April 29, 2018 • Sarah Jean Gosney
I used to argue and protest whenever I was given a compliment. I’m not saying it would turn into an all-out brawl, but it would inevitably turn out something like this:
“Oh you’re so pretty!”
“I guess. I don’t really think so.”
“That dish you made is fantastic!”
“Thanks! It really wasn’t hard at all. Anyone could have done it.”
By the way I acted, you’d have thought that it would kill me to say a simple “thank you” and be done with it. By acting the way I did, I thought I was being modest and humble. In reality, I was being none of those things but was instead broadcasting to the world my insecurity and refusal to be vulnerable.
Being able to graciously receive a compliment or gift is critical to being a feminine woman. Many of us reject or argue with these gestures of kindness because we feel unworthy or like it threatens our independence. Therefore we argue, refute, deny, and shrug off gestures that could draw us closer to those around us.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a second. Forget all your hangups.
You’ve been with your friend and all day have been admiring her glowing skin, flowing hair, and beautiful smile. It makes you happy that she’s so lovely, and then you realize it would make her happy too if she knew how much appreciation you had of her. Without any prompting, you say, “Emily, you are gorgeous!”
You expect to see that beautiful smile you’ve been watching all day spread over her face as she hears your kind words. Instead, her face tightens, she crosses her arms, and she frowns.
“No, not really. I mean thanks, but I don’t think so. Have you seen my nose?…”
Perhaps then she makes a whole list of counterarguments about why she isn’t beautiful. Naturally this isn’t going to put you on her side. What it will do is leave you feeling rejected and sad that your friend thinks of herself this way. Emily very likely feels insecure and doesn’t believe you or she doesn’t want to appear vain, which she fears she will if she accepts the compliment. To highlight her lack of vanity and to also (she thinks) to make you more comfortable with the way you look, Emily argues all the ways she isn’t pretty.
Instead of expecting love, Emily may be expecting that you are giving her a backhanded compliment out of jealousy. Emily is expecting that scene in Mean Girls where The Plastics (the group of three popular girls of the high school, for those of you who haven’t seen it) get in front of a mirror together and list off the litany of complaints they each have about their bodies. They do this as a sort of strange bonding ritual to reinforce that they all feel just as crap about themselves as the others do. In the case with these girls, what they exhibit is definitely false modesty as the movie is centered around their vanity. By outwardly complaining about their looks, they are basically putting a poker face on to cover up their loaded hand.
But you weren’t being backhanded or competitive, were you? You genuinely wanted to say something nice about your good friend and thought it would draw you two closer together that day. Sadly Emily had her defenses up, suspicious of your motives for saying something nice.
Receiving makes you vulnerable, but that makes it meaningful.
In order to receive, you must trust that the other person has your interests in mind and that you deserve what they are giving or saying to you. Emily had a wall up between the two of you because ultimately she didn’t trust that you wouldn’t hurt her. She may have put up this wall because she didn’t feel like she particularly deserved admiration, and that acknowledging her strengths is vain. We think we’re being modest by deflecting compliments and downplaying our abilities.
“Oh, I don’t look slim, I had to go up a dress size.”
“Oh, cooking this wasn’t that hard. Anyone could do it really.”
Instead of making you humble, it means you’ve just insulted the person trying to be kind. You have called their judgement into question, and perhaps even insulted their own skills by downplaying your hard-won abilities (not everyone can make a perfect cheesecake or sew a quilt from scratch). And you jabbed the pin into your own heart while you were at it, scratching in the words “I am not worthy” while you were there.
It’s the same with a gift. Those who can’t accept a compliment are likely to put up even more of a fight when you try to give them something. By saying “you shouldn’t have done that” (without a huge smile on your face), you are telling them that their thinking you are special and worth it is wrong. Once again, you have called their judgement into question, missed their kindness, and begun to wallow in the guilt of receiving something “you don’t deserve.”
You must ask yourself, who wins in these interactions? When you think about it, you are robbing both of you of a special moment, and everyone loses.
It is a challenge to graciously receive, because we must in that moment be vulnerable and believe we are worthy. In the moment we receive, we are open to rejection, but even more so are open to love. “What if my friend is trying to sabotage me with her words?” you may wonder. Ask yourself, is that really the kind of friend you have chosen to spend time with? If you are reading this, chances are you have chosen quality people to share your life with, so you should let this worry go.
Practice believing and accepting the compliments you hear and the gifts you are given. A smile and a “thank you” is all that is necessary, so even if what you feel doesn’t match up with what you say, you will still appear gracious, and eventually you will believe yourself. The less often you voice your counterarguments, the less loudly they will play in your head.
Learning how to receive is a step to learning how to be loved.
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