..Christopher R. Edgar..

C'mon, Can't You Take a Compliment?

Do you have trouble accepting compliments? I definitely did once. When someone said a kind word about me, I'd get bashful and downplay the aspect of my character or accomplishments they'd praised. For instance, if someone at work said, "You did a great job on this project," I'd say something that suggested I hadn't really accomplished or contributed much, such as, "Well, I've done this a lot before," or "Yeah, the research didn't take as long as I expected."

I did this because, when I received a compliment, I got the vague sensation that I'd done something wrong, although I wasn't quite sure what that was. I experienced the feeling as a tension and unwelcome heat in my upper back and shoulders. I would fend off compliments to get rid of this discomfort as quickly as possible.

It wasn't until a friend pointed out how uncomfortable I seemed to get when I received compliments that I gave any thought to why it was happening. I tried to change the subject, as I wanted to avoid thinking about the sensation for fear of recreating it in my body. But my friend, out of love and concern, wouldn't let me off the hook, and kept probing for the reasons why I felt the way I did.

When I focused my attention on the sensation that arose when I received compliments, I recalled a few times I'd felt it during my childhood. In each of these instances, I remembered, someone had accused me of being selfish, or of failing to do enough to help others. I felt ashamed when others thought I was self-centered, and the tension I experienced was the manifestation of that shame in my body. Somehow, it seemed, I associated getting compliments with being selfish.

Eventually, I came to understand the unconscious thoughts driving my shame. It was as though, when someone gave me a compliment, they were cutting a slice from a pie and offering it to me. If I didn't downplay the compliment, I was eating the slice. This "compliment pie" was tasty and nourishing. The problem was that others also wanted slices. If I accepted a piece, there would be less for others, and I wasn't any more deserving of pie than anyone else. Thus, it was selfish for me to simply accept a compliment — a piece of the pie — without deflecting or refusing it.

In short, I had what some personal development authors call a "scarcity mentality" regarding compliments. I saw others' appreciation as a scarce — finite, limited, exhaustible — resource, and I thought I had to avoid accepting too much of it to make sure there was enough left over for others. Of course, this mentality had no relationship to reality. If I accepted a compliment, I wasn't "taking" something that rightfully belonged to someone else, or depleting the Earth's precious compliment supply. If anything, I was making others worse off by rejecting the positive things they said about me. Other people wanted me to feel good when they complimented me, and I was frustrating their desire with my habit of putting myself down.

These realizations helped me change my perspective on compliments from one of "scarcity" to one of "abundance." I recognized that compliments are an abundant — indeed unlimited — resource, and there will always be enough of them to go around. With this new understanding, I stopped feeling the need to refuse or downplay compliments, and I started simply thanking others when they said nice things about me. Today, when someone compliments me, I feel pleasant, warm sensations in my body — just as the person complimenting me usually intends.

Many of us — consciously or otherwise — have adopted a scarcity mentality when it comes to experiencing positive emotions. We feel guilty or ashamed, as though we've taken something that doesn't belong to us, or more than our "fair share," and we deny ourselves permission to feel good.

If you find yourself feeling this way, a key step you can take is to become aware of the scarcity mentality driving your attitude. When you consciously recognize that you have that perspective, you'll also begin to see how irrational — and almost laughable — it is. And you'll find that life is far more fulfilling when you learn to accept others' appreciation of you at face value.

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