Taking a compliment can be awkward and uncomfortable, but learning to do it like an adult is important if we want to improve ourselves and our self-esteem.
For most of us, our first instinct is to refuse the compliment. Example:
“Emily, you look really pretty today!”
“No! I am such a mess today. I just rolled out of bed — I’m so embarrassed!”
I’ve observed this behavior in myself and others for quite some time now. I’ve learned there are several different reasons that people do this.
- They don’t want to be perceived as arrogant.
These folks fear that if they accept a compliment others will think they are vain or conceited. A reasonable response, in my opinion. However, low self-esteem isn’t en vogue anymore. We’re adults: accept the fact that you are pretty awesome most of the time. Aunt Eller (from the musical, Oklahoma) says it best in one of my all-time favorite lines:
I'd like to teach you all a little sayin' And learn the words by heart the way you should I don't say I'm no better than anybody else But I'll be damned if I ain't just as good!
2. They want to hear more.
This is my least favorite reason that people refuse compliments: they want you to elaborate. They want you to convince them that they really are great. This may be because they are vain, but more than likely it’s because they have incredibly low self-esteem and are begging you to help lift them back up. Responding in this manner may inadvertently discourage the kind people in your life from complimenting you again in the future. Why? Because you exhaust them when they do. Their kind words are clearly not ever enough, so they eventually won’t bother.
3. They are distrustful.
Our culture is so passive-aggressive and sarcastic that it makes taking unexpected compliments very difficult. If we are truly caught off-guard by someone’s kindness, many of us become suspicious of the complimenter’s motives and fear that we are either being manipulated or mocked. This one is hard to improve on as the receiver since we can’t control the motivations of others, but it’s still important for us to consider and understand. Understanding this perspective can help us be sure we are not complimenting others with ulterior motives. Doing so perpetuates a disingenuous culture.
While I’ve been guilty of all three, and still struggle with my reaction to compliments, I try to anchor myself with these words:
I still fumble and bumble and blush, but at least I don’t have to struggle with what to say anymore. I just say, “Thank you.” It doesn’t insinuate that I disagree, nor that I already knew I was the coolest thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t invite more praise. It is not obnoxious. It is short, sweet, and honest. It is polite. And now that I can accept a compliment, I can allow myself to feel loved and encouraged.
PRO TIP: Collect encouragement! When someone gives me a compliment, I often write it in the notes section of my planner. If I get a kind email or text, I screenshot it and save it in a folder on my computer. If I get something handwritten, I save it in a box with my other notes. That way, when I’m feeling down, I’ve got ready-to-read encouragement. It’s super-helpful, and eliminates the need to fish for compliments when I need a boost.