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STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

SCARS book cover

Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself--before it's too late.

Awards: #1 in the Top 10 ALA Quick Picks, ALA's Rainbow List, a Governor General Literary Award Finalist, Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance.

Yes, it's my own arm on the cover of SCARS.

HUNTED book cover

Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where having any paranormal power at all can kill her, must decide between saving herself or saving the world.

Awards: A finalist for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award.

PARALLEL VISIONS book cover

Kate sees visions of the future--but only when she has an asthma attack. When she "sees" her sister being beaten, and a schoolmate killing herself, Kate must trigger more attacks--but that could kill her.

Awards: 2013 Gold Winner, Wise Bear Digital Awards, YA Paranormal category.

STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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Why We Deflect Compliments, and How to Take Them In

by Cheryl Rainfield, 2004

Many of us hesitate to accept compliments or positive messages about ourselves. Some of us even outright deflect or reject them. Yet taking in a real compliment or acknowledging our successes can feel so good. It can help us feel better about ourselves, improve our self-image and self-confidence, and help us feel happiness or joy. So why do we not allow ourselves that healthy, healing experience?

There are many reasons why we may deflect positive messages and not allow ourselves to bask in our successes. Often in our society, we are encouraged to be humble, and admitting or agreeing to positive things about ourselves can be judged as us bragging or being too full of ourselves. This is especially true for women and children, who are expected to blend in with the background, and not allow ourselves to shine.

Then, for those of us who had critical parents or who are survivors of abuse, we may reject compliments and positive messages because:

  • we are not used to them;

  • we don't feel that we can trust them, because in the past, compliments came just before negative or critical comments;

  • compliments were used against us, held a hidden expectation, or meant that something was expected of us;

  • we are so used to being put down that that is what we are comfortable with;

  • it feels frightening because, on a deep level, we don't believe that the compliments are true, or that the success is real, or we are afraid that we will still fail and that we then won't deserve the compliment;

  • our learned reaction is to put ourselves down first, before someone else can hurt us;

  • compliments may have been used to lull us into a false sense of security before abuse;

  • it may almost hurt to hear something good about ourselves, when we heard so much of the opposite growing up, and didn't get what we needed;

  • we didn't get what we needed growing up, and as a result we greatly need to hear the good things now, but we are afraid to allow ourselves to get what we need, we think we don't deserve it, or we are denying ourselves what we need.

We may also reject compliments and positive messages, or keep ourselves from feeling good about our successes because:

  • we are afraid to trust the compliment, afraid that it will be taken away, that it is a trick, that we will be laughed at if we accept it, or that it will somehow be used against us;

  • we are trying to hurt ourselves by not allowing ourselves what we need, or are reenacting the emotional deprivation we experienced as children;

  • we are afraid that the person complimenting us just can't see all the negatives that supposedly exist inside us;

  • if we allow ourselves to feel the good feeling and really take it in, we might have to change how we think about ourselves, and this is frightening, or we might have to feel the pain and loss of not having had this all our lives.

Those of us who are survivors of abuse may also think that in rejecting or deflecting compliments and positive messages about ourselves, we are protecting ourselves, somehow keeping ourselves from being further hurt—but this is based on our abuse experience. We are hurting ourselves, by not letting that good feeling in—and it's good to realize that we don't need to react or cope that way any more. While we can still be hurt, or triggered into hurt, it is not the same as the abuse we experienced as children.

We may even go further than not allowing ourselves to accept or feel good about a compliment, positive message, or a success—we may, in reaction, quickly put ourselves down, laugh at ourselves, apologize, or try to convince the person that we aren't really that good. We may tell ourselves that we are doing this so as not to brag, come off as superior, or to make the other person feel better, but really we are usually doing this for one or many of the reasons listed above. And in deflecting compliments, and going even further to put ourselves down, we are hurting ourselves—a state that we may know well from abuse.

Often, those of us who deflect or reject positive messages about ourselves are survivors of some sort of abuse or trauma, and have low self-esteem, great self-criticism or self-hate—which causes us to need, on a deep level, the real compliments or celebration of success that we so quickly and adamantly reject. And in denying ourselves the good feeling that can result, or in allowing the feeling to only fleetingly pass through us before we criticise ourselves, we may actually increase our need and desperation for those compliments from others—and increase our reaction to them, as well. This can make us more vulnerable and insecure, and reinforce negative messages that we were told as children.

We deserve to be able to take in positive messages about ourselves, to celebrate our successes, and to feel the good feeling and the joy right to our core. We deserve to be happy. So how do we learn to take the good messages in? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give yourself positive messages and real compliments as often as you can. Affirmations can help with this. Praise yourself for what you do right. Do this as often as you can, even if you feel that they're not true, that you don't deserve them, etc. With enough repetition, the positive messages will eventually sink in there.

  • Make a list of the things you like about yourself, as many things as you can think of, and refer to this list often. Write down anything and everything that comes to you, even if it seems silly. If this feels hard to do, write down the things that other people have told you they liked about you—or write out the things you admire in other people, and then see if those qualities exist in yourself. Often they do. Try to find the compassion and love inside you to give yourself these healing messages.

  • Imagine the vulnerable, hurt child inside you, and allow yourself to feel compassion and love for her. Tell her the things you know she needs to hear—that the abuse wasn't her fault, that you love her and will protect her. Relieve her of any guilt or blame that she may be carrying, and reassure her that you love her. Praise her as you would a child in front of you. Think back to the way you were as a child, and tell that child all the things she did right, all the things you admire about her, all the reasons you care about her—that she had the strength to keep going, that she was kind or protective of her younger siblings, that she was able to play and notice beauty in the world, that she was able to still dream and hope, etc. Really appreciate her, and try to wrap her in love. Tenderly talking to the child inside you, and appreciating her, can help you to take things in on a deeper level.

  • Ask someone you care about and trust—a friend, lover, or therapist—to tell you many things that they like about you, and value in you. Write them down. Then refer to these things often, remembering that someone you trust and care about sees these things in you. That may give those positives more weight.

  • Using positive messages from other people for a while to build up your own resources is a good way to take in compliments—but eventually you have to be able to see some positives in yourself in order to fully take in compliments from others, and fully experience the good feeling. Try to allow yourself to see one thing you really appreciate and like in yourself. Notice that quality or way of being, notice how it makes you feel. Focus on that, and keep coming back to it, as often as you can.

  • Find multiple ways to give yourself positive messages about yourself—through books with positive, healing messages; notes you write and put in different places; affirmation cards; music or audio CDs with healing messages; friends, lovers, and therapists; and more. Use as many of the ways of giving yourself positive messages as you can, as often as you can.

  • Write out the positive things other people have said about you in the past, and read these things over often. Create a notebook, computer file, or a box that just holds compliments, your successes, or things people have said about you that make you feel good. Return to that notebook, box, or computer file often.

  • Notice how you feel when someone gives you a compliment; notice the instant desire to deflect or curl inward. Become aware of it, notice how often you actually do this—without judging yourself, just being aware that this may be a result of abuse, neglect, or low self-confidence.

  • Try to take this even further, by being aware of what your particular trigger is—that you are afraid it's not really true, that you don't deserve it, etc. It may also help to take the trigger back to the first time you can remember feeling that way, or reacting that way. Sometimes it can help to clearly see what you are reacting to, or that the reaction definitely comes from abuse, ill treatment, etc—that it makes sense that you would have reacted that way as a child, but that you don't need to now.

  • Write out, and tell yourself, counter messages to that trigger or fear. Tell yourself that there are many good things about you and inside you; that you deserve to feel good and to receive a compliment, etc. Remind yourself that you don't need to react that way any more.

  • Practice accepting compliments, even if you think they're still not true. Practice hearing the positive words a person says to you, just letting those words be there, and looking the person in the eye and saying a simple "thank you." With enough practice, this will begin to feel less frightening or unsettling, and will start to feel more natural, even good.

It can feel painful or frightening to begin taking in positive messages and celebrating your successes, if you're not used to doing that. But it can also bring so much good feeling, increase your self-esteem and self-confidence, help your healing, and nurture and support you. You deserve to feel good, and to recognize and celebrate all the good inside you. So try opening yourself up, just a little bit, to real compliments, appreciation, and praise—and let that good feeling in.

©Cheryl Rainfield, 2004

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