“Frankly, it’s confusing,” my now-husband, then-boyfriend Z deadpanned.
We were squabbling about the strange contradiction of my perceived self-image.
More specifically: my absolute inability to comfortably accept compliments of any kind — even (or especially) about things I’d worked my butt off to create or cultivate.
“You exude all this confidence, but then then aggressively resist when someone tries to clap for you. You know people aren’t lying, right?”
I, in turn, was silently praying the floor would open up and swallow me whole.
Deflect! Deflect! Deflect!
It was the first time I’d ever been confronted about this habit I carried with me like a nervous twitch:
Any time someone complimented me, or told me they admired something I’d done, I’d go stiff and immediately deflect.
I’d crack a joke, or share some embarrassing factoid about the process, or fully deny, deny, deny — lest someone assume my head was too big, or worse, that I was “fishing for compliments”.
It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate compliments. Deep down, I truly did!
But I thought deflection would make me appear more palatable, humble, and funnier — like I had finally evolved past the “attention seeking” label at last.
How it ACTUALLY appeared to those unsuspecting complimentary souls, however, was that my self-esteem was so
low that I’d actively deny a reality that I’d publicly worked to create.
False Humility is Truly Awkward
This is a habit shared by many creatives I meet — especially big-personality-d women.
When you’re told you’re “too loud”, “too much” or “too attention-seeking” often enough, being seen can feel… unsafe.
My bigness felt like a full-body, brightly colored tattoo at that phase of my life: I’d accepted I could never remove it. However, I could try my damndest to hide it.
But this was the first time I’d been told that my attempts to do so were having the OPPOSITE of the intended effect.
Think about it:
When you’re trying to genuinely praise someone, their absolute refusal to accept probably doesn’t make you like them more…it just highlights their insecurity.
Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. But it CAN create a loop of admiration —> deflection —> insistence/reassurance that can be a little exhausting.
And the whole thing can accidentally make you feel kinda strange and dumb for trying to compliment them in the first place.
With these thoughts running through my head, I erupted at my partner: WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY THEN??”
(Cuz when a gal realizes the defense mechanism she’s developed to become LESS annoying was actually making her MORE so, she gets a little shouty.)
The Very Simple Correct Response to a Compliment
“YOU SAY THANK YOU!” He replied, exasperated.
Ugh. Fine. Maybe stopping the deflection twitch was a good start. So I practiced: “Thank you!” Smile. Bite tongue.
It was an embarrassingly slow process (that’s still ongoing) as I worked to undo years of WASP and good girl conditioning.
But eventually, I was able to infuse my replies not only with gratitude, but a deep appreciation for being witnessed in that way.
I began to say “Thank you! I worked really hard on that, it’s really cool of you to notice,” and mean it.
I started to grin and soak in the praise with a “That means a lot,”… because it does.
Graceful Acceptance of a Compliment Takes Practice
The more compliments I allow myself to accept and internalize, the stronger my confidence and self-respect becomes.
When I’m not so preoccupied with controlling the way I’m perceived… I become more present to and accepting of the way I truly am.
So please: learn to take a damn compliment friend!
If not for your sake… then for the sake of people who have eyeballs.
Because they deserve to see the greatness in you. And you deserve to hear about it.