Another clinical experience with flattery involved a fresh-off-the-farm kid named Roy. He was 18 and had left his rural home to take a job in a distant city. A single mother co-worker took an interest in him, and would drop by his cubicle, smile, flirt, and invite him to lunch.
He felt funny about it and made some weak efforts to push back, but it was fun, so he often went along. She soon pressured him to spend time at her house and talk about marriage.
He was distressed and confused, because he had a long-distance girlfriend, and his requests were being disregarded. When we discussed her use of flattery, he protested: “Are you saying I am not a good-looking guy or nice? I like to be appreciated!” But as we looked closer, he saw that the truth was a bit more complicated.
He was a nice, good-looking guy. However, the lie was in why she was telling him these things. It wasn’t because she genuinely thought about his happiness and fulfillment. She was flattering him for her purposes: He came from a ranching family with money, and she liked the thrill of leading him along. If she really had his best interests at heart, she would have accepted his initial protests and stepped back instead of pushing.
Flattery is dishonest when used to gain or control in relationships.
It is effective because everyone has insecurities and loves to be told great things about themselves. Flattery is particularly common during dating and in new relationships but usually wears off as relationships settle into commitment and reality. Established couples are kind and supportive, but have usually dropped the fawning.
Flattery can be like an artificial sweetener that seems great at first but leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. Someone starving for affection may eat up flattery, but it isn’t as nourishing as the sweetness that comes from honest compliments.
Be cautious in relationships where the truth seems elusive, and a partner is coming on strong with a rush of compliments and promises. Flattery is exciting, but it can lead to dangerous places in relationships.
Whiting, J. B. (2016). Love Me True: Overcoming the Surprising Ways We Deceive in Relationships. Cedar Fort.
Written By:Jason Whiting PhD. For consulting and workshops or treatment and supervision click here Originally Appeared On:Psychology Today Republished with permission