Taking a compliment sounds like a simple thing to do. Someone says something positive about you, you say ‘thank you very much’ and walk away with a fuzzy feeling inside. In reality though, many of us play down our abilities, we say to ourselves:
‘They’re just being polite.’
‘They have to say that, they’re my friend.’
‘I wasn’t that good, other people are much better than me.’
Many of us feel uncomfortable accepting compliments through fear of seeming boastful or arrogant and we respond by saying things like:
‘Oh, this old thing, it’s nothing special!’
‘Thanks but it wasn’t really all down to me.’
You may have been on the other side too, as the compliment giver, you can be left feeling frustrated or wondering why you bothered.
The key to all this can often be found in low self-esteem. You may find it hard to recognise anything truly worthwhile about yourself. Or, if you can, these qualities are immediately cancelled out by all the bad stuff which you give much more attention to!
You may focus on feeling inadequate in some way. Or you may feel you’re coasting along just well enough that no one has quite noticed how afraid and lacking in confidence you really are. You often think that if they knew the ‘real you’ they wouldn’t pay you those compliments. You may also compare yourself to others or to the person you feel you ‘should’ be. This internal struggle can be absolutely exhausting and leave you feeling miserable and uncomfortable in yourself.
How to take a compliment
The following steps can help you to move forward and accept that there may be some truth in the way other people see you and the positive things they say about you.
Step 1: Stop comparing!
These seemingly sorted people you see all around you, on instagram, at work, they aren’t you. They haven’t lived in your body, haven’t had the same life experiences that you have had, and so it’s not an ‘apples with apples’ fair comparison. So stop it. Enough now.
Instead, slow down the process. When you notice yourself comparing in a negative way, rather than speeding ahead to miserable town, allow yourself a choice – you can proceed down that negative spiral, or, you can do something different.
The trick here is in the doing – stand up, take a deep breath, shake your body, go outside, call a friend, make a cup of tea, put some music on, change your energy somehow. When you’re stuck, the only way out is to move and sometimes this means quite literally moving your body.
Step 2: Say thank you!
Every time you receive a compliment, no matter your mood, notice your initial reaction but challenge yourself to say a genuine thank you. Then, when you have a moment, write it down for later, read it, see it.
Absorb it. Let it in.
The compliment-giver did it for a reason; look for the evidence that backs it up rather than the evidence against it. You may feel really uncomfortable doing this at first and that’s normal, just keep at it.
Step 3: Be open and willing to change the way you think.
Perhaps this one should come first! Imagine yourself with improved self-esteem. How do you feel and what are you doing differently? Until you can visualise your desired change it’s unlikely that the other steps will have the desired effect. Making any change requires a decision to do so and a commitment to see it through. Lapsing back into old thinking habits is also part of the process but the important thing is to notice what you’re doing.
Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, gives us a simple way of looking at all of this. He believed that we’re all born ‘okay’: good and worthy. Through our life experiences, our sense of ‘okayness’ can become diminished (or elevated, but that’s a whole other blog post!). If you have low self-esteem you may spend a lot of time thinking ‘I’m not okay’ – not skinny enough, not clever enough, not cool enough, not interesting enough, not happy enough, not sexy enough, not fun enough. This sort of thinking, if left unchecked, can lead to feelings of anxiety, insecurity, shame and depression.
Counselling can help you to understand where these beliefs have come from and support you to make a shift in the view you have of yourself. Remember, you’re in charge of you, you’re enough as you are, nobody has it all figured out and you have untapped potential waiting to be unleashed. Take the compliment 😉