The Better Me Project—Day 11
Remember yesterday when I said I have to admit my mistakes and accept constructive criticism in a positive way? Well, believe it or not, that’s actually easier for me to do than this next precept. I must Accept compliments.
I never realized that I could not accept compliments until recently when a friend was gushing about my author prowess and I was just deftly knocking the accolades aside. I was mortified that she was trying to assign these positive attributes to me. My face turned bright red and I immediately countered her praise by pointing out everything I had actually screwed up. She shook her head and asked, “Why can’t you just accept compliments?” I shrugged because I really didn’t know. Was it because I thought what she was saying was untrue? Did I not believe I had talent? Did that talent embarrass me in some way? She was saying she thought the blog post I wrote was great and resonated with her, yet instead of simply saying thank you, I had to deconstruct my post and explain its flaws. I muttered an apologetic thank you at this point and went off to lick my wounds and contemplate my childish behavior.
Why did I always get shy when praise was given? Up until this point, I just thought by swatting away compliments, I was being humble. Being humble was a much more desirable trait than actually having people saying complimentary things about me. (I could almost imagine them complimenting me amongst themselves…That Heather is so humble! As long as they never said it to my face. That would be mortifying.) It’s extra weird because I want people to notice me, I want people to tell me I’m doing a good job, that I look nice, that they admire me…yet, I can’t stand it when they do. What is up with that? I was determined to find out what was making me this way.
Apparently, I’m not alone. A few years ago, a teen photographer conducted a social experiment in which she told people they were beautiful and photographed their reaction. Many of her fellow teens got red-faced and embarrassed by the compliments; some tried to dismiss her or tell her she was crazy. An occasional person thanked her. In 2016, Psychology Today published an article that claims a whopping percentage of women cannot accept compliments. Instead of simply saying “Thank you” when someone says something nice about them, most women will disagree with the compliment-er or dismiss the compliment altogether. The reasons for this seem to stem back to self-esteem, culture and innate biology, making it a complex study in why women hate on themselves and other women. In a nutshell, we can’t accept compliments because we don’t want to look like we are full of ourselves. If we have low self-esteem, accepting compliments and praise goes against the internal monologue “you are worthless” that we sell ourselves. If we do have high self-esteem, we still toss the compliments aside because we don’t want to look conceited. This is why I, and billions of other women, tuck our heads down and mumble self-depreciating remarks whenever a compliment is bestowed upon us. We are afraid of what we look like to others.
Like when someone says, “Wow, I really like you in that dress!”, we shake our heads and say, “Oh, it’s my sister’s. It looks much better on her.” Or, “You did a great job on that presentation!”, we respond with “I missed a few points.” We just cannot take compliments without demeaning ourselves in the process because we don’t want people to think ill of us for accepting their compliments. We dismiss the praise we get because we think by doing so, it makes us look better in the eyes of others. But wait! Wasn’t I supposed to stop caring about how I looked to others??? (Don’t Give a Crap)
Ironically, this makes us look worse. According to this article, people think that when you dismiss what they’re saying to you, you’re actually being the opposite of humble. They are annoyed that you’re basically telling them what they think doesn’t matter! You’ve made enough of an impression on them for them to voice their (positive) opinion of you and there you go…telling them their opinion is crap. Ughhhhh! Why should anyone compliment you after that? You made them feel bad and worthless along with yourself.
What should we do to break this cycle? (Besides take compliments with a polite “thank you”, of course. A Huff Post article, also from 2016, has some suggestions, including giving yourself praise like I am worthy, I am unique, I am talented, I am beautiful. What?!?!?!? No way! I can’t do that! That definitely makes me look conceited!
Or not. Telling yourself that you’re worthy, you’re unique, and that you have talents to bestow upon the world is a way of accepting yourself for who you are, rather than continuing that self-depreciating monologue that you’re not good enough. Jen Sincero also touched upon this idea in You Are a Badass (I highly recommend this book). She is REALLY big on loving yourself and giving yourself positive affirmations on the daily. Yup. Looking at yourself in the mirror every day and overlooking the middle-aged pimples and wrinkles (now if that isn’t unfair, I don’t know what is) and telling yourself that YOU ARE WORTHY. And you’ve really got to do it to believe it. None of this saying it in your head nonsense. Whisper it if you have to, but you need to send your voice into the Universe to start believing it. Stop the hating yourself monologue and actually tell yourself that you LOVE you. Shout it to the world, in fact!
The weirdest thing happened when I started doing this daily exercise. I started getting MORE compliments than ever! Which, a few months ago, would have caused me so much anxiety that I would need to take a puff of my inhaler. But lately, I’ve been able to just smile at my compliment-er and say, “Why thank you! I appreciate it.” It’s really not as difficult as I thought it would be. And it makes me want to spread the positive vibes and compliment other people, which is why I’ve gotten in the habit of doing just that. I try to compliment someone at least once a day. Tell my son that the blue shirt he’s wearing brings out his eyes, tell my daughter that her hair looks nice today, tell a random stranger that I love her shoes, tell another random mom that’s she’s doing a great job parenting…and mean it. We are all in this together. We need to build each other up instead of tearing each other (and ourselves) down. This is how great things get done. It starts with us.