Totally Terrific Tinu asks: “When I get compliments from those close to me and people I’ve just met, it overwhelms me. My question is, how do you deal with it or what do you do with it. I usually say thank you but it is overwhelmingly uncomfortable.”
Believe it or not, I used to have the same problem. In fact, I was far worse than you. When someone would give me a compliment, I would say something to deflect it, even putting myself down, and in effect, telling the other person that they were wrong to compliment me.
Then one day, when I was about 19, a good friend did me a huge favor. He’d just told me that I was good at something and I’d shot it down. He gave me the following advice, or rather, he angrily yelled it at me: “When someone gives you a compliment, just say thank you and shut the f*ck up!” This stopped me in my tracks and led to a wonderful, eye opening and life changing conversation.
Why compliments can feel bad
When someone gives you a compliment and it makes you feel uncomfortable, your discomfort is a sign that you don’t believe them. If someone tells you that you look beautiful and you don’t believe that you are, the contradiction between their statement and your thought are going to cause discord in your vibration. Their words are triggering your false belief, which feels awful. So, your negative reaction isn’t actually caused by their words, but by the contradictory belief you hold within yourself.
If you’ve come to the conclusion, at some point, that you’re not good enough, then any thought or statement that contradicts that will make you uncomfortable. Your mind will try to make sense of this discomfort, but having been programmed with a negative belief, it generally makes an even bigger mess of things. So, your mind tells you that the other person is just being nice. They don’t really mean it. They may even be buttering you up so they can get something from you. Your mind will come up with all kinds of explanations, except one: that the other person may be telling the truth.
The people around you are not all big fat liars
But that view, when you really think about it, is horribly jaded. You’re essentially calling anyone who compliments you, which generally includes the people closest to you, big, fat liars. You would rather believe that you’re worthless, or ugly, or not good enough, than even conceive of the possibility that they might be genuinely telling you the truth. Perhaps they really do love your dress, hair, painting, work, etc. Maybe, just maybe, the horrific and painful way in which you’re seeing yourself isn’t the “truth” at all. Perhaps you’re a lot prettier, more talented, or smarter than you think you are.
Step One: Stop deflecting compliments
Now, it sounds like you’ve already done this, but for the sake of other readers, I’m going to include this step here. When someone gives you a compliment, don’t tell them they’re wrong. Don’t put down the thing they’ve just complimented (“Oh, this old dress?”). When you do that, you’re making them feel horrible for paying you a compliment, effectively discouraging them from ever doing it again. You take a beautiful moment of affection and connection and you shit all over it. Stop that. Think about how they feel.
Step Two: Consider the possibility that they might be right
This is a big step, and it’ll take a bit of focus and practice.
There was a time when my own self esteem was so low that I actually looked down on anyone who thought highly of me. If a man thought I was beautiful, I either thought he was full of crap, or I thought he was even lower on the pecking order than I was, rendering his compliment worthless. It was the old “I don’t want to be a member of any club that’ll have me” story. The idea that I might actually be beautiful was so inconceivable to me that I was willing to brand any man who thought I was beautiful as an idiot, and any woman who told me the same as either biased and blinded by love (like mothers who still love their ugly babies), or fake. And, of course, I let no other evidence in.
And yet, as strong as my belief was, I did manage to change it. This wasn’t an instant thing, although, to be fair, not all of it was deliberate, so that did slow me down. The conversation with my friend really helped. It opened me up to the fact that I’d been so readily dismissing the other person’s point of view. Not only was that incredibly disrespectful to my friend, but it really didn’t serve me. Just the realization that there might be another valid point of view, another possible way for me to look at myself, started the process of shifting this horrific belief.
Think of the last compliment you received, which made you uncomfortable. What did they say to you? What thought were you holding on to that contradicted this statement? Which thought do you want to believe? What if your belief was wrong? What if their compliment was actually genuine? What if they don’t see you the way you see yourself?
When we negate a compliment, we often think that the other person is seeing what we’re seeing, which causes their appreciation to seem nonsensical. If they are looking at the same ugly mug that we’re looking at, there’s no way they could genuinely think it’s pretty. But what if they don’t see what we see? What if our own view is distorted? What if we’re looking through a fun house mirror lens that makes us look way uglier than we really are? What if the other person has no such lens and sees something completely different? What if they really do see someone beautiful when they look at us? What if they’re telling the truth?
Step 3: Choose to look through a different lens
Once you’ve opened yourself up to just the possibility of different perspectives, it’s time to go looking for a better feeling way of looking at yourself. So, let’s say that you’re insecure about your work. Someone compliments you on your latest project and tells you that you’ve done a great job. You instantly feel your stomach clench, but you are aware that all this means is that you’ve got a false belief that isn’t serving you. You’ve also opened yourself up to the possibility that the way you’re looking at your work may be totally skewed.
When you look at your work, all you can see is how it doesn’t quite measure up. You always think it could be better. You’re aware of what’s NOT there.
Instead of counting all the reasons why it’s not good enough, try this instead: Make a list of all the things you like about your project (or hair, or dress, or body, or personality, etc.). What’s good about it? Or, if that’s too far to reach, then look for what doesn’t suck and work up from there. What do you like about it? Find any aspect at all, and focus on that until you can find another. Remember, that you may need to focus for a few minutes before you gather enough energy to manifest more thoughts, so don’t give up if you can’t think of anything in the first few seconds. Keep looking for something you can genuinely feel good about.
If this is an insecurity that comes up a lot, get a notebook and write down the positive thoughts you find. This will make it easier for you to focus on them, which will increase their power. In time, it will become easier and easier for you to see what’s right with your work, body, hair, whatever, instead of what’s wrong. Again, it does take a bit of time and focus, but if you practice this technique consistently, you can feel better after just one session and see massive results in as little as a month.
And then, when someone pays you a compliment, you’ll notice that it no longer feels off. It will actually feel good. It will be proof that your new thoughts are right. You are beautiful, good enough, talented, etc. Your smile will be genuine, your reaction one of joy. And then, when you say “thank you”, you’ll really mean it.