Find Compliments Cringey? How To Give & Receive Praise, From Psychologists
Compliments are meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy, yet it seems so many of us feel uncomfortable with being seen. Unfortunately, it's all too common to brush off the praise and recognition you absolutely deserve. Perhaps you blush in embarrassment or even downplay your accomplishments—but why should you dim your light in an effort to appear humble?
It's time we shift the narrative, one accolade at a time. In fact, giving and receiving compliments is integral to a healthy relationship, according to psychologists John Gottman, Ph.D., and Julie Gottman, Ph.D., authors of The Love Prescription and founders of the Gottman Institute. Give kudos to your loved ones using their research-backed tips below.
Everyone needs compliments.
Why is it so hard for people to accept compliments? Well, surely self-esteem and social anxiety play a role. Research has shown that people with low self-esteem have trouble accepting compliments from their partners1 because the positive comments conflict with their own theories of self-worth. Another study found that some people cringe at compliments as a defense mechanism2; they don't want to disappoint others in the future, so they shrug off their own accomplishments.
But make no mistake: Everyone needs compliments, especially from our loved ones. "A lot of us think that if we work really hard on ourselves, we'll reach this point of blissful enlightenment where we need nothing from anyone else," says Julie on the mindbodygreen podcast. That mindset could not be more false. "We continue to need a little bit of reassurance that we're lovable, that we're worthy, that we're enough for our partners... I've never met somebody who actually had surpassed their need for compliments," she adds.
She even references a study in which researchers observed couples in their homes for an evening and counted the number of positive interactions that happened between them. The results? Couples in unhappy marriages underestimated the number of positive interactions in their marriage by 50%3. "When you pay a compliment to your partner, you're building this culture of appreciation in the relationship that is such a cushion for dealing with the world's everyday stresses," says John. "It's just very powerful."
And you're not immature or superficial for needing that positive reinforcement, which is one of the common criticisms toward people who crave compliments (and another reason why people may subconsciously shun them). "We're not too needy. Everybody needs a little taste of reassurance," says Julie.
How to give a genuine compliment.
It may sound straightforward, but everyone could use a little refresher. "Yesterday morning, Julie said, 'How are you doing?' And my knee was hurting me, my back was hurting me. I said, 'I really feel like an old man today,'" John recounts. "She said, 'I don't see an old man. I see this sexy, handsome man in a turtleneck sweater. I love that sweater.' And it made my day."
Point being: It doesn't take much to make your partner feel like a million bucks. That interaction maybe took five seconds, yet John will hold on to that positivity for hours—sometimes even days—beyond. "And guess what he's wearing today? The same sexy black sweater," Julie adds.
Of course, compliments aren't all about physical appearance. Simply "Notice what your partner is doing right instead of paying attention to what your partner is doing wrong," says John, and make it known. Expressing yourself—both positively and negatively—is important in any relationship.
One more time for the people in the back: Everyone needs compliments, and you aren't needy or immature for craving some reassurance from your partner. The next time you want to run for the hills when someone acknowledges your accomplishments, try offering a simple "thank you" instead. Embrace those warm fuzzies the best you can.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.