Why Can’t We Take a Compliment?
Your boss commends your work; you say it was luck. A friend raves about your hair, you say, ‘You must mean my moustache’. Amber Madison gets to the bottom of our tendency to reject praise.
Picture this. Guy A tells Guy B: “Dude, kick-ass presentation”. Dude B: “Thanks, bro. It was pretty cool, right?” End scene. Between two women, it’s a different, more complicated story. For most of us, accepting kudos is akin to swallowing a goldfish—we just can’t do it. Take the popular Inside Amy Schumer sketch ‘Compliments’ (just YouTube it!). In it, a group of women reject each other’s kind words with increasing hilarity (“Look at your cute little dress!” “Little? I’m like a Size 100 now.”) When one responds with a simple “Thank you!” it so upsets their universe, that they lose their sh*t and turn homicidal. One woman even lights herself on fire. We all get it: rejecting compliments is ridiculous (and funny!), and yet we can’t seem to help ourselves.
But our complicated relationship with praise isn’t biological. It isn’t linked to our vaginas or menstrual cycles. No, it’s a habit we pick up in school. “As girls, we learn we’re supposed to stick together,” says Carol Gilligan, Ph.D., author of In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory And Women’s Development. “You pay a price when you stand out.” There’s a sense of safety in being average—it makes you a part of the pack. Get a compliment and suddenly you’re on a pedestal—it separates you from other girls and threatens the social dynamic. Verbally accept the compliment? Well, Miss Thang, you must think you’re worthy of such placement. (Remember in Mean Girls when Regina George tells Cady Heron that she’s pretty? Exactly.) By attacking praise and neutralising it, we show humility and, most important, solidarity with the group. After a while, our polite self-loathing becomes so deeply ingrained, that our response becomes automatic. “We know how our conversations are meant to go,” Gilligan says. “You’re supposed to say, ‘My hair looks awful today’, then the other person is supposed to say, ‘No, your hair is great’. It’s a scripted conversation.” And, quite frankly, it’s effing boring.
Acknowledging things about yourself that are positive doesn’t mean you’re stuck up. Just think of how many major issues we can address when we stop wasting our time deflecting kind words. The next time someone pays you a compliment, challenge yourself to give a heartfelt thank-you and move on. Sure, being self-assured may be a little scary at first. But we promise, no one will catch fire.
“YOU’RE, LIKE, REALLY
PRETTY.” “SO YOU AGREE... YOU THINK YOU’RE REALLY PRETTY.”
Rachel McAdams as Regina George and Lindsay Lohan as
Cady Heron in Mean Girls.