I remember the first time that I shaved my head completely. I was just starting to thin at the age of 21 years old (thanks genetics!) and after trying to do something to mask the thinning that didn’t work, I just decided to shave it completely. Afterwards I headed over to a friend’s house were there was a small gathering of the guys who I desperately wanted to be affirmed and accepted by. As I walked in the door one of them looked down the stairwell and saw me, and then just started to howl with laughter and tell the other guys to prepare themselves for what they were about to see.
I had already been experiencing a lot of depression in this season as I wasn’t receiving the affirmation and affection and acceptance that I so desperately craved. I noticed that when I felt depressed that there was a physical sensation that went along with it – like a sudden void or vacuum appeared in my heart, going all the way down to the pit of my stomach and below. Hearing this friend absolutely lose his mind with laughter at my appearance created one of the most intense versions of that physical sensation I can recall.
I can’t think of a time where I received any compliments from friends or family about the way I looked when I was growing up. I can spout off countless comments about my shortcomings. I was too short. I was too skinny. I was too weak. I was too awkward. My voice was too nasal. My lips were too red. My hands were too small.
By the time I was in college, the idea of compliments was something completely foreign to me. And as if my growing up experience wasn’t already enough of a shot to the gut, there was always more ways to look worse. I started to lose my hair at the age of 21. By the age of 23 I had to have a buzz cut. By 25 I was shaving with a razor.
People *love* to remind me about the parts of me that I’m extremely insecure about. Even to this day at the age of 38, there’s not a week that goes by that someone doesn’t jokingly remind me that I don’t have hair, or that I’m heavier than they are, or that I’m older than they are. And those are the people that I know and have good friendships with. But it doesn’t just have to be friends that remind me about my looks, even strangers regularly feel comfortable enough to point out that I’m bald.
Once my wife and I were walking around a mall when a man maybe in his 50’s walked right up to me, put his hand on my head and then called out to the rest of his group, “see this is what I was saying I could do!” and then started laughing.
Let me tell you how much I *love* hearing some variation of a barber joke and how I don’t need one.
I share all this not asking for a pity party, but to provide context as to why I just can’t believe anyone when they give me a compliment.
In recent years I’ve received some compliments here and there, which has been a huge surprise for me. I can literally think of one compliment I received that I *genuinely* received well because of the context, but otherwise, I just can’t believe any compliments.
Even compliments from my wife are next to impossible to receive or believe because I think to myself, “you’re more or less trapped into affirming me… it’s a biased opinion.”
As I have started to step into healthy community with other Side-B men, my inability to receive or believe compliments I receive is becoming an obvious issue. I’ve received several compliments from men who meet all of our cultural requirements for objective masculine beauty. I see them and I have to guard my heart from envy or jealously that I don’t look like they do – and I have to guard my heart even more from then turning to myself and just seeing a worthless heap of genetic flaws. (My daily morning routine typically ends with looking at myself in the mirror and then telling myself how gross I look before I head to work.)
So when someone who is objectively an attractive person gives me a compliment – I just can’t accept it or believe it. I assume they are just trying to be a sweet person, but they don’t really mean it. I assume they are just saying something to make me feel better, but they can’t see anything good in me. I assume it’s just something to say because it’s what you’re supposed to say, but they really see me the way I see myself.
I wish I could take a compliment, but I can’t.
Then again, I wish I could just be invisible – I’d much rather go unnoticed than be noticed for only my flaws and shortcomings.
Not long after posting this I showed it to another Side-B brother and in our conversation this was said:
HIM: “Consider this – what are you truly saying to the person who wants to compliment you when you reject their words?”
ME: “Hmm. I’m calling them a liar, or I’m saying that they are just speaking out of their butt, or that they aren’t capable of making their own decisions and opinions.”
HIM: “Yep. Or, that they only want something from you, aka, being manipulative.”
ME: “Whew – this is making me emotional.”
HIM: “As it should! If I truly love, respect, and value someone, I have to find a way to accept their compliments.”
Thank you brother for the encouragement.