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Here's Why You Find It Hard to Receive Compliments

Accepting compliments benefits your memory and your mental health.

I have to say, you look absolutely fabulous today!

^^ I intentionally long-paused here.^^

How did that make you feel? Did you think, “hell yeah I do!” or was it more of a “What? Me today? Are you crazy? I look like hell…”

If you’re like me (and most women), you find it hard to hear and accept compliments. It’s something I’ve been consciously working on for myself for the past few years now. And it’s not just compliments around how I look - I find myself deflecting those kind remarks about recent accomplishments, an idea I had, or even just on the dinner I made.

When I sat down to figure out what was going on inside my head when people compliment me, I realized what I was really thinking was that they're lying or trying to manipulate me somehow, get on my good side, or that they mean well but don’t recognize that what I’ve done is actually not that good.

>>Bottom line, I didn’t believe them.<<

The fact is, it’s so easy to believe in, and linger on, the negative things about ourselves even when the positive clearly outweighs the negative.

Why does that happen? Why do so many of us struggle to believe good things about ourselves?

While I was writing this I thought I would do a bit of research and share some information outside of my own thoughts and ideas around this - and it turns out psychologists have found it’s a “loop” of opposing thoughts / beliefs that keep us stuck.

There are three factors happening here, feeding into one another endlessly to make it hard to accept compliments:

1. low self-esteem
2. cognitive dissonance, and
3. high expectations

1. Low self-esteem
In layman's terms, it goes like this: you don’t think much of yourself, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome, where you don’t truly believe you belong. Maybe you’ve only been valued for one aspect for most of your life, like being smart, so it’s impossible to see your worth in others, like being a good listener. Maybe you’re continually comparing yourself to others physically and coming up short in your own view of your body.

Either way, you have low self-esteem. So when someone compliments you, this triggers the truth (belief) you hold about yourself.

2.Cognitive dissonance
It’s uncomfortable for your mind because you’re faced with two prospects: one, you’re wrong about yourself, or two, they’re lying. You can’t simultaneously believe you suck and believe someone else when they say that you don’t. Or, you can’t believe that you look beautiful when all you see in the mirror are your faults.

So while your brain is working furiously to justify the two things at the same time, your mouth automatically pops open and you start to justify things to the other person who’s just said something nice about you.

“You liked the dinner? Oh I got lucky with a new recipe that I didn’t manage to screw up!”

“This dress looks good on me? Hmmm I guess everyone looks good in black.”

“You enjoyed my presentation? Well, I blew the last one. It's about time I got one right.”

>>You deflect the compliment and just like that, the pressure’s off.

This plays into the last factor: high expectations.

3.High expectations

Because you have low self-esteem, because you struggle to believe other people when they’re kind to you, you want to shrug off any expectations as soon as possible. So you respond to the situation in a way that lets you off the hook if you don’t succeed the next time.

As a result you relieve some of the pressure and anxiety you feel when someone compliments you. But it’s exhausting to constantly be second-guessing every nice thing people say. Sometimes, people are just nice. It’s good for our brains to be told we’re good.

So, now we’ve established why this thing happens — because we don’t believe in ourselves, and it’s more comfortable for our brains when nobody else believes in us, either. But it’s healthy when, instead of forever dwelling on negative feedback, we linger on the positive feedback.

>> Remembering the positive feedback <<

The thing is, when you push those positive memories away, you’re actually losing the ability to experience happiness from future positive remarks. You become insensitive to the good stuff coming your way. You can still tell they’re positive, but there’s no warm feelings of appreciation or pride that would normally come from receiving them. It turns out that people who regularly dismiss compliments actually have a harder time remembering the level of positivity of the feedback, more so than people who accepted them to begin with.

So, I get it, accepting compliments can be hard.

But, it’s worth it to accept compliments, both for your memory and your mental health in the long run. I know it can feel boastful or even cocky to accept that something you’ve done (or how you look) is good. Who wants to be the self-centered narcissist who says “Yeah, I’m aware,” when someone compliments you? I know this is something I’ve avoided like the plague since childhood!

I’m getting much better at just saying “Thanks” - and I admit, I still feel the urge to dismiss, justify or qualify whatever I’m being complimented on. But, I’ve decided I’d rather just believe the other person, say thanks, and enjoy the positive feedback. By “shushing” my inner critic, I’m now able to receive some compliments and feel good about it.

>> What would happen if you stop self-criticizing?

Try it, just for one week I challenge you to force yourself to accept compliments. Don’t deflect, don’t qualify and don’t put yourself down immediately after accepting it. Simply take a deep breath and politely say, “thank you” to anything nice that people say about you. Even if you don’t agree with the compliment, choose to believe that someone else’s opinion could still be valid even if you don’t think it’s true.

I’ve suggested this challenge to you because it was an exercise I was challenged to do a few years back by a good friend. So what happened for me? I didn’t spontaneously combust, LOL. I didn’t become amazingly self-assured either, and my self-esteem wasn’t fixed overnight, but it felt good to accept that I might be good at some things, or particularly beautiful that day. It took more time to get better at believing it — but it did start to feel more natural to simply accept the positive feedback and move on.

I continue to work on receiving compliments more easily and freely, and to believe that I’m worthy of them. What I do know is that mastering the art of receiving compliments helps make me and you a more well-balanced, self-assured person — which, in turn, earn us even more compliments. Sooooo, let the warm fuzzies begin!

Listen, I know compliments can feel like just a minor form of social interaction. We all say them, we all receive them. But I believe that just as it’s important to learn to give compliments, it’s also important learning to receive one.

>> Here’s to receiving! <<