Quick Tip: The Backwards Compliment

“When you’re appeasing too much, you might be egotistically over-estimating everyone’s need for your approval.”
― Criss Jami

There is nothing like a good compliment. When it’s served up on a silver platter from someone you love, it can fill you up for days, leaving you feeling satisfied and saying, “no, no I couldn’t possible have dessert–ok, just a small piece–yes, tell me more.”

Then there is the backwards compliment. Like a rotten apple, a liquid creme brûlée, or a stale cake, the idea is good but the substance is appalling. A backwards compliment is when you verbally lift another up, but in a manner that places them on a pedestal and you as the actual pedestal. It happens when you mutter something like, “You’re so talented” while carrying the undertone that you could never be that good. Negative inner self-talk leaks out in sourpuss words as subtle comparison spoils a good compliment. It means nothing, and it serves no healthy purpose.

First of all, it’s unfair and inconsiderate to the friend receiving the rotten acclaim as it does not account for the likely struggles they go through on a daily basis. Exalting another in such a way, under-appreciates their talents, work, and abilities, and ignores the humanistic striving that accompanies all success. You don’t know the sweat that has gone into their achievement, and you assume that success came easy to them while imagining yourself as climbing Mt. Everest on a Slip’n’Slide. Don’t undervalue the success of your friends by offering a backwards compliment.

Secondly, offering a backwards compliment is unfair and inconsiderate to yourself as it digs the heels of your self-hatred into the soil of reality, giving it new life. It’s unfair to compare your worst–what you know about yourself–and someone else’s best–only what you see. Doing this needlessly weakens your ability to pursue future success, confirms your inner self-loathing, and undervalues your uniqueness. Everyone has their own journey, and life is easy for no one.

Remember the duck analogy. It’s easy to see others as ducks sailing the surface of the water effortlessly even though they are paddling just as hard as you. You just don’t see it. To spoil a good compliment with a subtle comparison is unfair and inconsiderate to everyone involved, so don’t do it. Serve up healthy, genuine, and fulfilling compliments. Work to appreciate people for who they are, and start by appreciating yourself for who you are. Life isn’t easy for anyone; don’t assume it is.

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