Many of us find the seemingly straight-forward act of accepting a compliment so damn difficult, without really understanding why. If this sounds familiar, you are definitely not alone, and I’d like to help you begin to accept the love and care that a compliment is intended to provide.

Let’s look at:
– Why we find it so hard to accept a compliment.
– How rejecting a compliment can affect the ‘compliment giver’.
– How we can begin to let kindness in using one of my favourite techniques.

Why is it so hard to accept a compliment?

Okay, so at a very basic level, when someone gives you a compliment, it puts you in the spotlight, right? For that moment, not only is all the attention in the room focused directly on you, but you need to figure out what to do with that incoming ball of kindness and how to respond to it…right on the spot! While some people seem to relish the spotlight, many of us squirm at the idea of being front and centre. So we tense up, retreat, and shy away from that feeling of discomfort.

But why squirm and shy away? What makes it so hard to accept something nice about ourselves? To graciously take this gift we have been offered? Well, one common reason for the ‘tense, squirm and shy away’ response is that there may be a part of you that feels undeserving of the compliment; it might jar against your own sense of self-worth and self-image.

You see, we have these things called ‘schemas’; these are little files on our brain that provide a framework for organising the world. If the compliment is not on a par with your own self image – because you don’t have a schema for it – then you may struggle to accept it. You don’t yet have a ‘place’ to put that compliment.

Velcro for the negative

What’s really interesting is that while compliments can be tough accept, we usually have no problem accepting criticism. Our brains are designed to look out for threat, as doing so millions of years ago meant we could keep ourselves safe and alive. Although there are no lions or rhinos waiting to pounce on us nowadays, our primitive brains have not caught up with these modern realities! Sadly, this means that we are often like ‘teflon for the positive’ and ‘velcro for the negative’!

To add insult to injury, while that negative criticism sticks to us, some of you might then go on to question why someone is saying this lovely thing about you – what is their motivation? They must want something from me. Negative thoughts start to creep in and before you know it, not only have you batted away their gift, but you are turning the giver into the enemy!

Gosh, we’re complex beings, aren’t we?

What happens when we reject that compliment?

If we compare the giving of compliments to other ways in which people show us their love and care, we can start to see how rejecting compliments might affect the ‘compliment giver’ in this exchange. Imagine your friend has been baking cookies for you (I know, it’s cookies again, but as you know, I love baking, so bear with me).

So, your friend has been baking, she offers you one of her delicious chocolate chip cookies that she made for you and you react by turning away, and brushing the offer aside. In this instance, you can immediately see how your behaviour is a clear rejection of the other person and the gift they are offering you. You are rejecting that person’s cookie, just as you would be rejecting that person’s love and nourishment if it were a compliment.

How do you imagine your friend feels when you refuse their gift to you? How do you feel when somebody doesn’t accept your compliments of them? Pretty rejected, eh? It’s like they are telling you that you are wrong to say those things about them.

Just like a gift, it is up to you what you do with a compliment. You can choose to accept that person’s love and care, or you can reject it. Easier said than done, you might say. Well, it will take some introspection and practise, but it is possible! Let me share one of my favourite techniques with you, so that you can learn to say “thank you” to those kind words.

Learning to accept a compliment

My first piece of advice would be to keep a log of the compliments you receive. Yes, actually write them down so you can start to create a schema or your ‘positive self-image’ brain file.

Now, let’s work on that technique to allow us to stand forward and accept that cookie when it comes!

Five easy steps to accepting a compliment

Start with a deep breath in, and out.
1. I’d like you to think about the last time someone gave you a compliment, or take one from those you’ve been writing down.
2. Standing in front of the mirror, imagine you are delivering that compliment authentically and towards somebody you want to make feel good.
3. Say the kind words out loud to yourself in the mirror. Say them like you mean them 100%. Allow that warmth to sink into your body without turning away physically or psychologically.
4. Notice what happens in your body when you let those words inside.
5. Allow that kindness to nourish and bolster your self-esteem.

My hope is that you now have a simple technique you can practise, so you feel empowered to take compliments. Let them nourish your body and your mind, and reap the positive energy they bestow.
Until next time, enjoy those cookies and bye for now! 😊


If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or trauma, and would like to find out how we at Altum Health can help you, please get in touch.