You look terrific today. I love what you’re wearing. You have such a nice smile. I like the sound of your voice.
Many people would rather eat a broccoli-flavored Popsicle than be on the receiving end of a compliment. Are you one of them? How did you feel when you read the previous paragraph? Receiving compliments – and also giving them – is hard when self-esteem has been injured. Low self-esteem tells us we’re just plain not good enough. And we imagine that if we can see it, so can everyone else.
If I believe I’m a dull and boring person, I will assume that you agree with me. So if you tell me that you think I’m fun and interesting, something feels very wrong. Either you’re being nice to spare my feelings, you don’t know me very well, or you’re just plain lying to me. Any way you slice it, your compliment makes me uncomfortable!
The key to being comfortable with compliments is to stop believing that other people share your low opinion of you. They don’t. They aren’t as critical of you as you are. And even if they were, they don’t have time to evaluate you because they’re too wrapped up in their own concerns.
The mistaken notion that others are judging can be seen in action when teenagers are forced to appear in public with their parents. They assume the world can see how weird their parents are, and they seem to be horrified by everything their parents say and do. If you’re a bystander, the source of their humiliation is often a complete mystery.
Accept the fact that people don’t see you as you see you. If someone offers you a compliment, they’re likely telling the truth. Isn’t it possible that someone could find your eyes beautiful? Or enjoy your singing? Or genuinely appreciate your fashion sense?
When you receive a compliment, smile. Say “Thank you,” or “How kind of you,” or something equally simple.
If you have difficult feelings when receiving compliments, you don’t have to act on them. You don’t have to tell the complimenter how wrong they are, for example, or point out something that’s bad about you. Graciously receive the compliment, then talk over your feelings later with your therapist or a trusted friend. Low self-esteem doesn’t just make it hard to receive compliments; it can also make it nearly impossible to give them.
When self-esteem is very low, it’s like being financially strapped. You’re walking around with your very last $5 in your pocket. Using it to buy lunch for someone else is not an option. You literally cannot afford to give your money away.
Think of someone who seems to have more confidence than you, and who is also very attractive. Now picture yourself telling that person, “Gee, you look like a million bucks!” and picture them basking in your compliment. Giving an already-confident person such a gift would feel like taking Bill Gates out to lunch on your last $5. Ridiculous, right? Bill Gates should be taking you out, not the other way around. He can afford it. You can’t. The only problem is, if you’re not giving away compliments, you’re missing out on opportunities to feel good about yourself.
A compliment, like a gift, does as much for the giver as for the receiver. You get to experience yourself as generous and kind. You get to light up someone’s life for a moment – what power! And you affirm to yourself that you CAN afford it. As long as you have something to give away, you’re rich.
Practice giving compliments. Make them honest so you don’t feel too phony. It’s bound to feel a little forced if you’re not used to doing this, so do make sure you can be honest in what you choose to compliment.
Start today with someone you think it would be easy for you to compliment. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. “I like your tie” is a compliment. If you don’t normally give them, people who know you might think you’re being sarcastic. Don’t be thrown by this. Just say, “No, I mean it. I like your tie.”
Notice how it feels to offer the gift of your attention and appreciation. Give at least one compliment every day and watch what happens. If you run out of people to compliment, try giving them to yourself!
Giving and receiving compliments is easier with high self-esteem. But like all behaviors that interact with self-esteem, compliments are both cause and effect. That is, high self-esteem makes it easier to give and receive compliments, AND giving and receiving compliments supports higher self-esteem.
So get out there. I know you can do it. Why? Because you’re smart, brave and strong. ;)
© Copyright 2011 by By Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.