Breaking Down the Barrier to Accepting Compliments

By Kendra Miller

If it’s happened once, it’s happened a thousand times – you’re in a work meeting and are complimented on a job well done for a project. Except instead of thanking everyone for their kind words, you blush and slunk down behind your notes (or monitor in the age of Zoom). Or maybe you run into an old friend at the supermarket who compliments your outfit. “This old thing?” you might say as you avoid eye contact and try to steer the conversation elsewhere. What is it that causes us to shy away from compliments? 

An article published by Psychology Today links aversion to compliments to low self-esteem. For many individuals, their minds can’t reconcile the notion of acclaim or praise from another person with their own notions of low self-worth. 

Whatever the reason for struggling with compliments, let’s make 2022 the year we break the cycle of shying away from praise. Here’s a couple of practical tips to help us get there. 


Start by becoming comfortable with praising yourself as part of accepting praise from others. Common Language for Psychotherapy Procedures, a training guide for therapists, suggests beginning this training of self praise by converting people’s comments into relevant praise for themselves. Additionally, each time you accomplish something, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. 


A 2014 Entrepreneur article says it’s simple, it’s powerful, and it’s probably the best thing you can say when given a compliment. It serves as a humble response so you don’t have to worry about coming across as if you’re “tooting your own horn,” but it conveys gratitude to the giver. If you are not one to take praise, you can gladly accept it with a “thank you” and keep the conversation moving. 


A 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that people with low self-esteem struggle to accept compliments because they doubt their sincerity. They may deflect the compliment or brush it off as no big deal. Allow the giver to express their gratitude for you without interrupting or saying it was nothing. 


While it may seem that wanting to appear gracious and humble is what turned us off from compliments in the first place, we can focus our gratitude in such a way that it will make receiving compliments easier. U.K. group Evolving Minds says paying special attention to gratitude for your successes and achievements as well as the kindness of others can help you better receive kindness. 

For many of us, it is far easier to give compliments than to receive them. Whatever the root cause of this praise avoidance, with a few simple actions of recognizing our own achievements and the kindness of others, we can learn to accept compliments. 

Don’t feel bad for saying thank you! It serves as a humble response and conveys gratitude to the giver.


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