Taking compliments.

I’ve filled quite a few planters for the back deck this year. The usual azaleas and rhododendrons are sharing space with, among other things, three containers of potatoes. They’re doing quite well. I’m going to harvest one this week, in point of fact. The new potatoes are ready, so abundant that there’s too much pressure on the sacks to dig them out.

Such is the price of success.

My potato plants have also sprouted berries. From the berries, seeds will grow and I can plant new potato plants without an old potato. It will be a brand new plant, not a clone as most potato plants are.

Potato plants and berries.

It’s relatively unusual, requiring various unusual circumstances to come together. I feel proud that my potatoes are doing well, though only secretly. It’s not the done thing to be overt about our accomplishments. Especially when my accomplishment can be distilled down to dirt and water. *

Regardless of our effort, however, we’re not supposed to feel pride.

It’s no big deal.

It’s nothing special.

Anyone could’ve done it.

Contrast this behaviour to that of most preschool-age children. They’re full of pride in what they do. In everything they do. They’ll show you mucuos.

Look at me. Look at me swing, look at me climb, look at my picture, look at the machine I built out of Lego. Look at what I’ve done? Isn’t it amazing?

I’m awesome. I’m the best.

You hear “I’m the best” from children regularly. The only adults you hear it from have personality disorders. The rest of us give up on giving ourselves props. We stop believing positive feedback and we stop internalizing compliments. It’s a bad habit. **

I’ve also been no good at accepting compliments and positive feedback. They often create a sense of cognitive dissonance as my negatively critical inside voice runs up against something that’s trying to contradict. It’s easy to reject the nice things people say, though we sure take the lousy stuff to heart.

I’ve been working on it, however, and although behavioural change can be challenging (I desperately want to correct and reject the compliment purveyor), the practice itself is simple.

It’s just two little words.

Thank you.

When you get a compliment or someone says something nice, it’s the only thing you’re allowed to say.

Thank you.

For instance, when you hear, “your hair looks great, you don’t say, “oh, it’s so greasy.” You don’t say, “oh, I have the worst cut.” No rejecting what people are trying to say. No brushing compliments off with humour. No rolling of the eyes, even on the inside.

Thank you. That’s it. That’s all you get (as you get more practiced, you can expand somewhat. Thank you. I like your hair, too).

Bird bad hair day.

I hated doing it in the beginning. I felt pretentious.

Thank you.

Are you kidding me?

I felt like an imposter. I felt like a liar. Shouldn’t I be pointing out all the ways I’m wrong? Did they not notice the imperfections?

It felt imperative to reject what were obviously kind lies.

I didn’t.

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

A funny thing happens when you start accepting positive feedback and compliments with a “thank you” and not much else. You start to like getting them. You start to feel good when you receive them. I’m still not sure I believe people when they come at me with compliments rather than complaints, but at least I can listen without gritted teeth. I even feel a sense of affection.

It’s nice to be seen. This is another part of the compliment. It’s validation. It’s recognition.

So, say, “Thanks.” Take the compliments. Take the credit. Once upon a time, you had no problem doing so. Harken back.


* The potato berries are the upside of a dark and damp spring. Joy, sort of.

**Interestingly, Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” is sounding from my speakers as I type.

18 thoughts on “Taking compliments.

  1. I definitely enjoy giving compliments and do so with moderate frequency, which I hope makes people feel special when they receive them.

    As far as receiving compliments – I’m learning to just say ‘thank you’ instead of telling them how it isn’t necessarily such a great thing that they are praising. Or telling them how close this great thing was to being terrible. The reason why I struggle with just saying ‘thank you’ is because there seems to be this lull in the conversation afterward (maybe it’s just me?) for a return compliment or a more extensive thank you. The former – I don’t want to force/ make it appear non genuine. The latter – Compliments are nice but they are not something I attach a lot of value.

    (I’ve just been rambling, but I needed to. It’s probably most I’ve written in days, so thank you for giving me that opportunity! You are always such a great listener and I hope I can return the favor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We do like to fill an empty space. And, it’s hard not to correct other people’s judgement about us.

      I didn’t consider it a ramble. I consider these timelag conversations, and I always enjoy them. So, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I related to this post so much! I struggle with accepting compliments, especially about my weight. I believe I’m fat. I can see my fat. I was on the scale. I know I gained weight. So when someone tells me I look skinnier, I reject the compliment, even if it’s with a disbelieving “really?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We often tell people what we think they need. It’s well-intentioned, but it can backfire (as in your example). But learning to say “thank you” helps. In the early days, it feels inauthentic and icky, but it gets easier.


    1. Thanks. I do them, especially boiled with some butter, basil, and salt. It’s taken time though. I’ve been gardening in some form or other for about thirty years. My first plant I killed and hard. It had aphids. They’re bugs, so I thought, “bug spray.” It died almost instantly πŸ˜‚


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