“You look great!”
“Really? I didn’t sleep at all last night, I have these huge circles under my eyes.”
“Thank you for dinner! Everything was absolutely delicious!”
“Oh, sure. I just wish I hadn’t overdone the chicken.”
“Great work on that presentation.”
“Ugh, I felt like an idiot, just blabbering on and on’”
We’re all guilty of waging these “compliment wars,” as author and body image specialist Dr. Robyn Silverman calls them. You know the kind: shooting down every kind word and gesture, brushing them off, or even claiming to be undeserving.
We have created a culture that reveres humility to the extent that simply saying “Thank you” to a sincere compliment is confused with being cocky. Friends, coworkers, and those in our inner circles consistently send kind words to a compliment graveyard. Some even deny their own talents and shift the credit to someone else. Compliment wars plague girls and women more than their male counterparts. According to Dr. Robyn, “Young girls are indirectly taught, often by the female role models in their lives, to deflect, deny, or demote the compliment to ensure that the other person doesn’t think that we think we’re all that. We want to connect rather than offend.”
Why should telling a co-worker or friend, “You are really talented!” make them want to shrivel up and die? Shouldn’t we be able to use words to build up those around us? Deflecting compliments has the opposite effect, projecting an air of low confidence and self-esteem. Moreover, refusing a person’s compliment sends a message that his or her opinion is not valid, important, or appreciated. Even worse, though, when one is remiss in showing appreciation for being recognized, whether a present or a compliment, it is the equivalent of kicking a gift horse in the mouth. It’s lose-lose for everyone involved.
It’s about time we change this pattern of conversation and learn how to accept compliments and gifts in all their forms. This New Year’s, make a resolution to conscientiously accept and express thanks. Who knows? Maybe all those words and gestures will finally start to sink in.