“Wow, I love that new suit you’ve got on.”
“You are so patient with customers, how do you do it?”
“Did you get a new haircut? It looks fabulous!”
“Hey, I heard about the award you got at work, congratulations!”
Compliments like these are common, you’ve probably received one in the last day or two. How do they make you feel? If you’re like me, it’s taken a long time to learn to allow compliments. I used to cringe when someone praised me. Because I did not feel good about myself inside, hearing someone think well of me brought up all the negative self-thoughts. Maybe you can relate to these:
- You’re ugly, you don’t deserve that compliment!
- Don’t they see how wrong they are?
- They think I look good, but they don’t really know me.
- If they could see inside me, they’d see just how horrible a person I am.
So that people would not see “the real (horrible) me,” I stayed as invisible as possible. If they noticed me, and had something positive to say, I had to turn attention away from me and back to them as quickly as possible. Maybe you’ve also used the old compliment bounceback yourself: “Oh, that old shirt, I’ve had it for years – but hey, you are looking really snazzy today!”
Learning to “take it”
Over time, it’s become clear to me that being able to accept the good things about myself, and not just focus on the negative, is a measure of self-respect. When I had no love or regard for my whole – strengths and weaknesses – I had to reject others’ positive comments. So what can we do to learn to accept praise?
- Pause before responding – When someone gives you a compliment, zip your lip! If you can’t yet accept the praise, then at least stop yourself from rejecting it. For sure, the self-negation will still ricochet around in your head, but at least you are not amplifying it by speaking it aloud and projecting it on someone else who means well.
- Work on self-care and self-respect – The reason I couldn’t accept compliments was because I didn’t believe them. If you want to feel better about who you are, get realistic – accept yourself as a flawed, but wonderfully valuable – human being.
- Get “right-sized” – You’re neither too much, nor too little, you’re just you. Cut yourself down to size to learn to love yourself for who you are, not what you think you need to be.
- Act as if – Even if you don’t believe the compliment, pretend for a moment it’s true; try it on for size, see if you can let it fit.
- Say thank you – If for no other reason than graciousness, acknowledging the other person’s positive intent can help us feel better. Even if we don’t believe it, turning to gratitude feels better than poo-pooing their well-intentioned words. Humor them!
- Think of the other person – Putting someone else ahead of our ego-driven self-denial can help turn around the negative thinking. Someone has expressed a good feeling toward you – focus on reinforcing their attitude instead of your own inner pain. Helping others can be a way to feel better about ourselves, or at least forget ourselves for a moment.
Give and take
Having put in *years* of work on my self-respect, I can finally accept a compliment. Today, I can say “Thank you” with no need to reflexively reciprocate. Because I act out of my integrity, I know that my thoughts, feelings, and actions come from my truest self. If others appreciate that, I am grateful. If they don’t, that is fine, too. I don’t need others’ praise to feel good about myself, that is just icing on the cake.
Not only that, but I can even give compliments now with clarity in my motivation. No longer do I give compliments to try to trigger attention or reciprocity from others, but simply to show appreciation. Having accepted my flaws, and my talents, I can see others more clearly without needing anything from them to feel ok.
Where are you in accepting compliments? Does your ego get in the way? Putting ourselves down is every bit an egotistical act as unrealistically inflating ourselves. Have you found your right size? How do you know?