There’s no getting away from it: accepting compliments is tough. We are taught, from a very young age to be sweet and well-mannered. And to -above all else – be modest and humble in all that we do.
These are the lessons that tend to stick. In the last few years, research has found that, there’s nothing quite as terrible as being seen as cocky or too confident. As such, it makes sense that so many of us find it so embarrassing when someone praises us.
Why is it so hard to accept a compliment? Why do we bat them back? Maybe you’ve discounted what someone said about your new dress, ‘It’s five years old!’ Or argued back, ‘It makes my love handles look HUGE though, doesn’t it?’ Or the classic, ‘Primark – a FIVER’. Or scrambled to compliment them, ‘No, your dress is incredible.’ Or our personal favourite, simply got embarrassed, changed the subject and so ignored they ever said anything nice.
We reject compliments out of hand from embarrassment and from trying to be modest, plus a side order of thinking, ‘They’re just saying it to be nice.’ A 2017 study found people have difficulty accepting compliments when we don’t believe the other person is being sincere, which is often due to low self-esteem. If a compliment doesn’t fit in with our internal image of ourselves, we might think, ‘They’re just saying that!’ Or, ‘What does she know?’
This can make a compliment backfire, as it highlights and worsens how unsuccessful we feel we are. But think about this: even if someone is only complimenting you to be nice, they’re doing it because they want you to like them – which is actually a pretty amazing compliment in itself.
Many of us feel we must appear modest and are scared of appearing arrogant or conceited. Often, we’re conditioned like this from an early age. Most of us were raised to believe being modest, listening more than speaking, and not ‘showing off’ were key when it came to be being liked. Messages from parents or teachers along these lines often came from a place of love or concern (although it’s true some people do trample on you to elevate their own self-esteem). But when we internalise them, or take them too far, it can result in us holding ourselves back and covering up our most sparkly selves.
Also, have you ever thought how batting away compliments can have the opposite effect to the one you’d intended? Because when you reject compliments, you either seem ungracious or, worse, as though you’re fishing for more.
Accepting compliments also makes the giver feel good. If you snap back that you don’t agree that your coat is ah-may- zing and that, in fact, it’s old or unloved or unstylish, you’re actually dissing their taste. Being given a compliment is like being given a gift – would you throw a gift back in their face? No, because that would be rude.
Try to accept a compliment graciously, trusting it comes from a good place in the other person. Doing this has been shown to help you to be mentally healthy. A Japanese study found praise can improve performance, and compliments can also boost your mood, your confidence and your level of motivation.
Recognise your human need to feel appreciated. Give yourself permission to receive. When you’re being given good feedback or praise, listen with openness, take a deep breath and let it sink in. Make a mental note and reflect back on it often. Keeping them in mind can work as an antidote to the self-flagellation many of us subject ourselves to, act as balm for our self-esteem, a shield against negative self-talk and help stop us taking external criticism to heart.
So, How Can You Get Better At Accepting Compliments?
Exercise 1: Fill Up Your Compliment Bank
Mentally review all the friends, family, partners and bosses you’ve had in your life. As you do, make a list of every compliment each one has given you and every good bit of feedback you’ve received. Save the list somewhere you can review it often – and particularly when you’re stuck in imposter syndrome or self-doubt.
Exercise 2: See Yourself Through Another’s Eyes
Try to see yourself the way a good friend would. Most of us are conditioned to spot our own flaws. When we measure ourselves against the filtered perfection of Instagram stars, our own less-than-perfect forms can fall short. Our self-perception can become warped, due to our own low self-esteem and when reflected by the media and social media. What would a friend say about you?
Exercise 3: Simply Say “Thank-you”
Saying a sincere ‘Thank you’ is often the best response to receiving compliments. It’s short, to the point and gracious.