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Why is a compliment almost as hard to take as criticism?

When I was a kid my well-intentioned Mom taught me to discredit compliments. “Oh, no, I’m not pretty, clever, smart, nice…” To do otherwise would be conceited.

Q: What’s the result of too much compliment denial?

A. A starving self-esteem dying for some good nurturing,

B. The gap left in your self-esteem where the compliment would go is filled with bad, abusive junk,

C. You risk annoying your relatives and friends who just want you to see what they see, or, (you guessed it)

D. All of the above.

If we refuse to let people tell us how great we are where does that leave us? It leaves us with the abusive junk. If we swallow “You’re stupid, ugly, a failure, [fill in the blank],” often enough, whether from others or from our own head, somewhere along the way we start to believe it and it becomes us. “I’m just stupid, ugly, a failure.” The nasty, harsh voice takes over. Our true voice, the one that still believes in us, is drowned out.

I don’t know you, we’ve never met, but I do know this: You are not stupid, ugly or a failure, any more than I am. Deep in your heart you know this, too. Your true voice whispers, “I am good, I am smart, I can succeed.”

Embracing a genuine compliment means believing in yourself enough to trust the sincerity of the compliment giver. How do we get there?

Step 1.  Say Thank you. Reflect the compliment back in the spirit in which it was given. Even if you aren’t feeling it, smile and say ‘Thank you,’ gracefully, without embellishment. Just thank you. No explanations, no defensiveness, no demurring.

Step 2. Savor the compliment like tasting a good wine or fine chocolate! We are none of us perfect, we could all improve in some way. Instead of focusing on the unreasonable notion that we are always bad, doesn’t it make better sense to say, “I’m not perfect but I’m worthy of this recognition.” Let the compliment nurture your self-esteem just as a tall cool glass of water nurtures your body.

Step 3. Repeat.

Do these exercises faithfully by yourself, with friends or family if that helps, or with your therapist. As a consumer of my own advice I admit I have relapses. Just the other day my daughter complimented me.

“Mom, you look really good.”

My response? “Are you kidding? My eyes are like pin pricks because I have this cold. I think I look awful.”

Honest to God, she replied, “Mom, you’ve got to learn to take a compliment better.”

Like exercising muscles, I can guarantee you do get stronger bit by bit, day by day, until one day you will surprise yourself by smiling at the compliment and, without even thinking, say:

“Thanks! I do look great today!”