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Why It’s Hard to Accept a Compliment and Just Say Thank You

I did a social experiment over the last several months in which I watched women’s reactions when they were paid a compliment. Entrepreneurs, artists, mothers, students, introverts, extroverts – I spoke to all different types of women. I looked right at them and told them I thought they were beautiful. And I meant it.  

accept a compliment

Here is a small sample of the responses I received:

“You are so beautiful.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“You look so beautiful this morning.”

“Well…it’s because I showered today.”

“I think you are so beautiful.”

“What is going on here?”

“You look so beautiful in that color.”

“Ha, it coordinates with the bags under my eyes.”

“You look beautiful today.”

“Really? I’m so tired, I’m lucky I made it out of the house wearing pants.”

That last one was me. 

When someone pays us a compliment, why is our knee-jerk reaction to blow it off or make light of it?

Self-deprecation used to be a huge part of my sense of humor. I was good at it. Making people laugh with a well-timed fat joke about myself was my specialty. I would blow off compliments given to me, just like the women I spoke with above.

WHY?

I have spent a lot of time on this project – both complimenting women and listening closely when others would compliment them. I’m not an expert in human behavior by any means, but a common theme has emerged as I’ve paid more attention. 

Very few women can accept praise when it’s given to them.

Unsure where to begin my experiment, I started documenting my own reaction to compliments. If someone said something kind to me, I noticed that I would immediately shower them with compliments in response.

“Wow, I was just thinking how beautiful YOU look today!”

I felt uncomfortable and wanted to take the focus off me as quickly as possible. I realized that I wasn’t truly accepting their compliments, I was just redirecting their kindness. Their attention made me cringe. My inner voice would still crack the jokes and negate whatever was being said to me.

Unhappy with my own results, I decided on a different approach. I put effort into keeping my mouth shut and simply saying “thank you.” It was my new mantra.

JUST SAY THANK YOU.

I equate it to when the bottle of wine is brought to your table and a small sample is poured for you. I would take the compliment and swirl it around in my glass, smell it, take a little taste and let it roll around on my tongue… and instead of spitting it out and shouting, “I don’t even LIKE wine, is there any whiskey back there?” I would ingest that little compliment and let it stay.

Just like when a sip of wine hits you and the warmth starts to spread – I would say “thank you” and that compliment would start to work its way through me.

Self-loathing is a tough thing to let go of. That voice in your head is the easiest one to listen to. It’s been there a long time and it has no plans to vacate… despite the fact that your friend/husband/partner/co-worker/whoever is standing right in front of you, trying to bestow you with a compliment from the heart.

Once I made the effort to accept the praise being offered to me, an interesting thing began to happen. Those little compliments started to stack up inside of me, leaving less and less room for my inner critic. The voice inside me that I had listened to my whole life was slowly being evicted.

I want you to think about something. People aren’t showering you with praise because they need something from you. It’s certainly not because they don’t have anything better to do. Someone is taking the time to tell you something special they want to acknowledge in you. It’s not a small thing.

So, the next time someone tells you that you’re beautiful (or fierce, or inspiring, or hilarious, or bright), even if you don’t believe a word they say – THINK before you push that praise away.

You ARE beautiful and worthy of praise no matter how much you don’t want to believe it. You’ll see. Accepting that praise will become easier every time you JUST SAY THANK YOU.

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