Why is it so hard to accept a compliment?

Recently, a patient came in for her yearly Well-Woman exam and complimented me saying “Wow, Dr. Hoppe, you’re looking great.  So trim and fit.”  I barely listened to the compliment but rather shunned it because it made me a bit uncomfortable – I still have a good 5-10 pounds to lose (doesn’t every woman?) and felt that I really didn’t look that good.

Who was I to think that I am attractive, healthy and confident?  As a doctor, coach and mentor, I rigorously encourage my patients to have high self-esteem, practice self-love, and savor the joys that come their way.  One of these joys is a compliment – both for the giver and the receiver.  It builds trust and connection – studies have shown that even brain neurotransmitters – like serotonin and dopamine are released - which make us feel happy, as well as oxytocin, the bonding hormone.

So why the discomfort with my own ability to acknowledge a compliment!  Two reasons come to mind.  The first reason is a myth that we grew up with – that is you’re not humble, you are conceited and “full of yourself”.  Another possible reason is fear of failure or disappointment - what if I can’t live up to this expectation in the future?

These are some crazy thoughts but we all have them!  As you can see, I struggle with them too - telling myself that I’m not worthy of praise unless I’ve “earned” it through hard work.  This stems from my German heritage where work was paramount above all.   During my upbringing, compliments were far and few between.  Excelling at something was somewhat of a given - of course, you should be able to do that, rather than “Wow, what an accomplishment!”

What would it take to make this shift and change your response?

To simply say, “Thank you.” Or “I really appreciate that.”?  It would take patience and concerted effort for us to really listen to how we are speaking to ourselves.  How many negative thoughts are you saying every day?  “I’m not good enough…I’m not smart enough…I’m not thin enough.”, etc?

Recognizing these negative statements and replacing them with positive mantras is the first step.

“I am good enough and deserve to be happy.  I am smart enough and can go for that dream.  I love my body and am treating it like a palace.”

February is the month of love – let’s start with loving ourselves.  Next time someone compliments you, simply smile and say “Thank you!”   That’s what I'm going to do moving forward!

Please join me in this positive mind-set shift as we begin to fully appreciate all that we are and can become. Share some of your thoughts below of how you changed them from negative to positive ones.

-In health and happiness

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