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  • Michael Philp

Why accepting compliments is hard


Are you one of those people that find it hard to accept compliments?

Do you feel awkward when a friend tells you something they like about you?

Do you tend to down play or minimise your successes or what others compliment you on?

When a friend tells you something they like about you, do you automatically think "yeah, right"?

What I'm talking about here is more than trying to maintain social standards and not come across as cocky or big headed. Instead, it's a genuine uncomfortable feeling when a friend or someone close to you compliments you. Or, you completely let it go over the top of your head, not even registering it. Have you ever stopped to think about why?

What is it that when a friend gives you a compliment, that makes you feel so awkward, or emotional, or that you instantly dismiss it out of hand? It's likely that this has been a problem most of your life, and it comes from what we call 'core beliefs'. Core beliefs, are beliefs that we hold about ourselves and how we fit in the world. We develop these core beliefs fairly early in our lives, usually from interactions with significant others like parents, siblings, friends, or teachers, and they are a little like the lens we see the world through. We are not consciously aware of these core beliefs and because they start so early in our lives, they are very entrenched and hard to change. Some core beliefs are helpful and healthy - for example, you might have a core belief that you are a caring person, or a diligent worker. However, unhelpful core beliefs, such as "I am defective" or "I am not worthwhile" can lead to difficulties in your life when they are triggered.

So let's look at a real example. Say you have a "I am defective" core belief. The typical thoughts that go with this core belief are "If [my friend] knew the real me, they would reject me". You know that you can't fully be your true self around others, or it takes a long time for a close friend to break through and get to know "the real you". Sound familiar? Imagine this scenario - you are out with a friend having coffee, and while talking your friend randomly says "I really admire how well you've been doing lately, what with your job and family, it's very inspirational". Now, most of us will probably feel a little embarrassed, because we've been conditioned throughout our lives not to look 'big headed'. However, if you have a defectiveness core belief, you are going to feel more than a little embarrassed. You are going to feel highly embarrassed. In fact, you'll probably feel very emotional and not be able to explain why to your friend. Or the following will happen - you'll completely dismiss it out of hand and minimise the compliment. In fact, you'll probably not even really hear the compliment at all until your friend has to repeat themselves, looking for some acknowledgement from you.

How am I going so far? Does this sound similar to you?

How about this scenario. Say you are at work, and your boss or senior colleague recommends to you that you should apply for a promotion because of all the great work you've been doing lately. They might say to you "have you thought about going for the promotion? I thought of you, because your recent project was fantastic and this is right down your alley". But you've got a "I'm not worthwhile" core belief. So in all likelihood, you've not heard the "your project was fantastic" compliment, and all you've heard is your inner voice saying "I couldn't do that, I'll fail miserably". Sound familiar?

So what can you do about this? Well, the simplest method is to simply acknowledge and accept the compliment with a polite "thank you". The reason I suggest that, is because you need more runs on the board in the positive experiences column to counteract all the negative experiences you've had that led to the development of the core belief. If you can implement this task, over time, it will get easier, less embarrassing, and you'll start to actually hear the compliment and even believe in yourself. You can also try complimenting yourself for things you've done recently by looking at yourself in the mirror and speaking the words out aloud (believe me, this is harder than you think).

For some people, however, it is so hard to hear and accept compliments, that you may need additional support from an experienced psychologist to help you identify the underlying core beliefs that may be holding you back in your life. If you want to be able to hear and accept compliments, and not be held back by your unhelpful core beliefs, please get in contact by sending us a message by clicking here. We'll be able to book you an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists.

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