Compliments are not really equivalent to the words of god, however, the sentiment and the impact on our physical and mental health can be similar. A compliment is defined in the dictionary as words of praise, an admiring comment, a flattering remark, kind words and an acknowledgment.  Having people express approval, positivity and words of flattery should be the most desirable and easy form of verbal communications to accept and yet many people have difficulties accepting compliments. Being able to accept and give compliments is a sign of assertivity and a skill in itself. Individuals who feel uncomfortable and/or self-conscious receiving a compliment commonly will ignore it, brush it off, totally dismiss, minimize the praise or even deflect the compliment. Some even respond with self -criticism, self-mockery and sarcasm. Sarcasm can be seen as a type of aggressive response to being complimented, just as feeling annoyed and becoming defensive.

To people who cherish and relish receiving compliments this may seem strange. Embracing compliments not only improves our social interactions and bring happiness and positivity into our lives; it also improves our self-worth, self-efficacy, self-image and confidence.  So what motivates or inhibits people from easily accepting compliments?  

The causes of this difficulty can be divers, changeable and multifaceted but it often comes down to unhelpful thoughts. It is difficult to believe that someone is sincere with his positive praise when you have low self-esteem, poor self-image and feel unworthy. Negative thoughts about the self filter out information from the world that is incongruent with the negative schemata. In this way we prevent the discomfort of cognitive dissonance and reconfirm our existing world and self view. The major negative consequence of this negative cognitive filter is that at the same time we also reject any new information that may improve our lives and help us improve and grow as individuals. As a result, a positive compliment will not be believed; easily rejected and not even get registered in our memory as serious and valid data about ourselves.    

Some people may not be accustomed to receiving compliment from their environment. Individuals who often get negative feedback or criticized will not even know how to process a positive remark. They may simply not know how to respond to this unfamiliar message. They may think that the criticisms will soon follow or that it might be a catch.  The compliment may also be perceived as insincere or done out of obligation. Some people even think that not accepting compliment full heartily and minimizing or deflecting from it is a sign of humility.    

Due to these unhelpful thoughts and familiar behavioral patterns we react on automatic pilot whenever we receive a compliment. These tendencies get activated without any analytical thought. The first step to break this vicious cycle would be to become aware of it, stop and think. Try changing your knee jerk reaction by actually thinking of how you are responding and consciously choosing to change it. Make an eye contact, listen, smile and say thank you. It’s quite simple once you think of it and it does not require much effort, only practice. A compliment is generally given to make you feel good, so go with the flow and experience it. You might choose to add something else beside the thank you, like “I appreciate you saying so” but that’s it not obligatory. A simple and genuine thank you that acknowledges the compliment will also suffice. You can also choose to use the topic of the compliment to start a conversation and further interact with the individual.  Accepting compliments well will eventually also encourage people to be more generous with their compliments giving towards you, while negative and awkward responses discourage them and reduces the likelihood that they will compliment you again.  To make the change complete, it will also be most beneficial to trace the negative thoughts that lead to your difficulty of accepting compliments, challenging it and trying by find more logical and reality reflective alternative thoughts that will help you reap the vast benefits of a positive feedback.

By accepting compliments into our lives we choose to accept the positivity in which other people see in us. Compliments help us see ourselves in a better light and it also strengthens our sense of self. Compliments help us see ourselves as stronger, more loveable, likeable, smarter, prettier, good, capable, worthy and so much more. Compliments are small gifts of flattery from others, which we should gladly accept, indulge and spoil ourselves with, treasure and always remember in difficult times….