Compliments – you might be able to give, but you might be struggling to receive – like a good turn, praise, love. When you are offered compliments you may hear your inner voice telling you with determination not to accept what you are told.
Where does it all come from and how to change?
Do you find it easier to accept criticism than praise? If that is you, then you may find it hard to trust the compliment and yourself.
You may find it almost painful to accept a compliment and take the lime-light, even for a split second:
“Oh, it’s nothing.” meaning “Please, no fuss.”
“I could have done better.” meaning “I don’t deserve this.”
“… those shoes are not new, they are second-hand.” meaning “I don’t spend much on myself, I don’t over-rate myself; I wear nothing special, because I am nothing special.”
You might not really like yourself that much, are critical of yourself, have a tendency to look negatively on life, relationships and yourself. And you probably will have some good reason for it.
There can be many reasons…
… why we may find it difficult to accept, that we deserve a compliment, and that it is meant truly, without expecting a hidden agenda straight away.
See whether any of the following explains, why you may feel the way you do.
Before that, a quick word about blaming:
Please bear in mind, none of this is about ‘blaming’ – yourself or another.
Instead of ‘blaming’ – ‘understanding’ is a more helpful approach:
- understand the possible links,
- decide whether they still apply;
- and if they don’t, then let’s explore possible change.
Blaming others takes energy, which is better used for changes to the way you feel about yourself.”
Discomfort in accepting compliments reflects beliefs we have about ourselves and our place in the world.
- I am not good enough, not deserving.
- I must not be heard or seen.
- Standing out from the crowd is uncomfortable, is bad form because it may reflect arrogance, selfishness, immodesty.
- The compliment may not be meant with honesty; the other may feel sorry for me, or there is a hidden agenda.
We develop such attitudes over time from experiences, from the life we lead in the context of our family, society, culture, religion, values and virtues. All of this shapes the way we think about ourselves and about others.
We may have been brought up in a family environment poor in praise and recognition of achievements and strong in criticism, blame, lack of confidence and mistrust of others. This may even be a theme across the generations, like in my family:
- Being kept in our place is about power.
- Keeping ourselves in our place is about safety of the known and avoiding of conflict.
I know my place. Please do not confuse me with compliments, because I have no place for them.
My own experience
At on early stage of my life, feeling good about myself would have been out of place and may have led to conflict.
If I had been in touch with my self worth, then I would have been unable to live within the confines of the emotional rules of my then home.
With hindsight, I now know, I share responsibility in keeping these restrictions alive.
I left as soon as I could. But I took the internalised thinking of not being good enough with me, and continued to live accordingly.
Much later in my life, and with a lot of self exploration and challenging in therapy, did I finally pluck up the courage to undo the shackles and allow myself to develop a more compassionate and loving attitude towards myself.
I developed my internal champion.
A low sense of self worth is a fertile ground for living below our abilities.
We are likely to under-achieve and not feeling good enough becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
Low self esteem can leave us vulnerable to mistreatment, disrespect, bullying and abuse.
We need a good sense of self worth to keep healthy boundaries.
What did I do in practice?
Without a shadow of a doubt, my therapy was the key area of internal transformation.
Over time, being treated with (predictable!) respect and honesty and without judgment or shaming eventually enabled me to entertain the possibility, that I had value, was good enough and entitled to be treated by others in exactly the way my therapist was treating me.
Something clicked and my attitude towards myself gradually changed from pushing myself away and beating myself up to consideration, self care, respecting, liking and (even!) loving myself.
In practical terms:
I was trying to look at compliments, not as a threat, but first as a social reality, that is common, and not such a big deal. I needed to de-sensitise myself.
I started paying other people compliments, with honesty, and watched their response. Often I would see the same discomfort and playing down, that I had seen in myself.
I tried to respond to compliments by saying ‘Thank you’ and nothing else. It took a long time to stick to that and not to play down the compliment.
The next step was to pay back the compliment.
Working at my sense of entitlement, that I am good enough, with the best of intentions and deserving of praise – that was difficult.
I needed to find a balance between my inner critic and my inner champion!
If you recognise yourself in any of this, and if you are ready to make some changes, then be gentle with yourself, be patient.
Observe your pattern, remember change is a process.
Years and decades worth of thought and belief patterns cannot be wiped out over night.
If you feel you deserve better than you probably do.
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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.