Have you ever been given a compliment only to immediately deflect it with a self-deprecating rebuttal? Or brush it off so quickly that you find it difficult to say a simple "thank you" and allow yourself to absorb what was said?
You're not alone. According to The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, people only actually accept compliments about a third of the time they receive them. The other two-thirds of the time, they're doing something other than accepting, like shifting the credit for whatever they got praised for, shifting the attention over to a positive quality about the person who gave the compliment, or outright denying it. That’s a lot of dismissing going on.
As we continue to spend more time on social media, emailing and texting and being less engaged face to face, it's only becoming easier to hide our discomforts and project an inauthentic or skewed view of who we really are. It's easy to lose touch with how it feels to actually be seen clearly. Getting a compliment in person is becoming obsolete in some ways, or it's at least becoming way less comfortable as we spend increasing amounts of time waiting for validation in the form of a heart, added friend, or comment. Is that quick hit of addictive dopamine taking the place of deeper in-person exchanges?
The great news is, we have the power to work through this psychological setback if we choose to. The choice to see and hear one another through meaningful conversations, overcome communication barriers, and absorb giving and receiving compassionately is a practice. There are an abundance of ways to improve the degree to which we can take compliments—real compliments—with grace.
The first step toward becoming an active receiver is to create awareness around how we view ourselves.
Our ability to receive compliments in a positive way is largely related to how we feel about ourselves. It's easier to smile and say "thank you" when you readily agree with the praise you've been given. The complexity of peeling back the layers of why we may have a negative self-image is a scary place to venture, which is why people often avoid it. It requires us to be curious and connected to a deeper sense of self and to our core beliefs.
Before mindful practices came prominently into my life, my receiving was as politely passive as anyone else's. Having lived for many years in a place like Los Angeles, where everyone has a personal agenda, whether hidden or obvious, I often assumed people wanted something in return or weren't genuine when they offered me praise. A seven-year relationship ending in heartbreak and a decade of auditioning left me feeling rejection in a way I wasn't prepared for. I distinctly remember how fear was winning at every turn: My thoughts, words, and actions were ruled by an "I am less than" attitude. I wasn't allowing any space for receiving because I was too busy letting my hopes get hijacked and focusing on the negative.
But just when I thought I'd hit rock bottom, I joined a nonprofit organization called The New Hollywood that's committed to creating a community of mutual support and giving back. I also started teaching dance to children again and committed to my yoga practice, all of which cracked me open and began a beautiful healing process. That's when I started noticing a difference in how I received praise.
To improve your confidence and thus your ability to receive, start by checking in with your self-esteem. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel worthy of receiving genuine kind words and gestures?
- Am I comparing myself to others frequently?
- Do I believe in the abundance of receiving without limits?
- Can I practice absorbing compliments without my inner critic judging?
- Where in my daily routine am I consciously making space to have positive self-talk?
If you feel negativity flooding your responses, you'll need to seek gratitude, seek more gratitude, and then seek gratitude again.
Gratitude is our own special gift that we can access any time, and it always shifts things. Consider making a list of things you like about yourself. It isn't a breeze, but it's an enormously helpful tool in this process. There are jobs we work hard at, skills we train to acquire, blessings we are born with, milestone accomplishments, and opportunities we make happen—and they're all deserving places to absorb compliments rather than dismiss.
Once we begin to make peace with ourselves, we can begin to tackle the other half of this coin: finding good in others.
Creating an opened awareness means understanding how we view ourselves and how we view others.
Often people say things like, "I love giving compliments. I appreciate getting them, but that makes me uncomfortable." What if we learned to understand that giving and receiving compliments are one?
"Giving and receiving are different expressions of the same flow of energy in the universe," according to Deepak Chopra's Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. "Since the universe is in constant and dynamic exchange, we need to both give and receive to keep abundance, love, and anything else we want circulating in our lives.”
In other words, the act of giving is as important as the art of receiving. When we give from a place of honest intention, compliments are more likely to be well-received. And when we receive with intention, the energy flow of this process remains open and expanding in all directions. The key is having thoughtful intentions.
- What kind of energy am I putting into the world through what I think, say, and do?
- How strong is my ability to give, unconditionally without any agenda?
- What form of giving brings me joy?
The answers to these questions will help you gain clarity with how you are as a giver. Most of us refer to it as karma when we think about the spiritual practice where goodwill pushed into the universe will come back to you. If you're open to this belief, then you can anticipate that as you purposefully practice giving, your ability to comfortably receive will also expand. Allowing ourselves space to discover how we can find comfort in the way we give will nurture our ability to see the integrity of other people's intentions as they give.
So how can we mindfully respond to all these compliments?
If you don't know where to start, here’s what you can do right in the moment:
- Connect to the giver with eye contact, plus a smile or some type of acknowledgment.
- Let what is said stand for a beat and resist the urge to dismiss it.
- Assume the person is genuine, and trust you are deserving of the gesture.
- Say "thank you," and avoid making any dismissive commentary directly after.
- Try reaffirming that compliment to yourself several times throughout the day.
But being an active receiver goes beyond exactly how you respond at the moment the compliment hits you. It means fully absorbing those affirmations from others into our own psyche and the way we understand ourselves. Here are a few ways to start practicing:
- Set an intention as you start your day to allow for this kind of joyful absorption.
- Sit quietly with a compliment you received and make it a "positive mantra" for yourself.
- On a walk or in a casual setting, make a point to share with a close friend what someone complimented you on, not to brag or boast but to reaffirm how wonderful that felt.
- Keep a gratitude journal of things people say to you that support your happiness.
- Nurture the idea that others may see things in you that you may not see in yourself.
- Embrace the things you value about yourself.
Everything we want to be good at in life takes practice. Being able to truly absorb genuine compliments is worthy of working on for the integrity of our social interactions, our relationships, and our self-love. Try implementing these tips into your day, and you may find yourself receiving even more from each compliment.
Here's 15 other small ways to show yourself more gratitude.
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