Why Women Can’t Take a Compliment (and How to Break the Habit)
We’ve all been there: a friend compliments your outfit – which you secretly love – but instead of saying thanks you blush, avert your eyes, and shrug off the praise with the response, “What, this old thing? I dragged it from the back of the wardrobe”.
Saying women can’t take a compliment might be a stereotype, but from both observation and personal experience, I really think this one is true. Even now I squirm thinking about a lovely friend who recently said to me, “You’ve done so well, I’m really proud of you. You look so happy and beautiful”. “Pffff, don’t be silly!”, was of course my natural response to the kind words, followed by, “It’s great to see how well you’re doing”. Her comments made me smile but I was equally a little bit embarrassed and diverted the attention just by habit.
A few days later, I spoke to a friend who had just broken up with someone. As many of us do after initial heartbreak, she was worrying about whether anyone else would ever like her. “Don’t be so bloody stupid, of course they will! Look at you, pretty lady, you’ve got everything going for you and anyone would be mad to pass you by.” She looked at me unconvinced. The daft thing was, when I spoke to my other friends later, they all said, “Look at you dishing out advice and compliments when you won’t even accept compliments like that about yourself”.
They had a point. And it made me think: why is it that women struggle to accept praise?
Often we’re embarrassed and don’t want to appear arrogant or full of ourselves. Men are much better at saying, “Yeah, look how good I am”. Women, on the other hand, are often more modest and less likely to want to talk about their achievements or looks (unless it involves being self critical); we want to fit in. Out of habit, most women deflect compliments and play down any praise that comes their way.
We also tend to assume that people are just being kind – especially if they’re aware of us having had a tough time, or know that we dislike a certain part of our body. Our immediate thought is, “They just want to make me feel better”.
Similarly, women are often suspicious when a compliment comes their way, assuming that the party dishing out praise must want something. If I compliment someone I know well, a response I often jokingly get is, “What are you after then?” Perhaps people we have just met and who we compliment are thinking that too. I find this sad. Sad because I hope that most people in life are genuine and don’t want anything. I, for one, never give someone a compliment if I don’t mean it.
So how can we break the habit and accept compliments?
First, be proud and confident (it doesn’t mean arrogance). Accept that if someone compliments your new hair, then that cut you got wasn’t a waste of money – say thank you. If your achievements are praised, then that work you did was worth it – say thank you. Did you buy a new outfit for someone to tell you that you look rubbish? No, you wanted to feel good. If people notice that and think you look good too, bonus – just say thank you.
As we come up to Compliment Day (January 24th), let’s therefore try something different. Before you shrug off praise and put it down like it’s nothing, stop and think: why would someone say it when they could say nothing at all? I recently met some people through work who sent me a message full of encouragement and nice words. It affected my outlook and mood instantly. And so, rather than brushing it off as nothing, I consciously told myself to feel proud and positive. To take the compliment, accept the praise.
Equally, let’s acknowledge the benefits that compliments have for both parties. Paying a compliment which is gratefully received can help the person who said it feel positive too. They made you smile, which makes them smile. All smiles! It is a win-win situation. So if you think something nice about someone, say it. You may not realise how much they need to hear it, and might just make their day.
As women, we should help and encourage our fellow females, and with that comes accepting compliments by believing that we deserve what is said. So next time, try not to let it become a, “You look amazing, no you do, no you do” exchange. Just say thank you.