When you receive a compliment, do you get squirmy, suspicious, or uncomfortable? Or do words of appreciation bring a gentle smile to your face and a warm feeling in your belly?
When someone thanks you for helping them, or expresses gratitude for your kind words or actions, or praises you for some accomplishment or quality of your being, do you let yourself be affected by their thoughtful words? Or do their compliments fall flat, perhaps because you’ve learned to deflect good things that come your way?
Most of us haven’t been encouraged to receive compliments gracefully. We’ve been taught that we’re being selfish to bask in the good feeling of being seen and appreciated. “Don’t let your ego get too big! Don’t be full of yourself! Be self-effacing.” Sadly, compliments may be contaminated by considerations that are fear-based or shame-driven: “Will they think I have a supersized ego? Do I deserve these kind words?”
Being human, we want to be seen and acknowledged. We need maintenance doses of appreciation, if not frequent ones, in order to thrive. Depression and anxiety may be driven, in part, by not feeling appreciated in our lives.
Philosopher and psychologist William James has said that “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” When we block ourselves from receiving recognition in simple ways, our appreciation-deprivation may segue into a more hulking, grandiose desire for praise and adulation. We might seek power, prestige, and money as substitute ways to garner appreciation or conceal our shame.
Becoming an accomplished artist, climbing the executive ladder, or being president might offer towering recognition, but it never delivers the more intimate flow of mutual appreciation and connection that would nourish us. A runaway ego condemns us to a comfortably numb isolation — moving us away from our humanity and tearing the delicate fabric that holds society together.
It is a refined, soulful art to allow ourselves to receive and metabolize compliments and appreciation. To let in and digest a simple compliment can add texture to our day and enhance the quality of our lives
Here are some things to try the next time someone offers you a compliment.
- Take a breath
We often stay in our head when someone sends a whiff of appreciation our way. Responses such as, “It wasn’t a big deal, or “No problem,” or self-talk such as, “If they really knew me, they wouldn’t say that” prevent us from receiving a compliment graciously. Instead, we deflect, minimize, or sidetrack to avoid the awkwardness of the moment.
Taking a conscious breath can open a pathway out of our head and into our body — helping us decouple from distracting fears and considerations. Being in our body, we’re better positioned to receive and metabolize a compliment — to let it seep into our bones and tissues.
- Don’t Overthink It
A key to receiving a compliment is to not overthink it. Don’t make it complicated by wondering what they mean by it or if they have some hidden agenda. These are often fruitless inquiries. Take it at face value and allow yourself to enjoy — or even relish it
I’m not suggesting that we get over-excited or believe this person is now our new best friend; it takes time to know somebody. But feeling appreciated is one factor that makes a relationship fulfilling.
Perhaps we can gradually expand our capacity to receive a compliment with graciousness and delight — without it being a big deal. Appreciation is not something to live for, but to live with when it floats our way.
- Stay in Your Body
Being in the moment includes staying in your body and out of your head. Notice how you feel inside to receive someone’s gratitude. Is it a warm, glowing feeling? Or is it unpleasant, perhaps because you’re not accustomed to being appreciated? Does your stomach feel tight or your chest constricted?Maybe you notice shame or shyness to let yourself indulge in feeling good for a moment. Let it all be there; be gentle with whatever you’re noticing. If it’s a pleasant feeling, see if you can let it course through you without wondering if you can trust it or feeling obligated to return the compliment. A simple “Thank you” can be followed by a pause, allowing yourself time to let it in
- Let It Seep In
Allowing a compliment to seep into our body can help heal some of the unworthiness we carry. Life is less isolating and more enjoyable as we become more mindful of giving and receiving simple compliments.
An interesting mindfulness practice is to notice when someone values and appreciates us, whether a kind word from a stranger or a heartfelt compliment from a partner or friend. How far can you let it in
We’re social creatures who develop our sense of self from being valued by others. Positive psychology tells us that receiving a thumbs up enhances our well-being and motivates us.
It’s important to remember that valuing and appreciating ourselves is vital when it’s not forthcoming from others. Expecting or seeking compliments can keep us spinning our wheels and set us up for resentment. But it’s something to cherish when it comes our way, however small it might seem. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”
Remember too that if you’re feeling deprived of compliments, you may want to experiment with being more generous in conveying appreciation. In an extraordinary letter written in 1855 from Ralph Waldo Emerson to a young Walt Whitman, Emerson wrote:
“One concentrated effort I’ve made in the past year has been the regular practice of sending notes of appreciation to strangers — writers, artists, varied creators — whose work has moved me in some way, beamed some light into my day. It’s so wonderfully vitalizing for us ordinary mortals to send and receive such little reminders of one another’s humanity — especially in a culture where it’s easier to be a critic than a celebrator. “
It can feel good to float appreciation toward others. And it just might lead to more compliments drifting your way.
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