About Last Night: How to feel good about receiving compliments 12-08-18

September 3, 2018

Q: Recently divorced, I’m new to the dating scene and feel awkward. I met a woman around my age, and we got on well – up to a point. Although slim, she kept describing herself as “Rubenesque”. When I said I thought she was pretty she said, “Are you willing to put that in writing?”, and seemed incapable of taking a compliment. In fact, she actively pointed out physical flaws. Eventually, it was too much like hard work, and I moved away.

A: Many people find it difficult to accept compliments, appreciation and gratitude graciously. In Australia, Tall Poppy Syndrome makes us fear seeming full of ourselves, and self-effacement and self-deprecation are considered signs of humility. This can keep others at arm’s length, and make social conversations more like an obstacle course.

An inability to take positive comments not only feeds our own insecurities, it is also crushing, embarrassing, and off-putting to the person trying to connect with us, or can come across as fishing for compliments.

Moving away might reinforce her low self-esteem, but you cannot help someone if they are trapped in a pattern that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you recognise yourself in this, make some changes, as it will get in the way of making intimate connections.

Family therapist, Dr John Amodeo, offers help in an article entitled “Practical Tips for Metabolising a Compliment: the art of receiving appreciation”. He says, “Sadly, compliments may be contaminated and neutralised by considerations that are fear-based or shame-driven: Will they think I have a supersized ego? Do I deserve these kind words?'”

We need appreciation and acknowledgment in order to thrive. If we are incapable of receiving simple affirmations, our deep need for appreciation can be expressed in other ways, such as the search for power, money, or status, but these do not nourish us.

Here are Amodeo’s tips for overcoming this self-sabotaging behaviour. Firstly, when you receive a compliment, take a breath. “We often stay in our head when someone sends a whiff of appreciation our way … we deflect, minimise, or sidetrack to avoid the awkwardness of receiving it. Taking a conscious breath can open a pathway out of our head and into our body — helping to calm distracting fears and considerations. Being in our body, we’re better positioned to metabolise a compliment and let it seep into our bones and tissues.

“A key to receiving a compliment is to not over-think it. Don’t make it complicated by wondering what they really mean by it, or if they have some hidden agenda. These are fruitless inquiries. Take it at face value, and allow yourself to enjoy or even relish it … feeling appreciated is one thing that can build trust and connection.”

Be aware of your body. “Being in the moment includes staying in your body and out of your head. Notice how you feel inside receiving someone’s gratitude. Is it a warm, glowing feeling? Or is it unpleasant, perhaps because you’re not accustomed to being appreciated? Does your stomach feel tight or your chest constricted? Maybe you notice shame or shyness about letting yourself indulge in feeling good for a moment. Let it all be there; be gentle with whatever you’re noticing.”

On the other hand, “If it’s a pleasant feeling, see if you can let it course through you without wondering if you can trust it or feeling obligated to reciprocate. A simple ‘thank you’ can be followed by a pause, allowing yourself time to let it in.”

Enjoy the feeling. “Allowing a compliment to seep into our body can help heal some of the unworthiness we carry. Life is less isolating and more enjoyable when we give and receive simple compliments … notice when someone values and appreciates us … We’re social creatures who develop our sense of self from being valued.”

Practise appreciating yourself, and others. We can be quick to make a complaint, but fail to give thanks.

“Valuing and appreciating ourselves is vital,” Amodeo says. “Especially when it’s not forthcoming from others … If you’re feeling deprived of compliments, you may want to experiment with being more generous in expressing appreciation.”

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