Why is it so hard to accept a compliment? Are they undeserved? If the complimenter knew where we got the dress, the shoes, the coat, would they think we were less? Maybe that we’ve kept that novelty tie around too long? Or will they think we spent excessive funds and judge our budgeting choices? What about the “your hair looks nice today” compliment? Does that mean it didn’t look good yesterday, or any preceding day? Why do we have to explain our choices or wonder if there are alternative motives to what others say about us?
My theory is this: don’t make it mean something. Period. (I’m not claiming that I am a pro at this. I’m writing it to make myself accountable.) Whether it’s a negative comment or a sweet compliment, the words are about the speaker, not the one to whom they are spoken. When you give compliments, or even when you have less-than-kind statements to make about or to others, why do you make them? Generally, they are spoken because the speaker feels a certain way around the target of their words. Obviously, there are other motives for making sexual-harassment-like comments toward others, but I will refrain from that topic here. General compliments towards others are made because the speaker feels pleasant around that person. And the speaker feels even better when the compliment is accepted and appreciated. When they are dismissed with the “oh, I’ve had this old dress forever” or “I got these shoes at Goodwill,” it could be translated as “I don’t deserve your compliment, so don’t say anything nice to me again.” The complimenter walks away feeling like their words mean nothing. Completely defeated. If the words are negative, the speaker gains some undeserved emotional power over the receiver if allowed to mean something and define who we are.
I once had a related conversation with a sweet high school girl. She was in tears because other girls were calling her a whore due to her ending of a relationship, making her “available” to be asked out by the boys they hoped would ask them. In reality, she was a good student (academically and behaviorally), athletic, attractive, and popular, and they realized their chances were now slimmer than when she had a full-time boyfriend. She quickly realized their name-calling had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with how they felt less around her, and she moved beyond their hurtful words. (FYI – People who are hurting or feeling “less than” are generally the ones who lash out physically or verbally.)
So … I’m challenging myself to just accept compliments with a simple “Thank you.” Or even a “Thank you. You made my day.” As a complimentee, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling, and so does the complimenter. Even if someone makes a demeaning comment towards me, I might just say “Thank you,” and try to remember that most people speak from their own feelings that have nothing at all to do with me. How about it? Want to take the challenge with me?
P.S. I am quite aware that “complimenter” and “complimentee” are not officially endorsed by a dictionary. I’m taking some liberty to get my point across, and I’m perfectly fine with someone having a problem with it. How’s that for practicing my own challenge!?