"I'm such a bad mom."
"I am so dumb sometimes!"
"I think I'm just broken."
"I'm so bad!"
"Am I a freak or what?"
"I am so lazy."
Over and over I hear phrases like this in conversations with women. Often these and similar phrases are used as deprecating humor. I hear it everywhere. It is so prevalent that it disturbs me. Why is it considered ok or even humorous to say thing about ourselves that would be frowned upon if we said them to our children? An accompanying habit is an inability to accept and/or believe compliments. Tell a woman that she looks nice, and she's likely to say something like, "Oh! I am having such a bad hair day, but thanks anyway." And even when some women say "Thank you," inside they're thinking, "That isn't true, they're just saying that to be nice." I know, because I do this. And a whole lot of other women I know do this.
I learned from a pro. My mom was the consummate compliment dodger. She was intelligent and accomplished, but this woman couldn't accept/believe a compliment to save her life. She was a wonderful cook; everything she made was awesome. But when anyone would praise her cooking, she'd look away and say "aww, well, it's not much." I could never tell if she really didn't think she was a good cook or if she was trying to be modest about it. When I would see her and tell her how nice she looked, or how much I liked her blouse, I might get a "oh, thanks," but the tone of voice and the look on her face belied that she didn't believe a word of it.
Why do we do this to ourselves and the people who want to be kind to us? Do we believe that by talking tough to/about ourselves, we'll motivate ourselves to be better, smarter, more competent, less forgetful? Do I think that by labeling myself as "lazy" that I'll develop a better work ethic? But, but... Idleness is a sin! If I'm not busy doing something productive every minute of every day, I'm sinning in the eyes of God! Right? And yet, ironically, telling myself that I'm a pathetic loser when I waste a few hours messing around doesn't change my tendency to waste time. It just makes me feel worse about myself.
I can't help but wonder if a desire for humility is the goal driving this kind of self-defeating thinking. Do we believe that it's prideful to accept praise? If someone tells me the food is good, am I hopelessly arrogant if I believe them and answer with a gracious "Thank you"? Is it sin if I actually believe the compliment, and agree that I can hold my own in the kitchen?
But what about compliments that I honestly believe are false? If I truly hate my physical appearance and someone tells me I look good, how do I deal with that? Then I become the one who says "Thank you," and then mentally shreds the compliment to pieces. I wish I knew how to change that.
I have a theory, only partly formed. I believe that our attempts to deflect praise for humility's sake backfire. I think that when we talk unkindly about ourselves and refuse to believe the honest compliments others give, that we are serving him who would destroy us. I believe that most of us don't even realize how constant and damaging this negative self-talk is. We feel self-conscious, and unhappy with ourselves, and we don't know why. We may even feel depressed and hopeless, and cannot see that we are helping to dig the pits that we stumble through.
I could be wrong. And I'm reasonably sure there are women out there who don't engage in this habitual self-beating behavior. But I can't think of any just now...