Updated: Jun 26
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
William James (American Philosopher and Psychologist 1842 - 1910).
Expressing or receiving admiration and appreciation, also known as “compliments”, are relational skills that don’t always come naturally to people. They often need to be learned. Receiving compliments or verbal affirmations can often take us off guard and many of us respond awkwardly as an unconscious act of self-protection. Unfortunately, this self-protectiveness can often lead us to deflect or divert the praise, which often robs both the compliment giver and the receiver of an opportunity for a deeper connection. This behavior can keep us from letting the kind words in and accepting gratitude from others.
Here is what could be happening when you receive a compliment:
Physiological Response: You are surprised, so your body follows a patterned response and momentarily freezes at the unfamiliar emotions that arise.
What to Do Instead: We need appreciation and acknowledgment in order to thrive. Try staying in your body and notice the warm, glowing initial feeling, instead of jumping to what’s happening in your head. Notice how good it feels in our body to receive someone’s gratitude. Think of it as a mindfulness practice that makes us feel less isolated and more connected with others in the world when we can let someone tell us they value and appreciate us.
Emotional Response: At the same time, we may be experiencing the conflict of reconciling others’ positive views with our typical critical or negative views of ourselves. Perhaps we think we bombed the presentation at work and then our coworker congratulates us on how well we did. We may become flustered and have the urge to say something self-deprecating or write it off and say, “Oh it was nothing, just doing my job.”
What To Do Instead: It’s important to understand our relationship with our own internal negative views. If you are naturally inclined to deflect a compliment, first notice what is happening inside you, and instead of giving in to the uncomfortable feeling, try doing the opposite action. This can be a powerful tool in our emotional toolbox when we need it. Notice how you feel when you simply say “thank you” then pause, taking in the moment and reflecting on your gratitude for their kindness.
Another way to get more comfortable at receiving compliments is to give them out more. When you get in the habit of giving compliments frequently, you strengthen your relationships with those around you. We all know how it can brighten someone’s day to receive a compliment and how great it can make you feel to give appreciation to others. Cultivating this kindness leads to a virtuous cycle of trust and connection. Try being more generous with your appreciation and don’t be surprised when more compliments start heading your way!
By: Ilise Reznick
Mental Health Counseling Intern