Updated: Sep 15, 2019

The other day I was discussing compliments with my friend. We were reflecting on our differences in how we react when people are giving us compliments. My friend’s reaction to being complimented was somewhat uncomfortable, while mine was total giggles and feelings of joy and pleasure. Then again, reflecting back on my life I have recalled some instances where I was complimented and I didn’t really feel that good about it. That day in the evening I decided to dive down deeper into what compliments are why do they feel so good and why this might not be case for the other people. I found some interesting stuff.

Me absorbing sunlight, almost like absorbing warm energy of genuine compliments. Barbados, 2016.

My definition of compliment is an expression of appreciation on some positive regard by one person about another person. I see it as giving a gift of positive energy from one individual to another.

So basically what happens: one person sends this energy boost to another and hopefully, the person that this energy is being sent receives it.

The compliments can be expressed verbally, in writing as an act or a gesture. In here I wanted to focus mainly on a situation when compliments are being communicated verbally and directly form one person to another: i.e. “I really like your skirt”.

What I have observed happening quite frequently when people are given a compliment is this: we brace ourselves and start to feel uncomfortable. It is interesting that the compliments are something that is quite difficult to receive, or shall I say I rarely observe someone taking in a compliment fully.

On one hand – it is supposed to be positive energy, a gift, so why would we shrink from that? On the other hand, one could argue, that some compliments are not purely positive energy, or at least they don’t feel that way, so the energy perceived in not purely positive.

One reason for this could be that there’s some hidden agenda behind the compliment (a person wants us to like them, or get in our good books for that) so it doesn’t really feel completely pure.

Most likely, in this case, we instinctively pick up that and experience dissonance between the words that are being said by the person and their actual intentions, which could be compared with us receiving a nicely packaged box with questionable content.

Another reason why the compliment might not be received as a pure positive gesture is our own opinion about ourselves which conflicts with what another person compliments us about. In this case, even if the intention of the person giving a compliment is pure, it doesn’t register as such, but rather as a lie, because we don’t see it as true. In this scenario, we realise that we have some harsh judgments about ourselves, or even subconscious believe which we hold to be true, even though people around us might have totally different opinions about whatever we are believing about ourselves.

As I was thinking about it, I realised that another reason why compliments are difficult to accept is that it puts us in a position of vulnerability. For us to receive a compliment fully, we need to open up to the compliment, it requires us to be vulnerable. Vulnerability doesn't feel safe because there is a part in us that is usually on defense mode. When a compliment is given, this part doesn't have any justifiable reason to have defenses up, as the compliment is not actually supposed to be an attack…or isn’t it? What if it is an attack, towards our self-concept, which we have become so comfortable and familiar with? So, then we need to have defenses to protect the structure that we have created to understand ourselves and because the structure is quite rigid, we don’t feel comfortable other people challenging it. We need defenses: without defenses, we feel unsafe. That is the reason why I think a lot of people (including me) initially are trying to deflect a compliment - saying noooo, that's not true, or distract the positive intense focus/attention elsewhere… What a mess!

So, in a nutshell, I see this situation as a bit of wasted good energy that we are not receiving when other people are trying to give us when they are telling us genuine compliments. I wish that we could learn to open up more to be able to receive this positive feedback, even though it may feel uncomfortable to truly accept incoming good energy for free (the compliments) at first. However, I believe that we could get better at this with a bit of training… Even if the mirror is the place we start with😊

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