By: Emily Ladau, Guest Blogger
In the past year, I have focused on developing my writing career and expanding the reach of my work. As I’ve been published in new places, I’ve found myself lucky enough to hear from incredibly supportive people offering compliments and words of encouragement. I’ve checked Facebook or my email at random moments and discovered notes from people who live across the globe from me, sharing a kind sentiment or thanking me for something I’ve written. Honestly, it blows my mind whenever it happens.
It’s also incredibly problematic, because I struggle mightily to accept or believe anything nice that people say about me. In fact, just writing about compliments is making me uncomfortable. And it seems I’m not alone in this feeling.
What is it about our culture that has led people – especially women, it seems – to view receiving compliments as an awkward experience? I notice time and again that when I extend a compliment to someone, the person deflects, or even outright rejects it, rather than accepting it. Often, the bigger the compliment, the more likely a person is to try to avert it, but it happens with simple compliments as well.
If I tell a friend how much I love their outfit, it’s possible they’ll just say thank you, but usually I’m met with a response such as “Oh, stop it!” or “That shirt you were wearing the other day was way cuter!” However, if I express my admiration for the work someone does or a major accomplishment, or if I compliment someone on how truly lovely they are both inside and out, I frequently find I’m met with resistance.
Now, if we’re just talking about clothes, deflecting isn’t really such a big deal. But when this difficulty to accept compliments translates to much greater sentiments, I believe it reveals something about the cracks society has caused to develop in our self-esteem. Perhaps people feel that directly accepting a compliment may make it appear they lack humility. Or perhaps it goes even deeper than this, and the real trouble is that so many of us do not believe in ourselves enough to internalize the positive things that are recognized in us.
I know I’m guilty of this. I’ve long faced battles with my self-esteem that cause me to feel like I’m undeserving of compliments and kindness. I have been working to embrace a positive view of myself, but sometimes it’s tough. Rather than taking a compliment for what it is, I tend to over-think everything. I jump to conclusions that the person doesn’t mean what they said, or that I’m not actually worthy of it.
That being said, with all the gloomy news that surrounds us each day, I wonder at the fact that so many of us deny ourselves a chance to soak in a little happiness. Compliments are meant to bring people together, strengthening connections and showing appreciation, so why are we so often inclined to twist them into something negative?
I’ve decided I need to focus on taking a new approach to compliments: I need to say thank you and mean it. I need the genuine gratitude I show for another person’s kindness to spill over into gratitude towards myself and pride in what I do. And I hope you’ll join me in this. Even if doubt creeps in, even if you worry the person doesn’t mean it, even if you think you shouldn’t believe a single word, forget all of that and just embrace the compliments you receive. I promise, you’re worth it.
We give compliments all the time; why is it so hard to take them in return?
- Try following Emily's lead: The next time someone pays you a compliment, smile, and express your genuine gratitude. As great as it makes you feel, it makes the other person feel pretty fab as well!
Emily Ladau is a passionate disability rights advocate whose career began at the age of 10, when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. Emily blogs at Words I Wheel By about her experiences as a disabled young adult, challenging people to consider all aspects of the disability experience in new ways. When she’s not writing and advocating, you’ll probably find Emily painting the town turquoise, buying peacock-themed everything, and drinking far too many chai lattes. You should totally say hi to her via Words I Wheel By on Facebook and on Twitter @emily_ladau.