Don’t Overthink It: Why It’s Okay To Take A Compliment At Face Value

June 20, 2014  |  


I have recently started to notice all of the subtle ways in which women have internalized ideas of inferiority. Even down to one of the most minor of all inferiority complexes, like the inability to accept a compliment.

That sounds preposterous, right? I mean, how difficult is it to accept a compliment? For many, it is, and many of us struggle with this without even knowing we are actually doing it. Generally, our rejections of personal accolades are rarely ever blunt, but rather, wrapped in pleasant civilities and courtesy. For example:

Someone says, “You look like you lost some weight. Lookin’ good!”

Your response is: “Thanks, but I really need to get this gut in check and lose like 10 to 15 more pounds…”


Someone tells you: “Oooh girl, those shoes are really cute.”

Your response is: “Thanks – and I like your…” *you scan their body to find something equally complimentary to say to them in return – even if you don’t mean it.*


Someone smiles and gleefully says: “Wow, you look so beautiful today!” [Note: This hypothetical “somebody” is the friendly kind, not the creepy, street harassing kind.]

Your response is: to avert your eyes and rattle off all the ways your outfit could have been better, and your hair neater, and how your earrings don’t really match anything…

I think you are starting to get the gist of what I’m saying. For plenty of women across all backgrounds, ages and ethnicities, the idea of accepting a compliment can bring about lots of anxiety and awkwardness. And according to this archived article on Today, that anxiety many of us feel is called our “inner body bully.” According to developmental psychologist, Dr. Robyn Silverman, we listen to that bully for a couple of reasons:

Women with high self-esteem may tend to reject the compliment because they want to be seen as modest and self-effacing, social psychologist Laura Brannon, who has studied the interaction between compliments and mood, told Women with lower self-esteem “are more likely to genuinely not accept the compliment because it is inconsistent with their self-concept and they find it threatening.”

In other words, for a woman, a compliment is often loaded and multi-layered. For me, it was more than feelings of unworthiness that held me back from easily accepting compliments – although admittedly it was that too. But as when I was a child, school age, I recall fellow classmates verbally expressing their disdain for the “stuck up” girls who thought they were too cute. And as a teen, those compliments hid other agendas, usually sexual in nature, from horny boys and even grown men. And as a young adult, I recall moments when some of the “compliments” were actually backhanded insults, made by passive aggressive frenemies who hadn’t quite worked out their confused feelings of awe and enchantment with you.

I can see how the constant questioning of what should, by definition, have been seen as just “polite expressions of praise and admiration,” can also be seen as an ugly slight, meant to be defended against. But yet, why should those people – or the fear of those people’s judgment – stop any of us from enjoying the beauty of having someone say something nice about us? S**t, we all deserve it.

Let’s be honest here: We all work hard. Every last one of us–even the criminals. And we put lots of effort into being who we are. Therefore, there is lots of self-esteem boosting that happens when someone, be it friend or complete stranger, recognizes the hard work put into being you. And I’m not just talking about your appearance – although those compliments rock too. I’m also talking compliments given at work by a boss or office associate; by a teacher at school; by your teammates, choir mates, spouses, children and other peers too. Those compliments we receive for all our hard efforts put into being us may reaffirm what we think we know about ourselves, thus giving us more permission to continue on the awesome path we are on, or help to alleviate some doubt, which oftentimes holds us back from reaching peek awesomeness.

Besides, who are you fooling by downplaying your accomplishments? You are certainly not fooling anyone around you, which is why they brought up something great about you (even slights disguised as compliments are rooted in envy). The next time someone says something nice, accept it at face value and simply say: “Thanks.”


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