The danger of using 'but' when getting a compliment

Big 'buts' and boomerangs

Big “buts” and boomerangs prevent us from enjoying the goodness in life.

Large, firm butts are considered attractive in popular culture today. People exercise to increase their gluts, get butt implants and inject who-knows-what into their behinds, to increase their size. Just look at Jennifer Lopez and the Kardashians.

What’s true for physical beauty doesn’t hold true for living a positively attractive life.

Big “buts” get in the way when compliments are offered. It’s so culturally entrenched, it’s become an expectation.

A cartoon I saw recently perfectly depicted this social norm. In the first frame, a woman was offered a compliment by her friends. She responded with all of the reasons why the compliment wasn’t true, pointing out her shortcomings. The friends all nodded and smiled.

In the second frame of the cartoon, the woman who was offered the compliment simply said “thank you.” Her friends were outraged and they attacked her.

Sadly, this cartoon is closer to reality than fiction. The “buts” are expected, and they’re often automatic.

A compliment is a gift, and I want my gifts received. When I offer an accolade, I’m saddened when my gift is refused, diminished or returned. Instead of having it accepted, I only get their big “but” or a boomerang compliment in return.

Why is it we cannot receive these gifts people offer us? Are we really egomaniacs if we simply say “thank you”? I think not. It hurts me when I offer a sincere compliment or appreciation and it’s rejected. I want people to know, and more importantly, receive my sentiments.

What I find interesting is the opposite, when we’re offered a criticism. Boy, we hold onto these babies and milk them for all they’re worth. Curious isn’t it? Compliments are refused, or they’re like water off a duck, yet negative statements are nurtured and held on to, sometimes for years. Something’s wrong here.

The answer may lie in the nature of our brain and the power of the inherent negativity bias I’ve written about so often. The negativity bias is an evolutionary capacity. It’s our tendency to give more air time to the negative than the positive.

Negativity bias helped keep us alive back when sabre-toothed tigers were lurking in the jungle. We needed to pay more attention to lurking shadows, to what might threaten us, just to stay alive. But, in the absence of sabre-toothed tigers and the like, we’re overusing this capacity when it’s not needed.

We’re safer in modern society than we were when we lived in the wild, yet we continue to focus more on the negative, to our detriment. It can cost us our health, as it keeps us in a state of fight or flight.

Most people appreciate positive acknowledgment from others, we may even seek it, yet dismiss or denigrate it when it’s offered. What I do know is we’re more often critical of ourselves than we are of offering ourselves acknowledgement and encouragement. We’d never be as nasty to a friend.

The good news is we can rewire our brains from a negative focus to a positive one by becoming aware and practicing different neural pathways. We can take in our good, receive compliments and not fear them. We can change this societal norm.

Research reveals it takes five positive comments to offset one negative comment in a healthy relationship. The most important relationship we have isn’t with others, it’s with ourselves.

Let us accept and acknowledge the good in our lives, and offer ourselves encouragement. Let us receive the gifts of compliments and accolades others offer us. When we’re offered acknowledgment and praise it’s a gift another wants to share. A more positive focus increases the beneficial chemical cascade within our bodies.

The most gracious thing we can do is to receive the gift with gratitude. In this, we acknowledge the other, but we also acknowledge ourselves. It’s OK to feel good about yourself.

Let’s change this harmful societal norm. Let’s be daring and accept the gift of compliments offered with a simple, sincere thank you? I dare you to try.

This is your challenge for the week.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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