My daughter complimented me on something the other day, my hair, the color of my shirt, something forgettable except that I remember the moment because she liked how I responded.
“Thank you,” I said.
“I like how you just accept a compliment,” she said.
I didn’t used to. I used to get rid of compliments with “Yeah but….”
I’ve made a conscious effort in the last few years to take compliments graciously, not to dilute them or or throw in a list of negatives. You know what we do: we mix one part compliment, four parts “yeah well but…”
I knew where she was going with this. My daughter told me her friends can’t take compliments. I’m sorry to hear not much has changed since I was young or even since yesterday with some of my own friends.
Women’s default mode when we hear praise is to toss it back like a red hot coal. Quick get this thing off me it’s not supposed to be in my hands. Now, on to you.
We squirm out of praise faster than we let it wash over us in glorious deserve undiluted self-worth, watering down the words until the warmth disintegrates into a pile of nah, not me. Worse, we launch into a self-loathing diatribe of why we’re not so skinny, not so smart, not so pretty, not so amazing, not entirely deserving of the promotion, or award or new car or….
We’re convinced accepting a compliment without throwing in some self-loathing makes us seem arrogant.
Nice girls don’t “just” say thank you, nice girls stay humble and humble means getting rid of high and mighty praise, and fast.
It’s our way of keeping ourselves “in our own place” and staying on an equal playing field with the other person. With praise hanging over our head we’re exposed and momentarily elevated (not higher just high) so of course we think we need to slough it off and make the me-me moment a wash so we praise the other person (and if it’s sincere, why not?).
“Well, I might look skinny but my fat ass barely fit into my jeans last week. But you my friend, YOU look good.”
“Yeah well I might have the promotion but let’s see how long until I screw it up.”
Women insist on convincing the Complimentor how disillusioned he or she is, like their glasses are all mucked up.
Check out this Comedy Central spoof (uncensored so beware).
Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., says women get mixed messages women all the time about what behaviors are acceptable.
“[We’re told] love yourself, but not too much. Be confident, but practice a style of humility this culture never requires of men. Believe in yourself, but never admit it out loud, lest you make another woman who doesn’t feel good about herself feel bad,” she says. “If you’re raised to think it’s arrogant to ever say something positive about yourself, it makes it hard to accept a compliment,” she explained for Today Health.
As for the self-loathing one-upsmanship, she says that has to do with trying to convince others we’re better at being humble.
“We’re convincing them that we win at the game of crushing our own self-confidence,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a win, though.”
Women live in a cultural paradox, says Engeln. “We still live in a world that isn’t quite comfortable with women who do acknowledge their worth,” she says. “We see them as arrogant and often as unfeminine.”
Men she points out however, aren’t held to the same standards. “Men don’t care so they don’t do it,” agrees Maisonneuve. “And I give them credit for that. I would love to be able to walk into a room and not even once consider who’s in the room, who’s looking at me, who’s not looking at me, if my shoes are as good as hers. I don’t think men walk into a room and say ‘Look at his shoes, I have to start dressing better.’ They don’t care, and that’s a good thing.”
But to her point here, I don’t consider a woman being socially conscious of what others might notice as she walks into a room as an inability to take a compliment at full strength, should someone stop her and say something nice.
(Photo by photostock)
Either way Englen tells us to snap out of it.
“What comes out of our mouths matters. What we say affects what we think and how we behave. One of the best things we can model for girls and young women is how to accept a compliment with tact and grace.”
The other day a friend told me for the second time that month in a sincere and somewhat inquisitive tone,”You look skinny. You’ve lost weight?”
I was tempted to start my self-berating, “Yeah but I still have rolls of fat here and cellulite here…”
But I didn’t. I just said, “Yes. Yes, I have have lost weight, thank you.”
I have no idea if my short and sweet acceptance speech made me sound arrogant. Fortunately at this point in my life, I mostly don’t care. A compliment if it’s genuine, is a thoughtful gift and it’s rude to hand back a gift.
I’m still working at taking praise with just a gracious thank-you even when that squirmy moment of silence that follows begs for a few lines of negative.
But then I remember sometimes my daugher’s watching and let the moment ride.
First image credit: Photo by Stuart Miles. Published on 11 September 2014