Do you have trouble accepting compliments? I definitely did at one time. When someone would say something nice about me, I’d get bashful and downplay the aspect of my character or accomplishments they’d pointed out. For instance, if someone at work said “you did a great job on this project,” I’d say something that suggested I hadn’t really accomplished or contributed much, like “well, I’ve done this a lot before,” or “yeah, the research didn’t take as long as I expected.”
I did this because I’d feel a tension in my upper back and shoulders when people gave me compliments, and I wanted to get rid of that discomfort as quickly as possible. When I felt the sensation, I had the vague feeling that I’d done something wrong, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. For many years, I made no effort to understand why this feeling was coming up—I wasn’t even aware, in fact, that such understanding was possible—and I continued deflecting compliments whenever I could.
It wasn’t until a friend pointed out how uncomfortable I seemed to get when I received a compliment that I gave any thought to why that was happening. When my friend raised the issue, I tried to change the subject, as I didn’t even want to think about the sensation for fear of recreating it in my body. But my friend, out of love and concern for me, wouldn’t let me off the hook, and kept probing for the reasons why I felt the way I did.
When I focused my attention on the sensation that arose when I received compliments, I recalled a few times I’d felt it during my childhood. In each of these instances, I remembered, someone accused me of being selfish, or of failing to do enough to help others. I felt ashamed when others thought I was self-centered, and the tension that arose was the manifestation of that shame in my body. Somehow, it seemed, I associated getting compliments with being selfish.
Eventually, I understood the unconscious thought process driving my feelings of shame. It was as though, when someone gave me a compliment, they were cutting a slice from a pie and offering it to me. If I didn’t downplay the compliment, I was eating the slice. The imaginary pie was tasty and nourishing. The problem was that other people also wanted slices. If I accepted a piece, there would be less for others to eat, and I wasn’t any more deserving of pie than anyone else. Thus, it was selfish for me to simply accept a compliment—a piece of the pie—without deflecting or refusing it.
In short, I had what many self-help authors call a “scarcity mentality” regarding compliments. I saw others’ appreciation as a scarce—i.e., finite, limited, exhaustible—resource, and I thought I had to avoid accepting too much of it to make sure there was enough left over for others. Of course, this mentality had no relationship to reality. If I accepted a compliment, I wasn’t “taking” something that rightfully belonged to someone else, or depleting the Earth’s precious compliment supply. If anything, I was making others worse off by rejecting the positive things they said about me. Other people wanted me to feel good when they complimented me, and I was frustrating their desire with my habit of putting myself down.
These realizations helped me change my perspective on compliments from one of “scarcity” to one of “abundance.” I recognized that compliments are an abundant—indeed unlimited—resource, and there will always be enough of them to go around. With this new understanding, I stopped feeling the need to deflect or downplay compliments, and I simply thanked others when they’d say nice things about me. Today, when someone compliments me, I feel pleasant, warm sensations in my body—just as the person complimenting me intends.
Many of us—consciously or otherwise—have adopted a scarcity mentality when it comes to experiencing positive emotions. We feel guilty or ashamed, as though we’ve taken something that doesn’t belong to us or more than our fair share, and we deny ourselves permission to feel good. If you find yourself feeling this way, the most important step you can take is to become aware of the scarcity mentality that is driving your attitude. When you consciously recognize that you have that mentality, you’ll also begin to see how irrational—and almost laughable—it is. Finally, you’ll find that life is far more fulfilling when you learn to accept others’ appreciation of you at face value.
|Steve's Quest, the animated musical comedy, is coming soon. To stay updated, sign up via the show's Facebook page or follow the creator on Twitter.|