The Dangers of Complements

Earlier this week, I listened to a recording from a meeting I had missed. I’ll keep the group name private, but its focus is healing an individual’s relationship with food. A courageous woman dear to my heart introduced this month’s topic: Body Image.

“Now, before we began, who would like to share a challenge or success they encountered this week? Come on, be brave and unmute yourselves,” she cooed.

As you can imagine, the resistance was palpable. Who doesn’t have a hang up about their body?

Finally, a participant unmuted herself and shared a challenge that struck me at my core. After months of weight loss and wins, a complement from a coworker was what derailed her. Someone simply acknowledging her weight-loss left her feeling so vulnerable, so resentful, she began to backtrack on her progress. This particular incident occurred months ago, but the wound remained.

She could pinpoint the moment her efforts unraveled, but she couldn’t figure out why a complement, of all things, was what did it.

As I walked my dog down a busy street, tears welled up in my eyes. In the past, complements notoriously caused me to backtrack on progress, and not just complements on my physical appearance. One time a friend complemented my defensive skills during basketball practice, and as soon as the words left her mouth, I let her score.

The group leader gave her own explanation. She believed the coworker’s comment made the participant feel “seen” in an uncomfortable way. Usually when a person struggles with something, they try to hide it. For example, an overweight person may fill their closet with black clothes.

When the coworker acknowledged her weight loss, the participant heard, “I remember when you were fat. Good thing you lost weight, you look so much better now!”

Her “secret” flaw was actually out in the open for the world to see, judge, and comment on.

In that moment, her ego perked up and said, “Let’s go back to the way we were so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable anymore!”

My issue with complements goes in a different direction. Words of Affirmation is my Love Language. For this reason, those who identify as men have easily charmed me into less than ideal situations, or made me believe things that weren’t true. Complements from women, on the other hand, cause me to retort back with a negative quality about myself. For example, if someone who identifies as a woman struggles with her weight and then comments on how toned I am, I feel compelled to make a comment about my thighs, in hopes she will feel better.

Over time, complements became a warning sign; “don’t trust that person.” It seemed there was always an ulterior motive behind the nicities. So, on a subconscious level, it made sense to take an opposing action to keep myself safe; ie, go home and binge eat if someone commented on my weight loss.

Breathwork, meditation, daily affirmations, journaling, and overall maturity have improved my relationship with complements. And hearing this angel lady vocalize her experience in such a brave and vulnerable way only heightened my awareness.

How do complements make you feel? Would you be comfortable standing in the middle of a room, while each person complements you? I experienced this in several acting classes, and witnessed it happen in breathwork teacher training. It’s pretty amazing, and also very difficult for most people!

Email me at if you’re interested in breaking through your aversion to complements or if you’d just like to chat more about this topic.

Much love!

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