What do a teenage girl, a college student, and a woman in her early 30’s have in common? This is not a riddle, because I figured it out this weekend. I got a chance to compliment each of these women this past weekend, and each said the same thing to me: “I’m really bad at taking compliments.”
Why do we women so easily dismiss the nice things people have to say about us? I have a couple of theories. I admit, I do this too, and have a couple of examples from my own life.
We worry that people are insincere.
Occasionally I get a compliment from a student on something I’m wearing, or my hair, or about my class. Inevitably, if another student overhears, they will make a remark about the complimenting student “sucking up”. And my question is, invariably, “Do you think the only reason someone would say something nice to me is because they had something to gain?” Of course not, but the assumption is that all these compliments could not be sincere.
My former student, the college girl, was telling me about her high school ex, who I also taught. One of her criticisms of him: “He would tell me all the time how great I looked. Like, even when I looked totally BUSTED.” She knew when she was not looking and feeling good about herself, and she got annoyed when her boyfriend didn’t look at her realistically. She felt like she couldn’t trust his compliments if he was giving the same ones when she looked good and when she didn’t.
We’ve all heard a million pick-up lines, and they’re all designed to do the same thing: to have a quick payoff. The guy wants to make the girl feel good, so she’ll make him feel good, if you know what I’m sayin’. We feel that men are manipulative and opportunistic.
We have the same problem with women sometimes. Unfortunately, we all know someone–or maybe we are that someone–who tell us how much they LOVE our hair or clothes, then tell some other woman behind our backs that they really didn’t mean it. And we’ve all found out about that female betrayal.
Why should we believe anyone is being sincere?
We compare ourselves to unachievable images of perfection.
I told my teenage student that she has a talent for singing. She does. She has improved so much over her high school years. And her response was “No, not really.” I insisted. “Oh, I don’t. But that guy who was at the music festival does. He’s so talented!” Is it really all or nothing with us? If we’re not the best, we’re nothing. And even if we are the best, there’s always someone who will be better. We can’t recognize our value if it’s not perfection.
If someone calls me beautiful, I think “who are you comparing me to? I could show you a million women more beautiful than me!” There’s always going to be someone more talented, more beautiful, more fascinating, more funny, better dressed, etc., than we are. But does that count us out?
We are our worst critics
Even when we don’t compare ourselves to others, we sometimes tell ourselves that we are ugly, fat, strange, awkward, etc. We see ourselves all the time, so we can’t see the good, only the things we’d like to change. And sometimes, unfortunately, we give up on ourselves.
So what now?
This is advice for you and for me. Here it is: ACCEPT GRACIOUSLY.
I was once watching Oprah, which I hardly ever do, but something that she said struck me. Of course, her guest was fawning all over her, talking about what an amazing person she was, blah, blah, blah. She replied. “Thank you. I accept that in the spirit in which it was given.” I thought about that for a moment. To me, it says “I know your compliment was sincere.” It’s a comment that doesn’t speak boastfully. It’s not saying “Yes, I know. I’m awesome.” Nor does it say “I don’t really deserve that.” It says “I understand that you have been impacted by me in a positive way and I am glad.” I personally don’t like the way she says it; it’s so very “Oprah”, but I like the sentiment.
In the long run, you can validate someone else just by thanking them. Accepting gracefully. And maybe one day, you will believe the compliments for yourself.