I didn’t grow up with compliments as part of my life. In fact I can’t ever remember my mother praising me. Whatever I did was never good enough and the effect of her negative behaviour has left scars. One of which is that I don’t know how to accept a compliment, or what to say. I know in theory they are supposed to make you happy and build your confidence but I just feel embarrassed. Sometimes I even push the compliment back to whoever has given it to me and say ‘not really’ or ‘I don’t think so,’ which can seem very ungracious. A work colleague once said they wished they were more like me because I always seemed so calm and organised. Instead of saying ‘thank you’ I told her I wasn’t either of those things and they had got me wrong. She looked so awkward, even crestfallen that I felt really unkind.
When various male friends have given me flowers, or told me I look really nice in what I'm wearing, or that I have a good figure, I feel self conscious and that I don’t deserve it. It’s nonsense really because deep down I know compliments are lovely. But my instinct is to reject them, perhaps to protect myself. What I need to know is whether this is a common legacy of having a horrid parent and how should you behave when someone compliments you?
Many people find it hard to accept compliments, particularly if they have low self-esteem, and it can often be a legacy of having a horrid parent. They will particularly feel uncomfortable if they have been brought up to believe they are unattractive and someone says they are good looking. It can seem to be such a contradiction that it must be untrue.
Compliments can also put pressure on people. If their boss tells them they have done a great piece of work, they may feel that this is now the standard they always have to reach and they worry they won't be able to.
Our suggestion is to start by trying to build up your self worth. Bring to mind the things you are good at while blocking out your horrid parent’s negative views.
You could also try a stock reply such as ‘thank you’ or ‘that’s kind of you’. Or even return the compliment.
When you receive a compliment it maybe also help to have a neutral thought like “this person is being kind to me” and try not to let it trigger a sense of insecurity.
Do also look at the Coping pages of our website for more ideas.