Taking a compliment isn’t particularly easy for me.
Sometimes when someone says something nice, I literally feel discomfort in my body. The discomfort washes over me, pulls up a chair and takes a seat in my stomach.
For some reason saying “thank you” feels painfully awkward. (Like junior-high awkward.)
Hearing a compliment somehow brings me back to second grade when I didn’t know a word of English. I’m left speechless. Sometimes, I freeze up.
Other times, I start giving the person a litany of reasons why I don’t deserve their kind words.
Oh, you think I’m a fast runner? Well, I’m not too bad at sprinting, but I tire out quickly. Plus, I ran faster than you because you’re not wearing your running shoes, and you’re feeling under the weather, and I probably ate a bigger breakfast.
Oh, you think I’m a good writer? That’s because you, the expert, gave me great quotes. You practically wrote the piece yourself.
Oh, you think I have pretty skin? Umm, have you seen this pimple on my face? How about the chicken pox scar on my forehead? The wrinkles? Plus, I have keratosis pilaris on my arms. Gross, right?
Oh, you think I have nice legs? That just happens to be where I build the most muscle. Have you seen my stomach? Some days I practically look five months pregnant.
The words don’t matter. Whatever the compliment, I usually have a negative response. It simply rolls off my tongue. My face contorts into a “Oh, no, that’s not true.” And…”here’s why.”
Sometimes, I just want the person to stop. Just stop. Please.
Even though I feel comfortable in my own skin, tend to my needs and have a positive body image, I still can’t accept a compliment without some disagreement or awkwardness.
According to Robyn Silverman, Ph.D, a body image expert and author, we have a hard time taking compliments because of two main reasons:
First, many of us have this body bully inside that tell us we’re not pretty enough, not thin enough, not good enough, and not worthy of the compliment- and the perfect standard and media messages only help us to feed into this behavior.
Second, even if we agree that the compliment is accurate, young girls are indirectly taught, often by the female role models in their lives, to deflect, deny, or demote the compliment to ensure that the other person doesn’t think that we think we’re all that. We want to connect rather than offend. We want to seem modest rather than boastful. So, many women and girls don’t own their strengths but rather accentuate their weaknesses.
So how the heck do you take a compliment if, like me, it feels unnatural for you?
Carla Birnberg, aka MizFit, has several excellent tips in this post. They focus on really hearing the compliment, considering the person’s kindness and responding honestly (without doing what I do: launching into a litany of faults and I-don’t-deserve-its). And a whole lot of practice. Here’s a snippet of her suggestions:
Pause and listen to what the person is saying. HEAR the compliment. Don’t allow yourself to immediately respond with ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘I usually screw everything up. I was lucky this time!‘ Sit with the praise for a moment no matter how uncomfortable or ‘unworthy’ you may feel. Take additional time, when you’re ready, to ask yourself *why* you might feel embarrassed/unworthy of the specific praise.
Remember that there is kindness behind the words. When you brush off a compliment you are, in essence, denigrating its giver & putting him in the position of defending his judgement. By reflexively launching into a list of what you perceive to be your weaknesses BOTH of you end up feeling awkward which wasn’t, I guarantee you, the compliment-givers intention.
No matter what you feel in the moment try and smile in a way which conveys you appreciate the thought behind the words.
(You knew this one was coming) Practice. Practice. Practice in the mirror. Is accepting a compliment not your best trait? are you the type who immediately needs to return the sentiment (not necessarily a bad thing) or put yourself down? Try repeating these phrases as you look at yourself in the mirror.
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you, I’m honored by your words. Thank you, I admire you so your praise definitely means a great deal. Thank you I really tried hard on this one!
I love MizFit’s emphasis on practice. My negative response has become so automatic because this is what I’ve done for years. It’s my default. My autopilot. But that doesn’t have to stay this way.
It’s like building any other habit. And I think accepting a compliment is an important one. For me, it’s one of the last remnants of my sad and shaky self-image. It’s one of the last ways I beat myself up and feed my inner critic.
Saying “thank you” doesn’t just honor ourselves. It also honors the person who’s kind enough to say the sweet words to us in the first place.
Do you have a tough time accepting compliments? Why? Any tips on taking a compliment — gracefully?
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Last reviewed: 3 Mar 2014