“Thank You, It’s True!” The Power of Accepting a Compliment

Learning to accept, instead of deflect, compliments can positively alter your relationship to yourself and others.

I can recall, in surprising detail, an instance in which a dear friend of mine tried to compliment me. It was, by most accounts, a typical run-of-the-mill sentiment echoing something to the effect of “you’re so kind.”

This friend is one whom I’d describe as being fiercely authentic- so it follows that she doesn’t dish out compliments for the sake of merely doing so. There exists in her speech a sense of presence, truth…a sort of wholeness if you will. It was, I believe, for this reason that I so distinctly remember and now understand my reaction: like so many of us do when confronted with such authenticity, I began to deflect.

Not sure what I mean? Let me offer you an example:

“You look absolutely beautiful!”

“What? Really? Me? Nooooo…but YOU. You’re amaaaazing!”

The Truth of Habitual Deflection

Deflecting a compliment is often easier to recognize when we aren’t the ones doing it. Habit after all, is (at least according to WikiPedia) “…a routine behavior that tends to occur subconsciously”. After a time, we (often) don’t even realize that we’re doing it.

The instance to which I alluded was particularly impactful for me because, as I began to deflect, my friend called me out on my shit. Right then and there. At that time, I lacked the awareness to recognize my habit, one that was indicative of a lack of self-love and subsequent refusal to admit that I really am a kind person.

This is not a shortcoming that I alone possess. It can be tremendously difficult to recognize and accept the beautiful parts of ourselves. Exceptionally so. This is not unique to western societal conditioning. Having come from a multi-national family, I’ve recognized that excessive humility is common and even encouraged in many eastern cultures.

Pursuits of perfection, the “I am not enough” story that so many of us tell ourselves, and a myriad of other influences perpetuate this widespread occurrence. In fact, whenever I do accept a compliment (which is, thankfully, far more frequent these days) I’m often met with stupefied expressions because of the expectation of an automated, deflective response.

No matter one’s degree of presence or practiced self awareness, we have all given and received habitual responses. For instance, the “hi how are you good how are you” preface inherent to workplace interactions and restaurant lines is a dialogue often concludes before you even realize you’re already telling the person facing you that you want a burrito with brown rice and extra chicken… but I digress.

“Thank You, It’s True!”

The ruthless illumination of my automated deflection begot my friend’s suggestion that I adopt a new practice, one that is delightedly simple. It’s composed of just four simple, beautiful words:

Thank you, it’s true”.

Implementing this elementary phrase has fundamentally altered my relationship to myself and to those mundane burrito orders. It has opened my eyes to self-hating tendencies, allowing me to appreciate and love myself in a new way.

As I initially became aware of my habit, I found it to be infuriating. Whenever I complimented someone and was met with resistance or denial, I was instantly triggered; such reaction to the responses of others tends to be indicative of something I need to take a look at.

Our judgments or feelings towards others often serve to reflect back to us parts of ourselves that we otherwise wouldn’t see. For instance, my anger at the deflection of these compliment-ees indicated to me that I was, in truth, just angry with myself and my habitual self-deprecation. Frustrated at consistently putting myself down and refusing to consider the parts of myself that I loved. This almost immediately changed when I put into practice those 4 magical words.

Taking the time to accept compliments is something that I now cannot imagine not doing (apologies for the double-negative). Bringing this consciousness into everyday situations has brightened my life; I’ve begun to see myself as others see me, which is more-often-than-not a view that encompasses my beauty, offering a much-welcomed contrast to the long-held tunnel-vision towards my imperfections.

What’s more, accepting the sentiments of others also makes them feel better about loving their own flaws and acknowledging their wonder, both internally and otherwise. This seems like an apt place to quote Gandhi, so here goes nothing: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Putting the Practice into Practice

All jokes aside, I urge you to give this a try.

Next time someone compliments you, take a breathe. Settle into the moment, into the discomfort that you’ll likely feel if this is an alien thought for you.

Bask in the realization that this compliment is truth for the person giving it to you. Allow for the possibility that, just maybe, they have no ulterior motive. Nothing to gain.

Then look this person in the eye. Thank them. You needn’t reciprocate with a forced “so are you” (which I’d equate to giving a gift for the sake of giving a gift). Replace obligation with sincerity.

At another time, perhaps even only several heartbeats later, a compliment may emerge and, by all means, fire away. But the compliments you are given are yours to receive. To negate or to deflect is to call your loved one a liar, whilst subconsciously and simultaneously telling yourself that you are not worthy.

Fortunately, this habit can, like all others, be changed.

We are all of our parts. There cannot be light, after all, without darkness. Let us celebrate this light in spite of our imperfections, and love and appreciate ourselves as we so frequently do one another.