I have an awful reaction to being on the receiving end of compliments, gifts, and expressions of gratitude: visceral discomfort followed by impotent self-directed rage at having failed to insulate myself against any/all kindness. Ideally, I would love to be able to do things that other people consider to be nice without ever receiving any sort of thanks or even acknowledgment, but I know this is not a realistic goal. What are some concrete steps/resources I can use to learn how to change this overwrought bad attitude, and start meeting others' generosity, kindness, and gratitude with equanimity and grace rather than petulant rejection and destructive anger?
While I am intellectually aware that this is a very common cognitive distortion
, I still get disproportionately upset if anything I do is shown in a positive or even neutral light. Perhaps more accurately, I am uncomfortable being shown in anything but a negative light -- it's not like I enjoy being treated like shit, but it is much easier for me to deal with than being treated well. It almost feels like "letting" someone be nice to me without immediately rejecting the sentiment is an admission of some sort of weakness or even attention-seeking. I try hard to do right by my fellow sentient beings, and I have a tendency to wildly overcompensate in recompense when I inevitably fuck up, but I also hate being told that I have done well.
I've had a truly unbelievable amount of luck in this life, and it is really annoying to feel myself getting all het up and condescending when folks are just trying to be nice. For example, there are very few things I love more than giving gifts, but I adamantly refuse gifts that other people try to give me because I don't deserve any gifts for any reason. I know it is beyond rude, but accepting a gift makes me feel pathetic, weak, and beholden, like I need to give them five more gifts to make up for the one they just gave me, I guess to make up for the fact that I did not deserve the original gift and also to express my own gratitude for their unnecessary kindness. I do not know why I assume others feel differently, or why it is so easy to forgo a simple "thank you!" in order to continue ignoring the likelihood that I am probably making people feel uncomfortable by giving them a gift and then divebombing into a self-hate spiral if they try to thank me or give me a gift in return. My internal gears are constantly grinding over the fact that I have resolutely failed to deserve or match all of the kindnesses, compliments, and gifts I have received, and the ongoing imbalance drives me crazy.
Frustratingly, my whole body is an instinctual open book emotion-wise, which can turn "fake it 'til you make it" into an intractable war against myself when this stuff happens in real time. I always try to brush it off with "thanks!" or "no problem!" but people frequently call me out for furrowing my brow, gritting my teeth, rolling my eyes, or otherwise obviously letting on to my rejection of their premise, which (correctly) identifies my professed appreciation as disingenuous. This is particularly tough to wrangle at work: I can't just graciously shut up to let anyone thank me for my efforts or tell me that I met their expectations, I always have to point out where I failed and what I did wrong, even if that means inventing hypothetical situations where I could
have done something wrong. I don't know how to objectively gauge my performance at all, but if I get a good review, I freeze like a deer in headlights and then try to overwhelm it with proof of my failures.
I don't want to feel good when I get compliments, or start internalizing praise, I just want to defuse it all to a degree that will stop making me sick. I want to make kindness and acceptance seem totally benign instead of things that needs to be battled against so they can be given to someone who really deserves them, and I am hoping that will help me reinvent my inner goth teenager using slightly more nuance than 'literally everything I could ever hope to do is horrible, hopeless, and worthless, forever!' I want to perpetuate gratitude instead of spinning my wheels over perceived undeservedness.
Have you ever felt like this, but successfully started on a path toward being able to gracefully let niceness and thankfulness wash over you, rather than running away screaming if you perceive that you are receiving not-negative attention? Is there a way to stop stubbornly believing that anyone who says/does anything nice to/for you is uninformed, naive, misguided, or simply wrong? How do you combat feelings of inescapable base unworthiness in order to calmly accept expressions of gratitude and appreciation?
I just started seeing a new therapist in hopes of working toward some massive and long-overdue changes in my life, and this is first on the list. Any terminology, books (other than perennial favorite Feeling Good
-- I have that one!), or specific ideas/processes that we might be able to use to direct or focus the path forward are immensely appreciated. Bonus points for tactics that are wholly unrelated to merciless self-recrimination, as I've already got that in spades. Recommendations specifically related to not fighting against positive feedback that is received in one's professional/work life would be especially useful. Medication is not an option at this time.
Thanks so much, AskMeFi!