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Can’t You Take a Compliment?

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As much as I want to believe good things about myself, I am really bad at accepting compliments. It’s puzzling. Another one of those things I file under the “we’re not as rational as we think” category.

Like, once when this guy complimented me on my legs, I said, “Are you making fun of me?” I actually said that out loud, to his face, instead of the more common response of “thank you.” I really thought he was insulting me. That is how compliments get processed in my brain.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to be in a relationship with someone who, every time you gave them a compliment, they heard it as an insult?

That’s exactly why I’m not dating anyone. I don’t want to put some unsuspecting guy through that kind of torture.

Or like, when I was in grad school, my advisor thought I was great. He was always complimenting me in front of other students–which they found annoying–and he would tell everyone how I was the best grad student he’d ever had.

And you know what I thought? I thought he must have pretty low standards. He must not be a very good psychologist if he thought I was the best grad student he’d ever had.

So not only do I take compliments as insults, but I also think less of the person who has given me a compliment.

And yet, when someone gives me a compliment, I cherish it. I repeat it over and over in my mind, trying to make myself believe it. Trying to make myself understand that they were actually talking about me.

I’ve been thinking about all of these compliments that people have given me over the years. Even the ones from high school–which was a long time ago. And I have to say, it’s much more pleasant than the things I usually obsess about. It kind of makes me feel full of myself, but it still feels pretty good.

Perhaps I just have some kind of delayed processing disorder where information doesn’t compute in my brain until years later.

These days, I try not to seem as crazy on the outside as I feel on the inside. When someone gives me a compliment, I have trained myself to say “thank you.” I do not insult them. I do not try to undo their compliment by saying something insulting about myself.

Actually, now that I think about it, I still kind of do that. Because when someone says my hair looks nice, I usually reply with “Thanks. I finally washed it.” So I guess I still need to work on that part.

But still. I’m getting better at it. We may not always be rational, but we can become more aware of when we’re not being rational and try to align our feelings with our behavior.

So if you feel like giving me a compliment so that I can get more practice, I promise I won’t insult you.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

33 responses »

  1. It’s weird that I almost get defensive when someone compliments something I consider to be a flaw. I too need to work on just being appreciative of a compliment. I don’t want that to be a part of my crazy anymore.

    I think you have a great smile. πŸ™‚

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  2. I’d tell you that this was a really good post but…I’m a little afraid to compliment you πŸ˜‰

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  3. It’s interesting that so many of us struggle with accepting compliments. It gets easier over time. Well, I should say our response gets easier over time–we eventually program ourselves to respond with an appropriate thank you. But many of us still question whether we deserve the compliment, and we often have to bite our tongues to add a qualifier to our thank you (like your hair-washing example). I wonder if it’s more difficult for women to accept compliments than men. Seems like that might be the case.

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  4. Quirky Grandma

    Great post. I promise it is true. I completely get where you are coming from. When we lack see confidence. Try accepting compliments as the other person’s positive opinion of you. Write them down and review them regularly with as positive attitude as possible. You may find you not only accept compliments better from others but can even compliment yourself over time without thinking if you try some positive affirmations daily.

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  5. I understand this completely. As a compliment I’d like to tell you that you write well and should be proud of yourself for being so honest to share your thoughts as you do.

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  6. I struggle with exactly the same thing!! I suppose when your clients compliment you (and I am sure they do), you have the option of reflecting it back? Or actually, I should not assume and am really curious now… How DO you react when clients compliment you? πŸ™‚

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    • Now that you mention it, that’s one of the hardest compliments at all to accept. Usually their compliments are in the form of thank you’s for how I’ve changed their life. I do always reflect it back to them and say they are the ones who did all the work. Which is true, but part of it is about my difficulty in believing that I’m that important.

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  7. I’ve had my days when I made the complimentor uncomfortable. Not anymore. I say thank you and move on.
    I did have a boyfriend in college who said I could do push ups with my cheeks. (The ones on my face.) I’ve been thinking about that one for years. Ha!

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    • Isn’t that funny that it can be so uncomfortable in accepting a compliment that we would actually make the complimenter feel uncomfortable? Maybe guys are used to it since it’s hard for a lot of women to take compliments.

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  8. Your blog is great.

    Love,
    Janie

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  9. You are a good writer.

    Love,
    Janie

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. I usually don’t believe compliments, but I’m getting over it a bit because my blog gets lots of compliments. I’ve always told people who can’t stand to be complimented to smile and say “thank you.” Why try to make a liar out of the person who compliments you?

    Love,
    Janie

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  11. I have trouble thanking people for compliments myself. I always feel a need to add something to the thank you.

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  12. It’s difficult I agree, but think of a compliment as a physical gift. It’s easier to accept with grace that way. I always enjoy your writing.

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  13. Um, yes. I’ve said the “I guess it’s because I finally showered” line before. O_o

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  14. Act as if …. And soon you’ll find you can take a compliment, and take pleasure in it. Hopefully.

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  15. For years, I have been working on responding to a compliment with a sincere, “Thank you.” And, of course, a smile. It’s not always as easy as it sounds!

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  16. Great post. I liked the topic choice. I struggle with compliments sometimes and I think the reason is because I feel there are three types of compliments.
    The first one is what I call a surface compliment, the one where the person begins a conversation with – “Oh, I love your hair”. This is meant to get you in a positive frame of mind. I tend to gloss over these with a smile and ‘thank you’.
    Then there are the sincere compliments. I have no problem accepting these. These are from someone’s heart and I know they really mean it.
    I’ve learned there is a third category. It’s a sincere compliment, but the words used are what I’ll call ‘pop-media’ or coaching terms. “You’re the best!” “Boy, your absolutely awesome as doing xyz.” I can accept those as well and my mind automatically tempers the words to match my true level of skill.
    The one I struggle the most with is that when my team has done an amazing job, I do not like to be singled out as the one who did the work. I always recognize the team effort. However, if someone compliments on the leadership aspect – I have no problem accepting it.
    Anyway, I loved your post. Well done Christy!

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  17. I’m uncomfortable when my husband compliments me to other people because he goes way overboard and makes me embarrassed! He has a way of really stretching the truth!

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