Accepting a compliment – why is it so hard?

I was teaching a loving kindness session this week at the head office of a start up tech company. The people there are all very competent and young but they all shared one experience – the feeling that sending themselves well wishing felt wrong or self-indulgent. Over 28 years of teaching the loving kindness practice I’ve found this to be a recurrent theme, the sense that it is somehow wrong to love oneself.

On talking with my contact there afterwards we discussed what was going on for her in the meditation. As we were talking she commented that she finds it hard to accept compliments as it feels conceited.  She also recognised that her family had a belief that said “don’t be proud, don’t think you’re special” and that this impacts on her ability to love herself and to take in compliments. She recognised that when someone gives her a compliment her response is always to push it away – out of a fear of seeming to be thought to be proud, but that in doing this she is denying the person who gave her the compliment the pleasure of seeing her accept it.

I asked her if she could imagine a compliment as being like a gift  – how would it be if she gave someone a gift and their first response was to give it back saying I don’t deserve this! She recognised this and is going to explore how to accept compliments when they are given, seeing them as a gift from the other. The simplest way to do this is to say “thank you”. She even recognised that when someone else does this it is a pleasure for her that they have accepted and received what she said, so she will explore how to do it when she receives a compliment herself.

What is your response when given a compliment? Do you dismiss it for fear of seeming proud or arrogant, saying “it’s nothing”. Or do you accept the gift, saying “thank you”. If you tend to push it away ask yourself what is so bad about allowing yourself to receive affirmation? Think of it as a gift, and how it would be if you threw a present back at someone as soon as they offered it to you and then see how it is to accept it, say thank you, and receive that gift.

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