Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Can't You Take A Compliment?!

Deb: I know very few people that can take a compliment well. It is a skill to be honed and one
So fine candy heart
that I strive to conquer. Not that my days are fraught with compliments, but when I do receive one I feel it would be nice to respond in kind.

Historically, my responses have been self-deprecating at best, self-loathing at worst.

“Gee, Deb, your hair looks nice” ...  “Oh yeah, well you should have seen it before I washed it, it looked like a rats’ nest”.

“Deb, you look great in that outfit.” … “Yeah, well, thank God for the jacket, it hides a million sins.”

Yes, indeed, as you can see, I was the picture of grace. And worse than that, I realized that it makes the person who dispensed the compliment feel like an arse.

What is it about a compliment that makes us immediately self-conscious? Shouldn’t it have the opposite affect?

Why does my face go red and my palms sweaty?

I have always had the twisted idea that if I accept the compliment, it would look like I expected it. It would appear that I am fully aware of how charming, groomed, talented and well dressed I am. It’s like I am thinking, “Took you long enough to bloody well compliment me. I have been this fabulous for YEARS! I mean look at me! I am all that and a bag of chips!”

Accepting the compliment just seemed so narcissistic. I would receive a compliment and immediately I would be looking at the ground, so ashamed was I. I never wanted to be elevated above the other humans even if it is just for one second. I was so afraid that during the course of the compliment, the person bestowing it on me would discover that I am unworthy and snatch it back leaving me to stew in my own flop sweat. At any rate, I knew in my heart that this was totally illogical and counterproductive.


So why, I ask you, was I spending copious amounts of time choosing an outfit and doing my hair and makeup if my intention was not to look swell? Why was I working on my craft night and day if my intention was not to look like I was competent? Was I doing all this to look untalented and hideous? No, of course not.

When I was a kid we’d say, “That’s for me to know and for you to find out!” But as far as the compliment goes, I was employing the theory that, “It was for me to know and NOBODY to find out”. We all make efforts in our own ways to do and look our best. But for Godssake, don’t friggin’ tell me, I thought. Don’t you see that just WRECKS IT?????????????

We all do it. I have seen us out there shunning the compliment, disparaging the compliment. That is no way to treat a kindness, I thought. So I decided enough was enough. I cannot live in fear of the compliment. And neither can you.

I set out to learn the art of gracefully accepting a compliment. And I will share my knowledge with you. It’s not too tough.

It goes like this. “Thank you”.

Barbara: You speak to one of my own weaknesses here, oh Yoda/Deb (well, “Yoda” if you changed all the verb agreements: Take compliments I cannot. Give them I can. Feel good I do when accepting them. Accept them graciously more often I must.) (…or something…)

Anyway, I have also been trying to learn and stick to this 1-step program. “Thank you” is really remarkably easy when you get used to it. And simple. And quick.

And it’s so true that if someone is trying to say something nice to you and you let them, it’s clearly a win-win for all involved.

We’re funny creatures, aren’t we?! 


  1. Personally if I give a compliment, I feel bad if the recipient negates my opinion by telling me I am wrong by pointing out why they don't deserve it.
    Barbara's approach is what I strive for, with a wow, I really appriciate that. I feel by accepting the compliment graciously I affirm the giver's opinion/intent and keep the positive moment flowing.

  2. I find this true in my life as well but the last few years I just say thank you and when I try and treat someone and they argue, I always say just say thank you. Then they usually do.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I used to work with a woman...we'll call her Sophia as that was her name...who always looked like she had been just been shaken from the pages of Town & Country magazine she was that stylish and put together. However, she was apparently hard-wired not to be able to take a compliment and greeted any of the many that were directed at her with some deprecating rebuttal. I actually was on good enough terms with her that I shared how uncomfortable she made people when she rejected their positive overtures thus. She had never considered that her inability to acknowledge the gift of someone's affirmation would negatively impact them. And so she began her quest to override her natural impulse and offer a simple, "Thank you!" It took her many years and she never quite mastered it fully but she came a long way...helped by yours truly, who would yell over our shared wall if 'ere I heard her begin her 'This old thing' spiel "THANK YOU!" cause really what else is required.

  4. Madge you are on it already! Annette, it makes my laugh to think of you as the cubicle coach. I am so happy today because I am in my little trailer on set and they are already way behind (what else is new) and I don't have internet but my husband just talked me through using my iPhone to get me online. I feel like I have just learned to walk. Couldn't be happier! Thought I'd share.xo

  5. Haha! Brilliant. I've always picture a row of question marks (?????????????) like a series of double-takes, so that doubles the fun. (By the way, those sweaty palms really compliment your red face.)

  6. Thanks M.J. the question mark double take thing is hilarious. Love it.

  7. "I am all that and a bag of chips!”

    I love this (did you come up with it or is it an old phrase I've just never heard before?) and darn it, I'm going to use it next time I get a compliment.

    Lots of compliments really ARE bullshit, given out of kindness ("oh you haven't changed a bit since high school!"), but kindness itself is a kind of compliment.

    How is your little trailer for heat? I'm imagining it's not easy to keep it warm enough in this weather. Hope you've got wool socks with you.

  8. I wish I came up with "all that and a bag of chips" Kate. I did not. Good one isn't it? Trailer is warm. Not cold out at all today. Just rainy. More like spring than winter really.

  9. If I get a compliment I try to give one back. Even if I don't know the person that well I will try to find something to say about them. That way if i feel weird after they compliment that they have just gave me,than at least I know I will not feel awkward by myself. I always feel awkward after an compliment,expecially if I don't know the person.

  10. Lysdsie, Yes you are soooooo right. What a nice addition to it. I always worry though that the person thinks I am just saying nice things cause they did. But what the heck huh? nice is nice right?

  11. There are time where I wounder why people are giving me a compliment. Like I said I am an awkward person sometimes,so when people give me a compliment I always wounder,if I deserved or if I did sometime worth getting a compliment.

  12. First of all, yeah Deb for gaining a new technical proficiency! I am hopeless inept at iPhones and anything like that so I'm cheering for you for learning this new skill!

    Compliments. *sigh* Compliments make me squirm like 10,000 ants are crawling over me. Sorry. I don't know why. They just squirm me and squeam me. They feel --- unnatural. Which is weird because I pay them all the time. (e.g. I was just making covetous, squeally sounds while gushing over Staci's necklace which is a rocking awesome pewter dragon holding a small round moonstone. Staci consistently has great taste in both t-shirts and necklaces.) I just don't like receiving compliments. *shrugs* They make my face get hot and give me that weird hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck stared at feeling. I can let insults roll off of me and block them out. But, compliments mess me up.

    Some compliments are backhanded insults. By saying something good about one little thing today, the implication is that it's bad all other times. "Those pants are great! They make you look thinner!" Screws with my head. I don't need that.

    Some compliments I simply don't understand because I don't feel they are deserved. One that sticks out in my mind was a few years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Several evacuees had come to our town. My son and I were at a birthday party for one of the little boys one Saturday. I met the boy's aunt and her husband (a NOLA cop) at the party, and she was really, burstingly pregnant - a young couple in their 20's. Their house was a total loss along with the homes of all their extended family. She had just set up a darling baby girl nursery before the hurricane. They had nothing left for the baby. I thought, "Aha!" and quickly pulled together an emergency baby shower for her. It started with announcements at church the next day (and I had called around to workmates and friends and had them announce at their churches). I was on the phone A LOT that weekend, too. It all came together with donations new and used -- heaps and heaps and heaps! People were so beautifully generous! That Monday afternoon after work, the little boy's family tricked the aunt and uncle into being the ones to pick him up from school, and when they walked in, we surprised her with a baby shower. She cried! Later that afternoon, my then-boss pulled me aside and went on and on with compliments, and I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole. 2 things: 1. I told her, "I don't understand. I just did what I had to do. God dumped this one in my lap. It was OBVIOUS -- 'Here. Take care of this.' I could act so I did. I couldn't just walk away. I saw the need and HAD to do something." Why should someone be complimented for doing what she is SUPPOSED to do. You don't compliment a soldier for following orders. He's expected to. Why would she compliment me for doing what I was supposed to do when presented with a situation about which I could make a difference? I was morally and ethically bound to affect a difference. It boggles the mind. 2. Compliments on things like this feel weird and awkward to me because it's like they tarnish what has happened. It's like when you jump someone's car battery for them in a shopping center parking lot and then they try to hand you some dollar bills to pay you. WTF? It's kind of insulting, like it sullies something that had been innocent. What happened to the whole thing about the right hand not knowing the left? What happened to letting the act be enough in itself and for itself? Why can't I just do something quietly and be left alone about it? I dunno if I'm making any sense.


  13. (cont.)
    And, then there are compliments that just feel too weird and make me want to hide away and not be noticed. I remember a couple of years ago when I worked at the hospital, one day I fixed my hair in a way I had never fixed it before. All day long, person after person after person complimented me on my hair. It was tiring! I just kept saying, "Um, thank you," but by the end of the day I was all squirmy and headachy and holding my muscles all tense, and my face had stayed hot and red all day. I never fixed my hair that way again.

    I first read your post this morning before work, but I'm only now getting to comment. As usually, Deb, your post has given me something to chew on in my noggin. In the interest of full and honest disclosure, I can think of 2 times I actually enjoyed a compliment - smiled and felt good about it. The first was in Tae Kwon Do. I had been at a plateau for weeks. Not getting any worse, but not making any progress. Stuck. Very frustrating. My instructor kept telling me how normal that was and to not sweat it. But, I was mad at myself for not excelling. Then, one night at class, I was just on fire. I was getting kicks right without even thinking about them -- just instinctively getting the form and power and speed right. It felt so good. I was so jazzed. At one point, my instructor stopped in front of me and watched for a few seconds and then smiled really big and chuckled and said, "So much for the plateau!" He even held the target pads for me later that night and let me kick as hard as I could. It was so fun! I liked that compliment because I had worked so hard and so long to reach that point. Also, it felt good because I knew his joy was genuine and that he shared in the moment. Warm fuzzies for both of us. :)

    The other time was after I had taught a lesson to a graduate level class about 6 years ago. I had worked on that presentation for MONTHS (partly that long because I'd had to wait for parcels to come from Israel). Props, audience participation, bags of lesson reminders to hand out, manipulatives to pass around, surprises to set up and have sprung at just the right seconds, it was a really involved, complicated presentation. The man who taught the class is one of my Beloveds. Of all the people on Earth, he's one of the very precious few whom I have the most respect and admiration for. I adore him, absolutely love him with all my might. After the presentation when the class was on break, I was taking down everything and packing it away in the crates and bags I had brought. My mouth was clalky dry, my hands were shaking, and my face was hot and red which was weird because it was over! I was fine when I was doing it - very in control and competent, but I got all that nasty sympathetic nervous system dump stuff afterward! I had 2 goals with that lesson: 1. Reach the audience. I cared about what I was teaching. It was a very important and moving subject to me. It mattered. I had, had, had to convey the full impact of the subject to the audience. I wanted them to understand and care, too. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had accomplished that. They were stunned and affected. More than I had dared to hope. 2. Make him happy. Make him proud. I wanted to please this person I adore, to have been worthwhile for him. To honor him by doing well for him. He was really silent while I was packing up which was totally weird for him and was making me even more nervous. He's not one to lurk silently. Creeped me out! Finally, I couldn't take it anymore, and I whispered, "Was that OK?" After a heartbeat, he said quietly, "No." I literally slumped forward over the bag I was packing. My only thought was to get out of that room as fast as I could and go find a corner somewhere to hide in and cry. Then he said very quietly, "That was excellent." I still needed to go find a corner somewhere to cry in but for a wholly different kind of tears.

  14. "Just rainy. More like spring than winter really."

    WHAT?Wherethehellareyou? I was assuming you're in Sask, shooting LMotP.

    Wait, maybe I should go poke my nose further out the door than letting Ducky Me Darling out to do his business. Then I'll know what I'm talking about.

  15. Hm. Nope, it's too cold for rain. I know! You don't shoot LM in Saskatchewan! Am I getting warmer?

  16. Hey, Deb --

    This one's good for a chuckle (or a groan) esp. as you are on set today.

    Good grief, I'm an American, and I'm totally rooting for the CBC on this one. LOL

    Silly diplomats with their panties in a wad... Canada is not USANorth.

    I read a few international news sites each day, and the different perspective from US news sources never fails to boggle my mind (in a good way).

  17. Rigel you are right. There are so many things that we should just do and know we did them for our own reasons or right reasons and let it go at that. I think people mean well though but it does feel awkward. It's funny cause I find (like your hair thing) that if I am complimented numerous times on something, I actually start to own it! Kate so funny! I am in Toronto shooting a new series Single White Spenny. But what's really funny is that between the time I said it was balmy and now, the temp has dropped and we are having a few flurries! Lyndsie, you have GOT to believe you are worth a compliment. YOU ARE!

  18. I thought I was the only one who just couldn't take compliments, and am glad to see I am in good company. I was the one who always said, "yes, for a change my hair looks halfway decent today". And precisely for the same reason as you, Deb- because I didn't want to appear like I was expecting the compliment.

    Now, I think I am getting better at it- I have learnt to say, "thank you so much", with a genuine smile. That is really all that it needs.

  19. It's interesting how social convention has groomed us to be ready to give a compliment but scared to receive one because you might seem 'up-yourself'. I always used to follow a compliment with a disparaging response and didn't even realise I was doing it until one day in my teens a friend's mum asked me why I could never take a compliment. I made a conscious effort to start. I still feel awkward if I just say 'thank you' and leave it at that - it always feels like a bit of a conversation stopper, so I employ Lyndsie's technique of following up by complimenting them - it's really just returning kindness with kindness :-) That way we both feel a little bit awkward, but also really good about ourselves :-)

    Thank you Barb and Deb for your amazing as ever blog :-)


  20. and Rigel, I can relate to compliment-fatigue that you experienced when you did threw that baby shower. Earlier this year my grandparents were celebrating a milestone anniversary and a month or two earlier, my aunt asked me to create a photo slideshow on the computer to show on the big screen TV at the party. So I did it... and got no end of compliments and thank yous from every single relative for weeks and weeks (seriously) over it. It really annoyed me - they're my grandparents for goodness sake, what else would I have done? yelled 'No! piss off!' of course not! It was my contribution (and for me a pretty small and simple one - took about an hour in total compared to the weeks for planning and arrangement my aunts and uncles and parents did for the party) and I was happy to do it with as little fanfare as possible. Oh well, at least I know they appreciated it :-)


  21. All so very true. I've worked on just saying, "Thank you." and keeping my mouth shut after that so I don't wreck the nice compliment by babbling. I really like the give a compliment back idea. Thanks, Christy

  22. Erica and Christy-Love the "keeping my mouth shut so I don't wreck the compliment by babbling." If only that was the only time I wreck things by babbling. When I am nervous-babble-feel embarrassed that I am babbling and...babble more. Oy.

  23. Ladies, you have just made me realize that I haven't been accepting particular compliments or gratitude. I will have to smarten up. My uncles and aunt often thank me for what I do for my grandmother, and I always say "You don't need to thank me, I love her too." Once my aunt even sent me a cheque "for all you do" and I refused to cash it. Very ungracious of me; no wonder she seemed miffed. Hm. You're all making me think.

  24. The giving a compliment back thing - sure it might make it easier for you to accept the compliment from and (don't get me wrong) it is nice, if it's sincerely meant and you were thinking of saying this thing to me already (but you just hadn't said it yet). Of course it's appreciated (e.g - meeting at a party and we both look fantastic and just have to say so back and forth). Does that make sense?

    HOWEVER - I do (sometimes) get annoyed when people compliment me back - I said something nice, made a compliment to you because I sincerely wanted to comment on something that I am impressed with, that I like, that I want to call attention to and discuss or perhaps learn more about ... if you compliment me back right away, it has a way of negating my sincere compliment and the conversation that I started. I called attention to this (and complimented you) because I wanted to talk to you, hear more about it, understand. If you compliment me right back, I feel like you haven't really heard me, like you are trying to be nice back to me but it's unnecessary ... I started the "volley" because I wanted to note something, the back and forth throws me off. Making it "about me" isn't why I started the conversation!


  25. I have managed, finally, in my 40's, the thank you, but it often follows with a little humorous humility. I thought that was lovely, but now wonder if it makes the offerer feel like a horse's arse. Hmm.

    And, stewing in your own flop sweat, eh? You really can turn a phrase!

    (compliment! -- you are hilarious, girl!)


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