Can’t take a compliment? Do you blush and look away, or instantly negate it? What is it about compliments that make us squirm and feel uncomfortable, which is the exact opposite effect the person giving it intended? And how can you take one in with poise and grace? Do you dare to walk that fine line between having confidence or arrogance by acknowledging that maybe there is something about you that is worthy of being recognized by others? To be a giver of a compliment sometimes takes courage and security as we hope that the message will be heard the way it was intended, rather than as a ‘buttering up’ or flirtatious gesture. To be the receiver requires that same courage and confidence to go against your initial instinct for fear of appearing arrogant. Where is that line, and why is it there in the first place?
Our culture has taught us that it is attractive to have confidence in ourselves, but only within reason. At some point, we learn that if we display too much confidence, it actually repels others rather than attracts them. Out of fear of turning others off, women especially, whose self-image tends to be highly based on what others think of them, have learned to respond to compliments by taking 3 giant steps south of that line- we reject them.
In an effort to preserve our modest appearance, we look down, bashful and blushing, passive-aggressively denouncing the compliment while at the same time secretly begging and praying for the person to say it again. With fluttering eyes we gaze up, daring them to try to convince you of its validity. How many times have we played this game? Perhaps it was reinforced early on by our parents, whose affections and judgments defined us as children. And then it was reinforced yet again by those adolescent boys whose approval we desperately needed as we searched in our bodies to find the woman we were uncontrollably becoming.
After years of practice, we find ourselves here, firmly in adulthood. Yet when that compliment comes up again, we sheepishly regress to a little girl surprised at what she is hearing, and thirsting for approval. Why? Because we don’t provide it enough for ourselves, and rely too much on others to do it for us. Well, I say its time to stroke our egos ladies! Its time to walk that line and dare to be perceived as having too much confidence rather than not enough. The rule you are living by no longer applies.
It’s no longer attractive to play that role, and it can have lingering long term effects. It could be the reason you were passed over for a job or promotion, or could explain why others see you as a wallflower at social events. It actually makes others uncomfortable to be around someone who constantly needs affirmations from others. We all know someone like that, and it can be exhausting to be around them! Displaying confidence draws people to you and makes them want more of you. It translates beyond looks to brains and skills, which is what we all truly want to be known for anyhow.
Its time to unlearn this social skill that has kept women dependant on others for self-worth, and replace it with the secure image of someone who knows that she matters and contributes, and is worthy of affection. Here are some steps to practice so that when the next compliment comes in, you’ll actually be able to hear it and let it sink in rather than shy away:
1. Compliment yourself! Everyday, in every way, find something good that you did and write it down. Keep an affirmations journal and read it out loud to yourself before bed time and at the start of each day. Get comfortable with acknowledging your assets. This way it won’t catch you off guard to hear it from someone else.
2. When receiving a compliment, force yourself past the awkwardness of it and maintain eye contact with the giver. It takes a lot of courage to be a compliment giver - think of it as honoring the effort of the other person by giving them your undivided attention. Smile and acknowledge it. Even reframe it back to the giver and allow it to sink in. “You think I did a great job giving that presentation?”
3. Say “Thank you. That’s kind of you to say.” Don’t feel the pressure to return the favor. Simply acknowledging the compliment is enough to make the other person feel good for offering it. It’s a win-win!
4. Practice giving compliments, and have a heightened awareness of how others receive them. Notice how you feel when someone else looks away and denounces your compliment. Focus more on complimenting personality strengths and skills, rather than superficial looks and appearances. The hardest types of compliments to receive are ones about how we look, because often times this is where we are our harshest critic.
Become skilled at observing peoples best and you’ll start to find similar characteristics in yourself. We always tune in to things about others that remind us of ourselves. Use it to your advantage.
It’s a social skill that takes practice in order to overcome our fears of rejection and admiration. Stay on the opposite side of that fine line by believing in yourself and your positive attributes, and you’ll find others being more willing to recognize your contributions and acknowledge your skills. The larger your positive attributes appear to others, the more they overshadow your flaws! Practice giving compliments to brighten someone else’s day, and you’ll be equally skilled at receiving them.
Tammy Greene has been working in the field of mental health since graduating with her first degree in 1998. After achieving her Masters degree in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, she fulfilled the Massachusetts state requirements and was awarded the title of Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Tammy is trained in a wide variety of theoretical backgrounds, and utilizes whichever is most helpful to the client. She enjoys challenging her clients through identifying cognitions and how thoughts create emotions.
She has a wide range of experiences that include having worked at methodone clinics, eating disorder units at both the inpatient hospitalized and outpatient clinic settings, residential programs for troubled teens, lock-down facilities for juvenile offenders, summer camp adjustment counselor, middle/high school therapist, outpatient community clinics, and community outreach programs.
In addition, Tammy has sought out further trainings by becoming a EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) level II trained clinician, which is especially effective in treating those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety disorders, and Panic Disorders.
She continues to remain active in the field by participating in regular trainings to maintain her state license. She also stays in touch with the community needs by continuing to work at a local hospital while investing in and growing her own individual private practice.