Hard Time Accepting Compliments
Hard Time Accepting Compliments
Dear Tacit,

I have a really hard time accepting compliments.  Whenever someone says something nice to me, about me, I get very uncomfortable and usually respond inappropriately.  How can I handle these situations better?

Signed: Compliment Rejecter

Dear Compliment Rejecter,

Let me guess… if someone pays you a compliment, you start to deny it, or you deflect and change the subject right away? Maybe you make a joke or a self-deprecating remark, in an effort to balance the scales somehow with something you think is more accurate (aka negative, even in a humorous kind of way)?  Or perhaps you immediately jump to saying something nice back to the other person, putting the attention on someone who you think better deserves it?

Many of us have been raised to be humble and modest (there is nothing wrong with this – but taken to an extreme, it can often end up creating a pattern wherein we develop an instinct to deny our own true positive self).  We have been taught that boasting about ourselves is wrong, so by default, we also think it’s somehow bad when others acknowledge something wonderful in us.  And we have inadvertently (and wrongly) been conditioned into thinking that any demonstration of self-confidence and self-appreciation is egotistical and selfish.

This can be challenging to overcome.  The long answer might involve some therapy – so you can get some help to learn what negative tapes are playing in your head and why (where exactly they originated from); to recognize if the tapes are truly correct or incorrect; and to find better ways of framing the thoughts. But this short answer might also help.  Try to just break the habit and see how successful you are with that.  You might find you are ready to allow yourself to be your own friend a little more than you realize, now that you have noticed the pattern you have described.  Here are some ways that might help:

First, start by taking the time to allow yourself to recognize and embrace your good qualities.  We all have them – many of them, as a matter of fact!  Most of us are tend to focus on our mistakes and failings without hesitation.  But we have to be willing to see ourselves in a realistic light.  Which means, we have to acknowledge the behaviours and traits that we are proud of, as well.  In fact, we need to consider our positives more often than our negatives – research tells us that we need a ratio of least two-to-one positives for every negative that we think, in order to not be overly influenced by the criticism in our own head!

Then, practice responding more appropriately.  Don’t shrink away when someone pays you a compliment.  Stand up straight, look them in the eye and say “thank you”.  Put a little smile on your face, if possible (use your body to remind your brain that what you are hearing is supposed to elicit a pleasant sensation).  As you feel more comfortable, open up a bit and share something personal about what the person has said.  You could perhaps tell them where you got the shirt that they like, or how long ago you had your hair done, or where you learned the skill that they just witnessed, etc.  Allow yourself to be the centre of conversation, even for just a moment.  Do not change the subject until you have acknowledged and responded fully to what has been said about you with the same positivity that the other person’s comments contained.  Compliments create a contagion ripple effect when they are truly accepted.  The more you allow yourself to accept something nice that is said about you, the easier it becomes to believe in your own self even more.

And lastly, remember that when others give you a compliment, they actually also feel good for having done so.  Try not to deflate the other person’s efforts or accidentally insult them by denying or minimizing what it is that they are saying. It may have been a challenge for the other person to work up the nerve to speak to you in that way.  They might be shy or naturally awkward around you (we never know what is going on in someone else’s mind).  When we know that our intentions have been properly received by another person, it allows us to develop our own confidence and communication skills.  So, try to graciously accept the praise being bestowed upon you with kindness, for the other person’s sake as well as your own.

Take Care!

Have a question? Please feel free to reach out to us at counsellors@tacitknows.com. You answer will be provided confidentially. 

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