Taking a compliment. Not easy, right?
When someone compliments us - hair, clothes, professional success, how well-behaved our children or our pets are, our home, etc. - our first instinct is not to accept, but to deflect.
Here are some examples of things that I have said recently:
Compliment: "Mary Catherine, your outfit is so cute!"
Me: "Well I'm trying to distract from the fact that I've eaten like I'm out on bail this weekend, so this tunic is to mask the 1,000 pounds of pasta in my belly right now."
Compliment: "This breakfast is delicious - thank you so much!"
Me: "Somehow I've made these biscuits 1,000 times, and they still didn't turn out quite right. Ugh. But thank you!"
Compliment: "I love the way you did your hair today. It looks really pretty!"
Me: "Actually I look like a garden troll - I haven't washed my hair for three days and it basically is about to leave my head in protest."
So, yeah. I'm certainly not talking about this because I've mastered the art of taking a compliment.
But it's something I've become acutely aware of lately - it seems women in particular simply cannot take compliments. We have such a hard time accepting that someone else is giving us praise. Why?? I think it's two major reasons:
1. We don't accept compliments because we don't want other people to think we're stuck up.
This is basically the "So you agree - you think you're really pretty?" scene from Mean Girls, realized. If someone gives you a compliment, and you don't immediately disagree or say something mean about yourself, that must mean you AGREE with the compliment. And THAT must mean you're stuck up and horrible, because the idea that you're allowed to feel good about yourself is just plain unacceptable.
2. We genuinely don't agree with the compliment or are uncomfortable getting praised.
I have lots of friends who, when complimented (especially in front of a group), turn into shrinking violets. They physically actually make themselves smaller and try to direct attention anywhere but them. These are my friends who, for whatever reason, can't understand why they're being positively reinforced by anyone about anything. They don't believe they're worthy of these sorts of kind words, so they have a physiological reaction to being singled out. They don't see it in themselves and they CERTAINLY don't want to hear it from others.
Listen, here's the thing.
If someone is giving you a compliment about ANYTHING - however small - it's because that person really, genuinely had that thought and wanted to share it with you. It's a verbal affirmation with the singular intention of making you feel good about yourself. When we deflect or disagree with compliments, we're not really achieving the goal we think we are. Instead of looking humble, funny, or down-to-earth, we end up looking rude, ungrateful, and insecure. The person who gave us the compliment is now having to laugh at our joke meant to minimize what they meant to be kind.
Think about it - if you were at a restaurant with a group of people and someone said, "My meal was GREAT. Every bite was perfect," you'd never respond with, "Really?? Because I thought your food looked like garbage." Of course not! You'd never be rude enough to say something that contradicted that person's experience or insulted their opinion. And you know what a compliment directed at you is? That person's experience and their opinion.
I am a person who loves to compliment other people, regardless of how well I know them (I'm the girl who will cross a room to tell a stranger that I love her shoes or bag or hair or anything else), and yet I still have to coach myself through simply saying, "Thank you so much!" when someone compliments me. Whazzup with that??
So here's my challenge for everyone, but particularly the ladies who read this blog: all week long, I want us (me included) to practice accepting compliments WITHOUT the little dog and pony show that goes along with it. Here are some responses you could use:
"Thank you so much!"
"Oh wow - I wasn't feeling great, and you just made my day!"
"That is so kind of you to say. I really appreciate that."
" You know what? I left the house feeling really insecure about _________, and you just made me feel great!"
"You are always so sweet. Thanks for saying that!"
And if you're anxious about letting the "Thank you," hang in there air, then throw a compliment right back!
If your problem is that you're worried people will think you're a big snob, here's a secret: they won't. People are way too wrapped up in themselves to worry thinking that much about your response to a compliment -- promise.
If your problem is that you don't think you deserve the attention, well Lean In, sister, 'cause I got news: YOU DO.
It may be uncomfortable, and it may not feel natural, but on our path to being fully realized, gracious, radiant women, one of the things we have to learn to do is just say, "Thank you."
(And in the meantime, please enjoy this hysterical - but also NSFW and partially pretty foul - video from Inside Amy Schumer about how women just can't take a compliment.)