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.

Cosmopolitan (India) - - CONTENTS -

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.





Rachel McA­dams as Regina Ge­orge and Lind­say Lo­han as

Cady Heron in Mean Girls.

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