person who was compared to your brothers or sisters growing up?  Were you compared to the kids across the street who got better grades?  Did your parents tell you that you were just like your crazy aunt?  Comparisons like these were common as I was growing up because I don’t think parents realized the damage that these comments could do.  However, as adults we still compare ourselves to others and it can be just as damaging.  So, when you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, remember that there will always be someone who is taller, younger, brighter, more talented than you are. But there are also a lot of people who are not what you are. You need to feel special about yourself. You need to acknowledge that who you are, what you do, how you parent, or how you train or exercise or cook is good enough. You can’t be the ‘perfect’ mother, but you can be a ‘good enough mother’. Comparisons are odious and usually make us feel miserable!   Why do it?

When you are complimented, I think it’s important to practice saying “Thank you”. That way, the person paying the compliment doesn’t feel it slapped back. It really is a form of bad manners to say, “Oh this old thing” when someone had paid you a compliment (and I know that we are all guilty of this), but we must learn to take them “in”. Practice saying “Thank you”, practice taking in the compliment (at least some of it) and then writing it down. The last step is to put the compliment in your Filing Cabinet or special box. Try it – you may like it – and I promise that you won’t get a swelled head!