My Experiment in Accepting Compliments, and What It Taught Me

My Experiment in Accepting Compliments, and What It Taught Me

One mom decides to start accepting compliments and the results are pretty amazing.


By: Nicole Fabian-Weber

"Your hair looks really good. Did you just get it cut?" my friend said to me recently.

"Ew! I literally haven't washed it in four days. It looks horrendous," I responded.

My friend pointed out that seemed to always be my reaction to a compliment: incredulousness mixed with disgust. Why are you giving me a compliment? It took all of about three seconds for me to realize that she was right. I'll happily dole out compliments to other people -- and mean every word -- but when it comes to accepting them, I'm terrible at it.

After my friend and I parted ways, I looked in the mirror. Even though it was true -- I hadn't washed my hair in days -- it didn't look that bad. In fact, if my hair was on someone else's head, I may have even complimented that person. Why did I always feel the need to point out the negative in myself? Why couldn't I just say "Thanks" and get on with it? Did I think I was unworthy of praise?

Full disclosure: I didn't delve too deeply into the psychology behind this habit, which I know many other women suffer from as well. I'm not a therapist, but I imagine it has something to do with wanting to point out my flaws before other people do (if they're even going to). Instead of getting tangled up in the "why," I decided to focus on a solution in the form of an experiment: For one week I was going to try to accept compliments -- no matter what they were, or how little I believed them. (I started out with one week, because, as we all know, Rome wasn't built in a day.)

The following day, I ran into an acquaintance of mine at the grocery store. At more than eight months pregnant, I'm not exactly feeling my best these days, so when she sweetly said to me, "You look great!" it took a concerted effort not to perfunctorily say something along the lines of, "Ugh, I feel huge!" Instead I said, "Thank you!" and left it at that. When the words first came out of my mouth, not gonna lie: I felt a little awkward and weirdly conceited, as if I was saying, "Yes. Yes, I know I look great." But, after I rolled my cart away, I no longer felt awkward or conceited. Actually, I felt kind of good. Instead of having the inevitable back-and-forth that would have resulted from me saying I look bad ("Oh stop!" "No, really I do!" etc.), my friend and I left the compliment at that and talked about other things. I felt ... lighter. And, weirdly, more mature, like the kind of person who's comfortable in her own skin.

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A day or so later, a colleague of mine emailed me, telling me she thought something I wrote was funny. Instead of firing off a self-deprecating response about how "lowbrow" the piece was, I simply replied, "Thank you!" and asked how she was doing. The truth was, I didn't think what I wrote was all that funny or great, but after I refrained from bashing myself to someone who was simply trying to be nice, I realized that nothing positive would have come from airing my grievances to my colleague anyway. What was done was done. Also, who wants to be saddled with a bunch of self-loathing when they were just being kind?

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I won't go into the details of every single compliment I received during the week (it isn't like there were hundreds). And I definitely slipped up a few times, falling back into my deeply programmed ways of immediately shaming myself after someone merely told me they liked my top. But I will say this: I did notice a change in my day-to-day thinking when I started replacing "Ew, really?" with "Thank you." The little voice inside my head began sounding less critical, and, in turn, I started feeling better about myself. I actually think that spending less time talking/arguing about how bad I looked/wrote/am made more of a difference than simply accepting (or believing) the compliment, if that makes any sense. Basically, when I don't accept a compliment, I exert energy trash-talking myself, which automatically puts me in a bad mood. When I accept a compliment, I don't think about myself as much. It's like my brain magically creates all this extra space to think about other things, like how pretty the light in my backyard looks at dusk. Or food. Or puppies.

Am I a completely changed woman? Not necessarily. Old habits die hard. But I'm definitely going to make more of an effort to accept compliments instead of debate them, as clearly it's a much more pleasant (and easy) way to live. Also, being that I'm a few weeks away from being a mother of two, trying to make this small change seems like the smart, responsible thing to do. What woman would ever want her daughter to shriek "Ew!" when she told her she was beautiful?

How do you react when someone pays you a compliment?



Nicole Fabian-Weber is the mama to a sweet toddler girl (with a boy on the way!). She lives outside of NYC and writes for The Stir and numerous other online publications.

Image ©iStock.com/sissy_12


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