“Great job on that presentation, girl! You rocked it!”
“That dress looks stunning on you, hon!”
“This is, hands down, THE best chocolate-chip cookie I’ve ever had! Seriously! Martha Stewart is shaking in her boots right now.”
If you’re anything like me, your cheeks suddenly turn Sebastian red, your palms start to sweat, you oddly forget how to formulate words (a very rare anomaly when it comes to yours truly) and you immediately turn your head towards your Chuck Taylors, averting all eye contact. You’ve just been given the sweetest of compliments by your best friend/SO/teacher/boss yet you are acting like a complete and total wack-a-doo.
There has been a longstanding stereotype perpetuating the idea that women can’t take a compliment. I’d like to think that this is completely bonkers, but having examined my own behavior, as well as that of some of the women closet to me in my life (my sister, my best friends, my mom, etc.), I’m beginning to think that that stereotype has some truth to it.
So what is it that is keeping us from accepting a compliment? Why do we feel it necessary to deflect, ignore or shrug off these kind sentiments?
As a strong, independent and empowered female, I still have a hard time accepting compliments from people, whether they be strangers or those I’ve known my whole life. I will never forget the time when the boy I was Orange-Crushing hardcore over in middle school gave me a high-five and told me I had a “wicked awesome swing.” We were playing softball in gym class and I had just hit a double, RBI sending the winning runner home. I didn’t know whether to laugh, smile, or throw up. What I ended up doing was giggling awkwardly and replying with a, “Hahahthankssomuchyoutoo.”
Smooth, Wendi. Real smooth.
A big reason why compliments make me, and a lot of other people–women in particular (although men have just as hard of a time as us girls sometimes), feel just all of the awkward has to do with our current self-esteem state. I think there’s something in our mind-set that says we cannot possibly deserve positive feedback. That lady sitting across from you on the subway who told you she liked your purse, or that man stuck in traffic next to you who started clapping at your impromptu car karaoke session must be either lying, misguided, or feeling sorry for you. If someone tells you something good about yourself, there’s always a reason why they’re wrong.
After all, if we aren’t in a place where we would give ourselves these compliments, how are we going to believe others when they do the same?
Somewhere along the line, we have been taught to not boast of our achievements, to be brimming with pride about who we are, what we have done and the accomplishments that we have made. We should love ourselves, but not too much. Be confident, but not overly so. Believe in ourselves but never admit that to our besties for fear of making them feel bad about themselves. We take the compliment, but immediately put it down like it was no thing but a chicken wing. We put ourselves down, point out our weaknesses, claim it was “just luck” or immediately compliment the person who complimented us, redirecting the attention towards the other person. Now, I believe there is some value in humility; I wouldn’t tell you to expect a round of applause every time you walked into a room (although that would be kind of nice on those days where you are just feeling meh).
What I am saying is to own your worth and love yourself enough to know that you deserve that compliment, dammit.
Our girl Amy Schumer did a skit a few years ago on her show Inside Amy Schumer which exemplifies this very habit of ours.
People, women in particular, have a tendency to choose self-deprecation over self-assertion. It’s most definitely easier, and helps to make others more comfortable, but this can also have some negative side effects. Emma Gray of The Huffington Post wrote after the Schumer video came out:
These sorts of comments reinforce a pattern of continuous lady self-loathing. When being unable to accept praise is the norm, it makes it more difficult for us to take pride in what we do or what we look like. And frankly, when I compliment a friend or acquaintance, I genuinely mean whatever I say—I don’t want her to brush it off and insult herself as a result. Instead of downplaying our accomplishments, intellect, and looks, women should be celebrating those things that make us exceptional. Owning your awesomeness doesn’t make you obnoxious or arrogant. It makes you confident.
Instead of putting yourself down and not recognizing how awesome we really are, let’s start trying to do these things instead:
- Own your accomplishments: It wasn’t because of that lucky penny you picked up on the way to work, that your horoscope was particularly sunny that day, the goodwill of others, or any other reason that you managed to do something ridiculously amazing; it was YOU! Your effort and commitment. Even if you truly were just in the right place at the right time, you deserve credit for seeing an opportunity and going after it. If you wouldn’t dream of not taking responsibility for your failures, then get to steppin’ and take responsibility for your achievements.
- Be appreciative: A compliment is really a kind of gift. You wouldn’t put down or reject a gift from a friend or loved one would you (well, okay there was that one time I got a state quarter map for Christmas from my parents but…); treat compliments the same way.
- Recognize your contribution. You may not be the only one who deserves to be complimented on a job well-done, and it’s fine to say so, but remember that you’re a part of your group’s success, too. You were just a part of your team’s success as your fellow members.
- Be gracious. Giving a compliment isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be just as awkward and nerve-wracking giving a compliment as it is receiving one. When someone does offer you one, accept it easily and gracefully. And if the opportunity presents itself, pay them a compliment back. Let people know that you appreciate them for appreciating you.
It’s important for us to take in these compliments, believe them, and take them for what they are: verbal pats on the back, fist bumps and a well-deserved and honest acknowledgement of how great we really are. By negating these compliments, it not only lessens how we view ourselves—our worth, talents and abilities– but also the opinions and beliefs of those giving said compliments.
You don’t have to be a cocky, arrogant, son-of-a-you-know-what to take a compliment well (but it helps — kidding!) just a reasonably well-balanced, self-assured person. The good news is that mastering the art of receiving compliments helps make you into a more well-balanced, self-assured person — which, in turn, will earn you more compliments. Plus, the best thing about learning how to accept compliments is it’ll give you the chance to see yourself as others see you—which is pretty amazing.
This process is definitely easier said than done–something that I have and will be continuously working on, but with practice and regularly incorporating these tips above, I’m on my way to learning how to take compliments like a boss.
And you can be too!