When was the last time you let a compliment in? Like really in?
If you thought, “I can’t remember” or “that’s funny” – you’re in good company. It’s common to feel awkward and self-conscious when people tell you to be proud of yourself. In a study of more than 400 people, nearly 70% of people associated feelings of embarrassment or discomfort with recognition or receiving a compliment. You may even go as far as downplaying yourself to demonstrate that you’re not arrogant in the area you’re getting praised for.
Why You Feel Embarrassed When Someone Tells You To Be Proud Of Yourself
In the HBR article “Do Compliments Make You Cringe? Here’s Why,” Denise Marigold, associate professor of social development at the University of Waterloo, Canada, explains this experience this way: “People may divert praise as a way of protecting from future failure, disappointment, or rejection from others. The fear is that if I allow myself to let in a compliment, and feel good about it, and end up disappointing others or myself in the future, I risk taking a bigger bite out of my self-esteem.”
And the person who does the complimenting has this exact same struggle. When people tell you to be proud of yourself, what they’re really saying is that they’re grateful to share space with you and they look up to you in this moment. They want to give you a boost that will help you keep going – because you’ve impacted them positively and want that to continue.
A Compliment Provides Your Inner Critic With a New Perspective
A kind word from someone else offers a different perspective, and says in the subtext…
“Hey, maybe there is a different standard by which you could measure your accomplishments. It seems like the standard you’ve set is too high, isn’t working, or isn’t accurate, or is broken in some critical but invisible way, because that standard makes you feel shocked and surprised when I compliment you. To me, you’re doing really well!”
To anyone else who isn’t you (or your inner critic), it’s perfectly obvious to them that you are accomplishing things, that you are living a life of meaning, that you are contributing, that you are putting in the work, and that you are seeking to make things better – even in some small way.
The standard that complimenting friend or peer uses is based objectively on what they’re seeing you contribute, not subjectively on what you think you should have been contributing or in comparison to some impossible standard or some karmic debt you feel you owe.
When they say be “proud of yourself,” what they really mean is, let’s all be proud of ourselves a little bit more than we have been. We could all use a little more kindness.
Maybe this way, we can start to recognize, accept and enjoy knowing that we’re better than we think we are. We’ve achieved more than we think we have. We offer more value than we think we do.
Those are things well worth feeling proud of!
Compliments Are Not About You – They’re About the Giver
People who tell you to be proud of yourself are giving you a gift in the form of a compliment. When you downplay it by using self-deprecating humor, you’re essentially telling them, “you’re wrong.”
Resist the urge to disagree with or diminish their experience, and also recognize that it is their experience.
Practice receiving the compliment just the way you’d want someone else to receive a compliment from you: with a thoughtful and genuine ”thank you.” If you have a particularly established practice of compliment dismissal, it will feel strange at first. Keep trying. You could say something like “Ya know, I appreciate that. I’m going to let that in. Thank you,” and end with a smile.
You did it! I’m proud of you!
Lindsey Lathrop is a Certified Coach, Speaker and creator of Promote Yourself Professionally, helping you build career credibility to land your next raise, great job, or promotion.