Social Question

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Patronizing when people tell me I've 'come so far'?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (2534 points ) November 2nd, 2012

I don’t know how to take it when people bring up my allegedly difficult start in life to compliment my accomplishments. Like I brought up in another thread, I was bullied a lot as a kid and had severe problems being misunderstood and marginalized by my parents and teachers but went on to achieve good things and am moving toward a successful career as I enter my mid 20s

The other day, one of my older brother’s friends wrote this long comment on my Facebook Timeline about how proud she is of me for overcoming my obstacles/detriments and brought up really specific ones that were kind of personal. I know her intentions were good but besides being miffed about the really personal stuff she alluded to I can’t help but feel kind of patronized when people tell me I’ve ‘come so far’ and ‘overcame a lot’.

When people bring up my past to compliment me I don’t know how to feel. They kind of act like I was this ugly, horrible lagoon creature who magically transformed into a goddamn unicorn. Is it normal that I get a little annoyed?

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19 Answers

DigitalBlue's avatar

I don’t know if it is normal, I’m sure people don’t mean any harm by it, but I can relate. I feel the same way.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@DigitalBlue She’s a genuinely nice person and I know it wasn’t backhanded but I hear it all the time now. My HS Principal who I often butted heads with sent me an email about how ‘proud’ everyone is of me for graduating from college, starting a career and otherwise being a marginally respectable person. Is it like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs?

jca's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace: I would delete that comment off FB if I were you, if I founded it embarassing.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

Wow if anyone complimented me I’d take it and run! Not often that happens.
People react differently to compliments – and of course, as you’ve highlighted in your post, there are different, less than appropriate ways of presenting that compliment that can make someone feel miffed or annoyed. Whilst it may be odd for someone to be pissed off at a compliment, given the personal information you say was brought forward into the comment, then I’d say you were justified at being miffed. Perhaps if the compliment were more carefully worded then maybe it would be strange for you to be annoyed by it, but not in this instance.

Mariah's avatar

I don’t think they’re saying you were not a good person before, just that the situations you faced were shitty and it’s awesome that you’ve worked past them.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’ve always found it best to try to accept well-meaning compliments with grace, give the person a full-stop acknowledgement (because you certainly don’t want them going on about it), and then leave it alone.

I understand how you mean that the the principal’s praise can rankle, as if you could respond, “How did you think I would turn out, or how should I have been after being in your care? Criminal? Insane? Both?” If you think that the compliment or praise is honest, then accept it and drop it without trying to critique it too deeply. (You run the risk of being pegged back to that “misunderstood” classification again: “Ah, now I see his true colors again. I was premature to praise him, obviously.”) Not that that matters so much, but if the person is well known, popular or in a position of power, then their words can affect your reputation with others. And that can matter. So it’s better sometimes to just be silent and accept whatever comes, bad or good.

Your life will be its own example.

It’s easy to feel unworthy of praise sometimes. For example (I forget who said it first), no one is worthy of the unconditional love shown by one’s dog; just try to accept it.

wundayatta's avatar

I have often had trouble with compliments. They were never what I was looking for. I don’t know if I felt patronized—maybe a little. What? Did you expect so little of me that these paltry accomplishments are worth of praise? Where were you when I needed some support?

I’ve learned, over the years, just to say thank you. People are generally well-meaning when they express a compliment. And if they thought so little of me that they could compliment this, well, too bad.

And frankly, I never had anyone tell me they were proud of me. That’s one I’d take in a second. Or maybe not. By this time I’d wonder why they weren’t proud of me back when I needed the support? Why do they wait until after I’ve made it?

Life isn’t fair, I guess. We don’t get what we want exactly when we want it, if we get it at all.

So they didn’t expect much of you? It’s not worth dwelling on that. Be kind. Accept their praise gracefully. Make friends. Influence people. Make them feel good for noticing you. Some day, you may want their friendship. So now is not the time to burn any bridges.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

I don’t want to burn bridges and I always accept a compliment and tell the person ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re too kind’ but inside I sometimes feel like it’s condescending.

wundayatta's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace That’s one of those feelings that does you no good. If you know mindfulness techniques, you can use those to help you let that go. If you can let it go, it won’t bother you.

Intellectually speaking, there’s no gain to be made out of feeling like people are condescending to you. All that does is makes you feel worse. It doesn’t matter whether it is true or not, there’s nothing for you to get out of it. So when you feel that, it’s your brain playing tricks on you and trying to make you feel bad. If you can notice your brain playing tricks, and condescend to it, in a way, but metaphorically patting it on the head and telling it to run along and play, you’ll not be be bothered as much by those feelings and life will be better.

If you are regularly bothered by your mind doing this kind of stuff to you, I highly recommend learning to meditate and do mindfulness practice.

marinelife's avatar

Yes. When it happens, say modestly, Thank you. What I have achieved took a lot of hard work on my part.”

To the woman who commented on personal stuff message her and say: “I prefer not to dwell on the past. That is why I removed your comment. I consider those things personal.”

Buttonstc's avatar

It’s interesting that you begin with ” I don’t know how to take it…”

Is it possible that you’ve been so used to being devalued, bullied and even marginalized by your own parents that compliments are so extremely uncomfortable because they’ve so seldom been a part of your growing up years ? It’s like a foreign language to you. You literally don’t know how to react?

Evidently you’ve experienced the world as being relentlessly harsh and negative. It may suck but at least you were accustomed to dealing with it. In it’s own way it was sort of “comfortable” if only because it was so predictable.

But, obviously you learned to deal with it and thrive in spite of it. You’re a survivor. And that in itself is pretty damn praiseworthy and not to be dismissed lightly.

But being praised is totally new territory, unfamiliar and strange. Your knee jerk reaction is to see it negatively and perceive it as patronizing because you don’t know how else to frame it positively.

You could not have gone through what you did without some serious damage to your self esteem. And most likely the words of your bullying tormentors are still playing in your mind like a continuously looping tape. At least that’s what normally happens with kids who’ve been relentlessly bullied with no one to defend them.

(BTW: let me make a clear distinction between your brothers friend and the principal. That friend was clearly out of line for posting personal info like that in such a public space like Facebook.)

But I’m inclined to think that the Principal was being quite genuine with you. You mentioned that he sent you an email. That’s quite personal and not something he had to do. I think he was genuinely delighted that a so-called “troubled kid” made good and he was sincerely making an effort to reach out to you in a positive way (in spite of all the head butting of the past). He was acknowledging you as an accomplished adult with a very bright and promising future.

Is it possible that it’s not he who views you as some “lagoon creature” (now magically transformed) but, in some way, that’s how you’re so used to seeing yourself ?

Here’s an idea to think about. How about considering seeing a therapist to deal with your self esteem issues? One doesn’t have to be in some horrible upheaval or crisis to warrant therapy.

It’s perfectly valid to want to get to know who you really are and put some of those self esteem issues to rest. Kind of like repairing some of the damage and healing yourself.

And you’ll also be getting feedback from an objective third party who never knew you as that head-butting damaged, bullied and undervalued child. It’s a fresh start and a new set of eyes.

Don’t you deserve to invest some time in yourself to find out who you really are? You’re not a lagoon creature or a magical unicorn. Both are extremes and neither is who you really are.

You’re someone who has survived a very damaging childhood with a skewed perspective of the world as a result of the emotional pain you endured.

How about getting some objective help in growing away from that so it no longer taints your ability to deal with something as simple as a compliment?

Seriously think about giving therapy a try. It may take trying out a few different people before finding a comfortable fit. But it may be one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your future.

I wish you the best.

SpatzieLover's avatar

It says more about the person posting it and her own insecurities, IMO. Delete it and move on.

SuperMouse's avatar

I get this a lot when it comes to my marriage. Many people tell me how awesome it is that I stay with a man who is disabled and that it must be so much work and they could never do it even if the tried. The thing is though, I am just a gal who is in love and playing the hand I was dealt. While it is great to be commended for achievements, at a certain point it does grow wearisome and start to feel patronizing. I completely understand where you are coming from and I don’t believe it is an issue of whether or not you are able to accept a compliment. I honestly don’t think people see how those types of statements can come across as condescending, but they can and sometimes do. Someone told me once that when one receives a compliment one should simply “smile and say thank you.” That is what I try to do – even if it is through gritted teeth.

Coloma's avatar

I don’t know…it’s all about perception. You could just as easily re-frame their words to be assimilated as a compliment. I would take it as others really feeling a sense of awe and wonder for overcoming so many obstacles and issues in your life.
I always get compliments about how I am ” in a league of my own” and that I am “intimidating” because of my eclectic approach to life and my off the wall humor. I take it as a compliment, not an insult. I wouldn’t read too deeply into it, not everyone is blessed with just the right words at just the right time. Meh…let it go.

ninjacolin's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace said: “They kind of act like I was this ugly, horrible lagoon creature who magically transformed into a goddamn unicorn”

Curious.. If you were an ugly horrible lagoon creature who magically transformed into a unicorn.. and if they complimented you on it.. how would you feel then?

I agree with @SpatzieLover in that the compliment reflects the perspective of your peers. Seems apparent that this is what happened to you. At least metaphorically. So they’re complimenting you.

I wonder what compliment you would give yourself. Are you personally proud of your transformation from young to old? Do you see how your efforts got you to where you are despite your challenges? Is it true to you what they say about your accomplishments?

Sometimes it feels like some people want to keep you in the past. They bring up negative history to make you feel like you are still there and like that’s all you will ever amount to. Something like: “Sure you’re all great and accomplished now but I remember when you were.. blah blah blah blah blah!” They seem like they’re holding it over you, as if they’re somehow trying to blackmail you somehow with entirely public history. I agree there can definitely be something abusive with that. IF that’s what you’re facing, I would say the trick to dealing with that is to be upfront with them about the fact that whatever lows you were facing in the past are in the past and that they’re confronted with a new reality which they’re just going to have to start all over with and get used to. Don’t let them hold it over you, acknowledge the past for what it is: no longer applicable. And invite them to participate in your present and future.

However, the comments you described don’t seem to be of the abusive sort. Instead, they jump right to that last part: They sound more like a debut. They aren’t trying to hold anything negative over your head. Comments like that aren’t about how shitty you were at some time in the past. Rather, they are happy/proud comments that you obviously never were the sort of person who would let stuff like that hold you back and for being the kind of person who turns their shit around if they need to.

When you look at your friends’ lives I’m sure you’ll notice a diversity social, economic, health and family challenges that people just have to deal with. Without being too much of a judgmental asshole, I’m sure you’ll notice that some of your friends really did a good job with whatever was on their plate but unfortunately some others just seemed to have laid down and took more and more shit, never advancing beyond.

If you’re getting compliments like this, it’s plain to see which type of person you are.

Without even knowing your history, I gotta say: Congrats, lady! This is a good problem to have.

LuckyGuy's avatar

And this is why you should only let peole post after you give them permission.

snapdragon24's avatar

She should be writing that stuff to you on private…even though her intentions might be to show the world how proud she is of you. I can understand why it would annoy you…but in general people who knows us well and have seen us evolve saying – ‘you’ve come a long way’ can be a real compliment. Again depends who is saying it and how they say it.

jca's avatar

Saying you’ve come a long way is a real compliment, but saying you’ve come a long way and then putting your personal details in a public thread is not smart of her to do. I would thank her on the thread and then pm her and ask her please, don’t put that stuff on my wall in the future. Also, like @LuckyGuy suggests, make your wall where others can’t see what everyone posts.

deni's avatar

No I’d be annoyed too. Many people don’t live in the present and carry much baggage from the past with them, they assume you are the same.

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