How to accept and enjoy a compliment

There’s nothing wrong with accepting a compliment – or enjoying the feeling it gives you. Let’s take a look at the art of responding well to a compliment and the importance of self-esteem.

WORDS: Stephanie Lam

Why it’s rude to reject a compliment

Do you think, these days, that you’re pretty good at taking a compliment? Maybe, when someone praised you in the past, you’d contradict them. ‘Oh, but it was easy,’ you’d say, or ‘Thanks, but I should have done better.’

But, since then, you’ve learned that rejecting a compliment isn’t polite. It’s equivalent to telling someone that their opinion is invalid, and that’s ruder than being gracious about what they think. Instead, you now say: ‘Really? Thank you,’ and sit on your desire to tell them it only took you five minutes / you bought half the ingredients online / there’s so much wrong with it, you wish you’d never begun.

Why we often psychologically resist compliments

Not contradicting a compliment should be enough. But it’s not, because, despite the words that emerge from your mouth, internally you resist its effect. And that resistance is epitomised by the phrase: ‘Don’t let it go to your head.’ This is an ingrained warning. To be big-headed, arrogant, entitled – to believe your own hype – is a social no-no. And, as you’ve probably discovered, it’s hard to warm to someone who thinks that whatever you do, they do it better.

There’s not only childhood programming at work here. It’s also the brain’s prioritising of danger signals to keep you safe from rejection by your social group. It’s why you’ll think one decades-old piece of criticism is worth a thousand kind words. But not letting in applause isn’t the same as a prevention against arrogance. If you believe that nice people don’t think they’re better than others, it’s hard to believe another’s praise, even as you’re pretending you do.

Yet your ability will impress someone who wants to convey their admiration. Whether your talent is easily won or hard- fought, it’s vital to let a compliment go to your heart – and your head. You’ve done something that has meaning for others – and they’ve shared the sensation with you. That alone is priceless. And in times of strife and hardship, it’s important to guard every tiny flame.

So, open your heart to applause, while not being reliant upon it for your self-esteem. Your work has merit – if others enjoy it, too, so much the better. But you’re valid in and of yourself, whatever others think. So, even if your spark goes unnoticed, take the time to watch your candle flicker, and praise yourself for the courage to light a flame.

How to absorb the benefits of a compliment

Recognise the temptation to reject praise, whether that’s directly to others or internally (dismissing it mentally, even as you give thanks).

Notice any discomfort you feel – whoever applauds you, whatever their expertise.

Use another’s sunny words to create an open space in your heart. Open an internal door to receiving this compliment as part of your due.

Alchemise admiration into positive affirmations. For example: ‘My abilities and skills are wonderful.’

Meanwhile, don’t rely on the feedback from others to bolster your self-esteem. Learn to acknowledge and take pleasure in your talents, no matter what others think.


You can read more articles about mental wellbeing and self-esteem in the latest issue of Breathe magazine.