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Trouble Accepting Compliments

There’s a curious paradox that often crops up in the personalities of some disregulated eaters (and plenty of “normal” eaters as well) that’s worth taking a look at: Even though you absolutely crave positive strokes, you also have difficulty accepting compliments and praise. A curious dilemma which needs straightening out for good mental health.

For example, you tell a friend how you stood up for yourself when your boss started to chew you out, and she responds something like, “That’s awesome how you didn’t let him put you down. You’re really doing a great job not letting people get away with dissing you.” And you reply, “Well, I probably should have said something earlier and I wish I’d been more forceful. I’m really not all that assertive.”

Sound familiar? Someone is trying to bolster your ego and you brush them off. Maybe you don’t disqualify everything they say; you just minimize your achievement or focus on what you didn’t do or do as well as you wish you’d done. You might not realize how this behavior mystifies other people because they sense your need/desire for praise and positive reinforcement, but come away from these interactions wondering if they said something wrong because their compliment didn’t seem to make you all that happy.

If you’re a “nice” girl or guy, this kind of response is probably part and parcel of your patter and you may not notice that you do this push-pull thing with people. The root of the problem is what you feel you deserve, how you feel about compliments and praise, and your unrealistic expectations of yourself. My guess is that deep down you don’t feel you deserve to be recognized or applauded for your deeds, that you crave compliments while they also make you wildly uncomfortable, and that your expectations for yourself vacillate between near perfect and perfect, with anything less being unacceptable.

Another guess is that you’re conflicted about what you want to hear from folks. If so, acknowledge this fact and start wondering how this came about. You know I’m going to say to sift through your childhood for chapter one of this story, don’t you? Once you’ve figured out how contradictory feelings about praise began, think about how to resolve them. At the very least, stop yourself before you go on and on about why you don’t deserve the kind words people give you. You can simply say thank you whenever you receive a compliment. And add, “How nice of you to say that!” which makes compliment-givers feel wise and generous and let’s them know that you appreciate what they’ve said. Then don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for a job well done!