Can’t take a compliment

Posted on August 5th 2014

Most people like hearing praise but some people bristle when they hear compliments and others downright hate them. Even the faintest hint of praise can make them squirm. What is it that determines whether someone enjoys receiving compliments or whether they turn sour at the first hint of positive feedback?

When your friend says that she loves your jumper, you’re quick to fend off the flattery, ‘this old thing? I’ve had it for ages’! When your partner mentions that you look pretty, you respond with a terse, ‘but I feel fat.’ And it’s more common than not for you to counter any praise by listing your flaws. Sound familiar?

So why can’t you just accept the kind words? There are a number of reasons why we refuse to take compliments.Many of us find it hard to accept compliments wholeheartedly; we feel that if we do, we are showing off. More often than not, how receptive we are to compliments is a reflection of our self-esteem and deep feelings of self-worth. Specifically, compliments can make people with low self-esteem feel uncomfortable because they contradict their own self-views.

Past experiences have a huge impact on our ability to accept compliments.  No one is born feeling uncomfortable with compliments, it is a learned response. Receiving compliments and also giving them is hard when self-esteem has been injured. Low self-esteem tells us that we’re just plain not good enough. And we imagine that if we can see it, so can everyone else.Many of us are taught that accepting a compliment is impolite. Coupled with bad experiences of bragging teaches us that if we ‘show’ off, people don’t like or accept us. When you are being told to be ‘humble and modest’, indulging in compliments just feels wrong. Having low self-esteem can make it harder to accept a compliment as sincere. The key to being comfortable with compliments is to stop believing that other people share your low opinion of you. They don’t. They aren’t as critical of you as you are. Accept the fact that people don’t see you as you see you.

If someone offers you a compliment, they’re likely telling the truth. Isn’t it possible that someone could find your eyes beautiful? Or enjoy your singing? Or genuinely appreciate your fashion sense?
Actions you can take

  • When you receive a compliment, say ‘thank you’, even if this may feel awkward, and notice the beneficial consequences. Acting as if it’s OK to receive praise can change learned behaviour.
  • Practice giving compliments. Make them honest so you don’t feel too phony. It’s bound to feel a little forced if you’re not used to doing this, so do make sure you can be honest in what you choose to compliment. Think about the response you would prefer and then give that response next time someone compliments you.
  • Giving and receiving compliments is easier with high self-esteem. But like all behaviours that interact with self-esteem, compliments are both cause and effect. That is, high self-esteem makes it easier to give and receive compliments, AND giving and receiving compliments supports higher self-esteem.

You may or not know what specifically has caused your feelings of low self-esteem. A course of hypnoanalysis or counselling can help you to find out why you have these negative thoughts and feelings about yourself and enable you to change your negative beliefs so that you replace them with ones that are more beneficial for you.

Overcoming low self-esteem and increasing your confidence is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

If you would like more information on how Hypnotherapy or Counselling can benefit you, please contact

Angela Winterton Dip.Hyp, MHS, GQHP,GHR reg., NRH, Dip.CP,MCS Acc, Dip.SMC

Clinical Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist, Aspired Therapies