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Why women need to learn to (fully) take a compliment.

Updated on January 14, 2016

My daughter complimented me on something the other day, my hair, the color of my shirt, something largely forgettable except I remember the moment because she liked how I responded.

"Thank you."

"I like how you just accept a compliment," she said.

I didn't used to. I used to quickly get rid of compliments with "Yeah but...."

Over the last few years I've made a conscious effort to accept praise graciously, without self-bashing, without throwing in a string of negatives about myself, "Yeah, but..."

My daughter told me it drives her crazy when her friends won't just take the compliment and move on. Instead they're dramatically exasperated with themselves ("Oh no way are you kidding me? I feel so fat and my hair, don't even get me started...."). All that humble unworthiness seems fake she said, like a disingenuous way to get attention.

It's true, self-deprecation can be a conscious or unconscious way to get attention but women's resistance to graciously accepting compliments probably has more to do with how women are programmed to react to praise.

Our default response is to toss back the compliment like a hot coal. Quick get this thing off me; it's not supposed to be in my hands. Now, on to you.

We squirm out of praise rather than let it warmly wash over us with no strings attached. Women tend to launch into a self-loathing diatribe on why they're not so skinny, not so smart, not so pretty, not so amazing, not so deserving of the promotion, the award, the help from friends...

Because to accept a compliment without diluting it or offering up reciprocal praise makes women sound arrogant and entitled, qualities deemed unfeminine and unbecoming.

Can you take a compliment?
Can you take a compliment? | Source

Women not taking the compliment, any compliment (EXPLICIT)

Women who acknowledge their self-worth sometimes viewed as arrogant

Self-deprecation is a way of keeping ourselves "in our place" and staying on equal footing with the other person. "Well thanks, I might look skinny but my fat ass barely fit into my jeans last week. But you my friend, YOU look good." "Yeah well I might have the promotion but let's see how long until I screw it up."

Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., says women get mixed messages women all the time about what behaviors are acceptable.

“[We’re told] love yourself, but not too much. Be confident, but practice a style of humility this culture never requires of men. Believe in yourself, but never admit it out loud, lest you make another woman who doesn’t feel good about herself feel bad,” she says. “If you’re raised to think it’s arrogant to ever say something positive about yourself, it makes it hard to accept a compliment,” she explained for Today Health.

As for the self-loathing one-upsmanship, she says that has to do with trying to convince others we’re better at being humble.

“We’re convincing them that we win at the game of crushing our own self-confidence,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a win, though.”

Women live in a cultural paradox, says Engeln. “We still live in a world that isn’t quite comfortable with women who do acknowledge their worth,” she says. “We see them as arrogant and often as unfeminine.”

Men however, she points, aren’t held to the same standards. “Men don’t care so they don’t do it,” agrees Maisonneuve. “And I give them credit for that. I would love to be able to walk into a room and not even once consider who’s in the room, who’s looking at me, who’s not looking at me, if my shoes are as good as hers. I don’t think men walk into a room and say ‘Look at his shoes, I have to start dressing better.’ They don’t care, and that’s a good thing.”

But to Engeln's point I don't think if someone is aware of what people (might) notice when she walks into a room is the same as an inability to take a compliment at full strength. A woman might be acutely self-conscious by her shy or introverted nature or she might confidently stroll into a room, either way, both personalities can simply say, "Thank you" without back-paddling or deflecting praise.

Either way Englen tells women to snap out of it.

“What comes out of our mouths matters. What we say affects what we think and how we behave. One of the best things we can model for girls and young women is how to accept a compliment with tact and grace."

The other day a friend told me for the second time this month in a sincere and somewhat inquisitive tone,"You look skinny. You've lost weight?"

I was tempted to say "Yeah but I still have fat over here and this cellulite I can't get rid of..."

But I didn't. I paused for a second and said, "Yes. Yes, I have lost weight, thank you."

I have no idea if my short and sweet response made me sound arrogant. Fortunately at this point in my life I largely don't care. Unsolicited compliments need no apology. A compliment if it's genuine, is a thoughtful gift handed to you and it's just plain rude to hand back a gift, right?

I'm still working on taking praise with just a simple thank-you even when that squirmy awkward moment of silence that follows begs for a few lines of self-loathing,"Thanks, but..." I wait out the silence and breathe in the praise with a simple moment of gratitude and if I am sincere, and only then, do I compliment the person, back.


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