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Christy Gualtieri

“Thanks, but…”

by Christy Gualtieri

How do you take compliments? It doesn’t have to be anything big; it can be a small comment someone makes to you about an outfit you’re wearing, or how your hair looks, or noticing a good job you’ve done on a project at work.  What’s your first instinct? Do you listen and thank the person? Or do you do what I do, which is completely downplay it while thinking they’re absolutely crazy?

Here’s what I mean.  I was at the pharmacy a few weeks ago, trying to pick up a prescription that was taking a while.  There was some miscommunication about the medicine and as I was trying to talk it over with the pharmacist, my young kids were…well, being young kids.  After many attempts to calm them down, including threats of taking away every toy that has graced our household over the past six years (and there were many; we have very generous family and friends), I sat them down on a nearby bench and noisily opened a bag of pretzels we’d just bought.  They sat there, quiet for the first time in hours, nibbling; and an older woman walked by. She looked down at them and then up at me, and complimented them on how good they were being.

“Yep, they’re good now,” I agreed.  “But you should have seen them just a few minutes ago.”

See what I mean? I could have smiled and thanked her and affirmed them, because they really are generally well behaved.  And I’m not a toddler anymore, but the thought of standing at a pharmacy for a very long time trying to iron out an issue over medication also makes me want to throw fits, so I understand where they’re coming from.  But I did what I normally do when I receive a compliment: I downplayed it. If someone pays me a compliment these days, my initial reaction is “Really? You should have seen me just a few minutes ago, or a day ago, or last week, when I…”  And the list goes on and on.

Why do I do this? I’m pretty sure it has to do with self-esteem.  For those of us who are lacking in that department, it takes work to believe that there are things about us worth praising.  It’s much easier for me to downplay compliments and reinforce those negative thoughts about myself. But if I do that, what am I achieving? What message does that send? It would do me well to remember that there is an endless supply of compliments in the world.  If someone gives me one, it’s not like it’s being wasted and someone else on the planet won’t get one. And it’s helpful for my kids to watch and learn how to receive compliments gracefully, because it helps them remember that they are worthy of praise, too.

I’m going to try, the next time someone says something nice about something I wore or did or achieved, to smile, thank them, and embrace it.  If you struggle with this too, let’s try it together!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Christy Gualtieri

The Shape of Fear

by Christy Gualtieri

On a recent episode of NPR’s “TED Radio Hour,” I listened to a man, named Isaac Lidsky – a very successful child actor, Harvard graduate, and law clerk to two Supreme Court justices – give a talk about how he shaped his reality. It’s something we all do; how do we see ourselves, how do we see our lives? The interesting challenge for him is that he suffers from a rare genetic disease that rendered him completely blind in his mid-twenties. Up until the time he lost his eyesight, he had shaped his reality based on what he could see, like most of us do. He did that until he couldn’t…and then he figured out that he had to shape his own reality in other ways. I was drawn to his story by the truth of this one section of his talk:

“Sight is just one way we shape our realities. We create our own realities in many other ways. Let’s take fear as just one example. Your fears distort your reality. Under the warped logic of fear, anything is better than the uncertain. Fear fills the void at all costs, passing off what you dread for what you know, offering up the worst, substituting assumption for reason…fear replaces the unknown with the awful.”

As a chronic worrier and someone who has suffered from anxiety for much of my life, I totally understood what he was saying. I could affirm it all, because I’ve felt it all. Even when things in my life are going well, I sometimes walk on eggshells, looking up, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  If things are going badly, it just affirms my worry, and so it’s conditioned me to keep worrying, since I was “right,” anyway. And when things have been going well for a while, I will create things to worry about, because it’s hard for me to adjust to things going well. (And not that I’ve had this horrible life, at all — I have had, in fact, a wonderful life filled to the brim with countless blessings — but I have so trained my brain to only search for the bad for so long that it honestly can’t always deal with the good. It feels downright uncomfortable!) And if I did have a situation where the outcome was unknown, you can bet that I’d be imagining the worst case scenario.

It’s not the healthiest way to live, but I’m working on it; and with years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to practice, it gets a lot easier with time and with work.

Lidsky provides his solution for dealing with fear, and I found that pretty spot on, too:

“See beyond your fears.  Recognize your assumptions. Harness your internal strength. Silence your internal critic…open your hearts to your bountiful blessings.”

Mr. Lidsky’s talk in its entirety can be watched here, and I highly recommend it.  It’s a brief guide to help you navigate through the fear that might dictate your life – and proof that it’s something that can be overcome with time and hard work. (I also highly recommend working through this process with a licensed therapist, who is specially trained to help you through this experience and can provide a solid sounding board to help you work through fears and anxieties.)

Until next time, be well!
Christy