She said "You used to give such lousy talks" and he cut her off and walked away, face grim.
"But I was just trying to compliment him" she said to me. "I wanted to point out the wonderful progress he had made."
Instead of responding to that, I asked her how she was getting along with her mother. Every time she had a talk with her mother at church, one would find her in the hall in tears.
She looked at me and then she got it, kind of. "Your mom gives you compliments the same way you tried to compliment your husband. You've had about thirty years to learn to appreciate that method, your husband has had only twelve." She really got it.
If you try to compliment anyone on making progress, and you start by piling on the fertilizer, your target will only feel covered in fertilizer, they won't feel complimented and they will not feel nourished.
If starting with a criticism of the past hasn't worked yet in complimenting those around you and making them feel happy, give it up. Insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This particular pattern (point out how terrible someone was in the past in order to set up a "my, you've improved and are doing better" compliment) is usually generational and it fails in every generation. But too many people fail to realize that what their parents do to them that leaves them in tears, won't work any better on other people.
Usually the method will not make anyone feel complimented, loved or appreciated. It only makes them feel like fertilizer.
Don't let it take you twelve years of inflicting pain, and thirty years of getting pain, anger and stale fertilizer to learn not to make a compliment by making a comparison with the past.
Yes to "You've come a long way" or "you are really doing well."
No to "You used to be a failure, but you've come a long way and are doing well." You will lose your audience at "...a failure" and will never get them back. You've lost them before the transition, and as much as you want to blame them, it is your fault, not theirs.
BTW, I'm so glad I never had to deal with that sort of thing from my parents. Learning things like this has only made me happier with them.
"Mushaboom" by Feist is happy.
You can visit her official site here, and the CD, which I bought for my wife for a birthday present, is here. (Ok, I confess, I shop Amazon used CDs and DVDs all the time, and even buy one once in a while).