Most women when complimented eschew the compliment by changing the subject, or they give someone else credit. Worse than that, they put themselves down in some way by pointing out a flaw they believe they have.
Rarely said is a simple and honest “Thank you.” Rarely are women in full agreement and whole-heartedly accepting of the compliment.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
In general conversation, it might go something like this:
“Your hair looks fantastic today!”
Types of responses:
• “Are you kidding me? My hair is a mess!”
• “Thanks, but I am so fat. I think I gained 10 pounds over the weekend.”
In the workplace, it might go something like this:
“Good job on the project!”
Types of responses:
• “Thanks, it’s not as good as it could be.”
• “I can’t believe they like it.” (As in Sally Fields, AKA Oscar Acceptance Speech “You like me, you really like me!”)
As a mother, I hear other moms get complimented about their kids. Often the response is something like this:
“Jenny is so well behaved. She was very polite at my house.”
• “Are you kidding me? She is the absolute devil, I swear! I think she has a “666” mark encoded somewhere in that mass of blonde hair!”
• “Maybe for you she is…”
Why do we women do this to ourselves?
Gender shaping. We women are encouraged to be modest and downplay our strengths. We are used to giving up our power. After all, our society accepts immodesty in men. Picture Donald Trump saying in response to a compliment, “Oh this old thing? I got it at Marshall’s.” We women are supposed to be pleasers, and on some level we may worry that by owning our positives or accepting praise, others will feel bad about themselves.
Modesty is a strength. However, being modest is different than downplaying and putting ourselves down. People believe what you say. Women who point out their flaws will eventually convince others of those flaws. That’s not good for lasting impressions.
Low self-esteem. You may not feel like you have low self-esteem, but you may be behaving as if you do. When you don’t own your positives, it will send messages to your brain and to others that you are less than. Boy, Sally Fields sure convinced us of how she felt about herself during that award speech. How embarrassing! But I have seen so many smart and competent women do that (including myself), and I understand how it easily it happens.
How To Do It Differently
1) Just say “Thank you,” and smile. If there is silence that makes you uncomfortable, breathe deeply and try to get used to just not saying anything else.
2) Hold your hands in front of you if it is hard to just say thanks. Changing your behavior or doing something as a reminder will help you.
3) Make a commitment to yourself to more powerfully own the compliments you receive. Just doing a simple step like this will improve how you feel and how you present yourself to the world.
What do you say when you are complimented? Any lessons you can share?
Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW, is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at www.stopgivingitaway.com.