What is your first reaction when you receive a compliment from someone?
Do you deflect the attention? Dismiss it? Or question it?
What about when people give you a gift or want to help you with something? Do you secretly feel stress about accepting and receiving from others?
If you struggle to receive from others, you are not alone. Many people have a hard time taking a compliment. It's not unusual for some to look for ways to downplay the positive feedback and the value of the gesture shown by others.
In the past, I would get uncomfortable when someone gives me a compliment or does something nice for me just because.
I remember a time when after I completed a strenuous project at work my manager recognized me for a job well done and bought me a gift. I felt so embarrassed and awkward about the whole thing.
However, somehow I managed to force myself to smile and accept the compliment and muttered ‘Thanks, it was nothing, I couldn't have done it without the help of our team' but my insides were reeling with discomfort.
Perhaps you can relate?
I went home that day and started questioning myself, as I feverishly typed way at my laptop getting my internal dialogue out. Here's a snippet:
Why do I have to torture myself to feel that I don't deserve it? Why can't I just be grateful and appreciative of being recognized?
Because people will think you are conceited.
But I'm not.
I know! but mom and dad always said to be modest. It makes you attractive. Plus when you accept something, people always expect something back from you.
I know… but is this true? I feel obliged to give something back or else people will think I'm selfish. I need to reciprocate to show that I am of value and appreciate their gesture.
But it just becomes a game of ‘IOU', when in reality you are not expecting the other person to give you back anything. In fact, you hope they don't and just accept it graciously, so you can stop this back and forth. When you are just doing it for your own needs. That's Selfish.
At that moment, I had so many epiphanies! Here is what I realized.
1. Redefining selfishness
When we focus on how others are going to perceive us, it becomes about us, not about others.
This in itself can be viewed as selfish.
In my case, I became self-absorbed about what I was to do next in giving back. I was attached to an outcome of how others are going to perceive me.
Now, you may think What?! I'm thinking about others though… how am I selfish?
You are not. The fact that you do care and have this thought shows that you have the best intention.
However, it is the idea about the attachment of the outcome and wanting people to like you, to see you in the best light that hinders you to recognize the sincerity of their gesture.
When we are not attached to people's interpretation of us and choose to be recognized when an opportunity presents itself for being ourselves, it truly is a gift in itself.
It frees us from being self-absorbed and worrying about what others will think of us. It allows us to be ourselves and express who we truly are. In the process, we are also honouring ourselves for being who we are and the things we do. This led me to my next a-ha.
2. Genuine giving vs. giving to receive
When someone gives without expectation to receive, it is genuine giving. They are doing it because they willingly want to. Sure there may be people out there who give to receive but you can often smell their motives.
Use your spidey senses and decipher for yourself. Is the person genuinely gifting you with something? If so, accept and receive their gifts with gratitude.
After all, in accepting someone's well intention, you are honoring what they say and their actions at face value. You are not only doing yourself a favor in acknowledging your value, you are also appreciating them for their thoughtfulness, which makes them feel good. It's a win-win.
3. Letting go of old beliefs
Growing up I was led to believe people don't necessary mean what they say and you don't necessarily know what their motives are. They may expect something in return. Sometimes they just feel sorry for you. Or they flatter you for the sake of flattering because it's the cultural norm. That's what people do. People like to hear nice things about themselves and by giving compliments you give people the impression you are ‘nice'.
Yet I remember as a kid I'd see the charade adults played and wondered, why then do I see people dodge compliments?
I remember asking this question and the response from one of my elders was, “don't ask so many questions, it's just what you are supposed to do. People don't like it when you are too boastful. You have to downplay it and show your modesty. Modesty is an attractive quality. So when people compliment you, deflect it and say ‘It was nothing. Anyone could have done it.' Or ‘Really, you think so?' Or ‘You shouldn't have… You didn't have to.'”
Unconsciously I defaulted to take on this belief and developed the habit of seeing all acts of ‘giving' as a reciprocating transaction rather than at face value.
Operating from this sense is exhausting and it doesn't feel good. No wonder I felt so uncomfortable giving and receiving, because I was out of alignment with my true self.
Instead of coming from a place of wanting to do something from a place of love and authenticity, I was coming from a place of fear and obligation.
Once I realized this, I knew I had let go of this old belief that no longer made sense to me. Change my narrative and choose to practice giving, receiving and being modest on my own terms.
The New Practice
“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
Instead of tarnishing everyone with the same brush, you have the skills to use your own judgment to decipher for yourself how to interpret one's action and respond accordingly.
If the compliment is true and comes from a heartfelt place, take it by simply saying Thank you!
That's it! And own it fully. Don't diminish the value someone sees in you. They are just confirming the character and positive traits you exude in their presence.
So accept it. It's the truth, there's no need to contradict. Bask in the good feeling it gives you. Don't undermine your self-worth and force others to have second thoughts. Be proud of yourself for doing something well and showing up as your authentic self.
Depending on context, if warranted pay one back. Recognize others who may deserve the compliment as well if it was a joint effort. Flatter accordingly. Give generously without any expectations. Receive whole-heartedly and graciously. Modestly embrace and accept what is true about you and your successes.