“Why Do I Remember Insults More Than Compliments?”
I talk to my students a lot about confidence and about evaluating their own work and presentations. “Why does an insult feel so bad when I’ve had so many compliments?” is one of the most frequent questions I hear. “Am I insecure? Ungrateful? Neurotic?”
Let’s say you’ve posted a picture on Facebook (source of so much casual cruelty these days) and dozens of people say how amazing, beautiful, inspiring the photo is. One person says, “You need to work on pouting your toes,” , “Gee, you’ve gotten so much better!” or, if they really don’t belong in your friends feed, “I don’t see what the big deal is. Her wig is awful.” Or perhaps someone even said something outright evil (BLOCK BLOCK BLOCK them!)
Let’s just stick to the first one. They may not consciously mean that as an insult, but sure, it’s a swipe. It’s not just a swipe at you; it’s a swipe at all the people who had the ignorance to think you were great.
There is nothing wrong with you if you remember this insult more than all those compliments. You are not ungrateful, insecure, or neurotic (at least, not on account of that).
You remember an insult because of the physical impact it has. You are an animal. Your body responds to hurt feelings like an animal, with a jolt of adrenaline and a fight or flight response. Because you can’t usually fight or fly when these things come up, you are frozen in that fight or flight response. It’s a fair bit more complicated than this and there is some actual science around it, but you get the idea.
Your body is built to help you identify and protect yourself from threats. You usually – I say USUALLY – don’t have to keep yourself safe from people who are likely to compliment you, but you do need to remember who is likely to insult you. Your body knows they will do it again. Your body knows that you need to remember that person. That is nature. There is NOTHING wrong with you! Your body is a healthy self–protection machine.
Furthermore, your mind is enculturated to believe that you need to get through gatekeepers and get all kinds of approval and permission to do a thing. So when someone “catches” you sucking, it’s an affirmation that you haven’t really done the right work and you don’t really deserve to be there. That’s culture, and you can tell culture to fuck right off. You only live once and you can’t spend your whole life waiting for permission to experience and share pleasure.
Anyone who insults you in the middle of a rain of compliments is most likely is probably reptilian and competitive. They’re trying to promote their expertise or good taste when the focus should be on you. That’s good to know about them. However, if it’s more passive aggressive than aggressive aggressive, you might be able to talk to them about it. If it’s aggressive aggressive, block them on all social media. The world is full of people and you don’t need the shitty ones.
Mind you, no matter how many compliments you get you should always keep working to get better. Famous singers still take singing lessons; professional dancers never stop taking dance classes. Always keep learning and improving. Aim high. But be willing to take a compliment, always.
You will have feelings, and they are not neurotic. You can acknowledge them, thank your body for looking out for you, remind yourself that if you got 100 compliments and one insult the odds are good that the compliments were accurate, and MOVE ON. The person insulting you doesn't know your inner failings and they are not correct. They are just insecure and trying to share the misery. The people who hire you and the audience who enjoy you and are entertained by you are correct.
This is not to say that there is no such thing as a valid critique, or someone coming to you with information they genuinely believe you'll benefit from hearing. The thing is, most of that doesn't happen unsolicited on social media. It CAN, but it's unlikely. Learning to process VALID critqiue is a lesson we'll discuss another time.
And how do you take a compliment? I talk about this a bit in The Burlesque Handbook, but the best response is simple: Just say thank you.
You are awesome.
Photo of me in underwear from Silent Arrow that says "FUCK YOU" by Ben Trivett. I normally don't endorse giving the finger to people in the audience, but I think in this article it's clear who that gesture is aimed at it, and it ain't my fans. This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on my Tumblr blog, but they started blocking all my content because of the word stripper. So f*ck them!