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From Cringe to Confidence: How to Receive the Full Benefits of Compliments

  • 10 min read

A long time ago, one of my best friends told me “You should write a blog post about receiving compliments.”

So I said “Great idea! I’ll do that!”. And then I never did it ?

Just like me at the time, you’re probably wondering what I could  write about it that you don’t already know.

It’s simple right? You just say “Thanks” and enjoy the dopamine spike. What else is there to be said or done?

But ever since that moment, I started to pay more attention to how we usually deal with them. And I have to admit, the guy had a point.

Compliments That Make You Feel Awkward

One night, I was going out with someone who’s sort of a mentor figure to me, and we ran into a buddy of his. After introducing us to each other, he put his arm around my shoulder and told him “You will love Pepijn! He has an extremely good heart.”

His friend turned to me and said “Is it true? I think I can see it in your eyes.”

Before I even stopped to think, I replied “A good heart? Oh yes, I’m in great cardiovascular shape.  I can walk for miles without getting tired.”

I thought it was a good joke, but my friend took me aside and said “Dude,  stop this. I’m giving you an awesome compliment in front of other people. You gotta own that shit.”

This made me think for a moment. Why did I do that?

I told him I had never realized it before, but sometimes people’s compliments make me uncomfortable.

Sometimes I play a gig I’m not really happy about. Then afterwards an (often drunk) audience member comes up to me and says something like“You are one of the best bands I’ve ever seen in my life, man. That was amazing.” I always politely thank them because I know I should be grateful people even like our music. But usually it doesn’t stop at that. They keep going. “No really… You guys really blew my mind.” “I’m not saying this to butter you up or anything, I absolutely loved your songs.”  It goes on like that until at some point I run out of ways to say thank you and it becomes kind of awkward.

A similar thing used to happen when women contacted me on Facebook and tried to pick me up.  Directness impresses the hell out of me, so at first I usually liked it. But once I felt as if they put me on a pedestal and kept sending me over the top compliments long after I stopped responding, it made me feel uncomfortable.

“And why is it that they make you uncomfortable?” my friend asked.

“…Because in both these situations, they talk to me as if I’m this amazing, extraordinary, special snow flake. While in fact I’m just a regular person like them. With a whole bunch of flaws. And I still have a lot to learn that they probably already know. Why can’t they see that?”

“You’re looking at this the wrong way.” , he said.

“Why can’t you see the things that they see in you? What if the way they look at you is much closer to who you really are, and you’re the one who can’t see it?”

Experiencing the Other Side

I liked my friend’s perspective on this. It sounded like a cool “Positive mental trick” to play on yourself. But that didn’t make it true, I thought.

Until I noticed something.

When I’m with a woman I like, I sometimes have these moments where I fall silent. Where I’m just in awe of her. Admiring all the pretty little details on her face. The shape of her body. The little movements and gestures that are unique to her. The sound of her voice.  The way she treats people. The small jokes she makes that are totally unlike mine.  Knowing that there’s a much larger part of her that exists in her head. And that I’ll never get to completely unravel that mystery.

It’s beautiful to witness a person like that.  And when you’re looking at someone in so much detail, you experience their true beauty. So you just want them to know it. But more often than not, when you try to tell someone how impressive they are, they tend to ignore or reject the compliment.

They’ll say “That’s not true.” Or “You really think so? My hair and skin look unhealthy today.”

You’ve probably been in that situation before, right?

You really wanted to make someone see how amazing they were. But the message didn’t get through.

And then maybe, just like me, you thought:

“If only for one minute, she could crawl into my head and look at herself through my eyes. Then she could see how beautiful she really is.”

Well, what does that prove?

That my friend was right. His advice wasn’t just some positive psychology. Just like you can sometimes see how great someone else is, even when they don’t realize it, other people see the truth of how amazing you are. Even when you are still blind to it.

Every time someone gives you a genuine compliment and you think they’re exaggerating, they are simply in the same situation you are when someone you love doesn’t seem to notice their own beauty.

Unopened Gifts

I started observing what happens when people around me receive compliments, and I found that most of the time, people do the exact same thing I did.

We thank them, but then we brush off the compliment. Try to act modest. Joke about it. Say it’s not true. Or view them as nothing more than a polite comment.

Most of us constantly minimize or reject the compliments we receive for all kinds of reasons:

• We’re not used to receiving them yet

• We want to appear humble.  Definitely not arrogant

• We don’t trust them to be true or think the person wants something from us.

But most importantly: We don’t believe they are true. We think it’s a nice friendly gesture and appreciate that.  But deep down we believe that the other person is wrong about us.  That they don’t know us well enough to know we’re not that great.

If you look at compliments as gifts (which they are), we always say thank you for the gift and accept it.  But we never open the box to look what’s in there.

You may sometimes feel annoyed when people put you on a pedestal or won’t stop repeating the same compliments. But the thing is, you should be grateful. These people are giving you a second chance.  And another.  And another. Because they can feel it. They can feel that even though you thanked them for the gift they gave you, you didn’t open it. And they want nothing more than for you than to finally open it. discover what’s inside the gift of their compliment.

What’s In the Gift?

A couple of months after the story from the start of this article, a girl I hadn’t seen in a long time walked up to me and said: “Pepijn. Your ideas are a little weird sometimes. So I can understand that they piss some people off. But the best advertisement for the fact that they are valuable is you, yourself. Look at you. You look amazing.  So much better than you did years ago. They have clearly worked for you so far.”

I was about to make the same mistake again and brush it off, downplay it, or say thanks and move on. But then I stopped myself. Gave her a warm big hug and focused on really opening my heart to what she said and letting that sink in.  And it dawned that despite the fact that I still have a lot of shit to get together, I should remind myself more often about everything I already love about myself.

And usually, these kinds of changes in how you treat yourself  are the gift that’s hidden in a genuine compliment.

They have the power to heal you and bring you closer to yourself.  When, instead of brushing them off with a quick thank you, you take a couple of minutes to really open your heart and let them sink in, compliments can point you to hidden parts of yourself that you’re not giving enough love. Raising your self-esteem just a little more every time you receive them.

In a way, a compliment is the opposite of an insult.

When you ignore insults, they’re just words coming out of someone’s mouth.  But when you take them personally, you can feel the hurt those words are filled with.  You open the gift, and it poisons you.

In the same way, compliments are just words unless we really choose to take them personally and feel the love they are filled with.

The bittersweet irony about this is that we usually see compliments as friendly comments, but jump on every opportunity to take people’s insults personally.

But why not downplay the insults, and start taking compliments as personally as you can?

Remind yourself that even though it may always look at yourself like that, what the other person’s sharing is important.

Stop telling yourself what they’re saying is not true.  Stop brushing them off with a quick thank you.

No matter what you say or think about yourself, you made someone feel that way about you.  And you made them care enough to tell you.  There is no denying that fact.

Accept it. Feel it.  Take a minute to love yourself for the fact that you were able to made the other person feel that way.  Then focus on how much you love the other person for telling you.

You are loved.

Gifts Ungiven

Ever since I started to do an effort to really feel in my heart every compliment I receive, I started to notice something else.

I walk through life thinking

• “Wow, it’s awesome that that one guy in Facebook is putting so much effort in his new restaurant, he’s doing a great job.”   

• “That cashier was unusually friendly and I really appreciated it.”   

• “This guy has an awesome jacket.”

• “That is one gorgeous looking stranger.”

Those are all compliments that popped up in my head but that I never bothered to speak.

Chances are that when you observe your own thoughts for a week, you’re thinking very similar things.

But a compliment has no value at all, unless you speak it.

It’s like buying awesome gifts for everyone you meet but then never giving them.

So I started to make it a point to always speak them.

Sometimes it feels a little weird at first.  When I write a positive review on some company’s Facebook page it seems like such an unnecessary thing to do. When I randomly tell my friends that I love them, I feel like a corny motherfucker.  When I tell some girl that I love the shape of her ear, it’s probably the weirdest compliment she’s received that month.

But you know what? If only one of those people opens up that gift and it makes them feel more loved, I wouldn’t want them to miss that feeling for the world ?

And I’d never want to die one day, only to realize that I still have a bunch of gifts lying around for my friends and family that they never got to open.

Don’t leave any gifts unopened.

Don’t leave any gifts ungiven.

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