There are over 68 Million hits to the question “How to take a compliment.”
That is a crazy, powerful indicator of how hard it can be to accept positive feedback and how conditioned we are to deflect kindness or acknowledgement of our accomplishments.
But, I’m going to say it again, there is no such thing as a compliment!
Someone tells you what they think and you hear it. That’s it!
In high school, there was a girl I went to school with- she was gorgeous, effortlessly cool, talented and sweet. I wanted to be like Garian. Hell, I wanted to be Garian!
One day she walked by me sitting on the grass outside a class and told me I looked great. I demurred and said something like, “Oh, no I don’t, it’s just something I threw together.” I don’t remember exactly what I said because it was such a habit of shrugging off anything positive that came my way- especially from someone like her. I mean, I didn’t want her to think I was stuck up or vain! I definitely wanted to look cute that day, but to acknowledge that I did just seemed ugly!
I do remember exactly what she said to me: “Are you calling me a liar?”
Cue the record scratch sound in my head. What? The coolest girl I knew, the girl I wished would think of me as a friend, thinks I called her a liar? “No! What? No! I didn’t call you a liar!”
“When you say you don’t believe me, or you think what I said isn’t true, you’re calling me a liar. I told you the truth, take the compliment.”
Garian gave me a huge gift that day. The kind of gift I might not have received from anyone else. What she said to me resonated with me and I’ve heard her words in the back of my head over and over and I am so grateful.
But I’ve come to realize there’s actually a deeper truth. There is no such thing as a compliment. There is just one person speaking their truth to another person! It’s not a kindness, it’s not a gift, it’s just something they think is true!
If someone I thought was beautiful and effortlessly cool stopped me and said, “Hey! You have green eyes!” that would just be true, because I do have green eyes! Same person says, “Hey! You have beautiful eyes!” It is just as true! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder- if she thinks my eyes are beautiful, it’s true! That’s how it works!
Where the work comes for me, is to believe it for myself.
The hardest “compliments” to take are the ones we want to be true. “You’re so smart!” “Me? No, I’m just a nerd, I read too much.” “You look stunning tonight!” “Oh, I just washed my hair for a change.” “Terrific presentation!” “You think so? I totally stumbled over my opening!”
We are afraid fully take in that we have been seen the way we would like to be seen. It feels risky, because if we believe it then we’ll have to keep believing it and what if someone tells us we’re wrong?
But what if we took the risk? What if every time, we risked being seen?
When in doubt, just say thank you. Just like no, thank you is a complete sentence. You can acknowledge what was offered to you, accept it for what it is, then decide how to take it in all on your own in the privacy of your heart and mind.
Or you could get really crazy and allow it to land and acknowledge your role out loud!
“You’re so smart!” “Thank you! I love sharing what I’m excited about!” “You look stunning tonight!” “Thank you! I had a lot of fun getting ready tonight!” “Terrific presentation!” “Thank you! I worked really hard on it!”
It’s a courageous choice to take the compliment, to allow yourself to believe and be affected by someone else. It’s hard to do because it’s scary to risk being seen. But it’s so worth it. With practice suddenly there isn’t that space between the comment and the acceptance. With practice we can just know, “I am smart,” “I am beautiful,” “I am accomplished.” In knowing those things to be true, we suddenly take ownership of our personal power in a significant way.