Why can’t we just accept a compliment?

It seems giving and accepting a simple, well-meaning compliment is fraught with danger

why can't we accept a compliment

Why is it so?

I’m sure you agree that it can feel really good to receive a compliment. It’s been proven somewhere that getting a sincere compliment gives us a real boost, and it’s just as good a feeling for the person giving the compliment.  Compliments really are a great way to spread happiness, as long as they are sincere. 

The more you compliment, it’s been said,  the better you feel.

But getting it right can be hard – you don’t want to come across as flirtatious or sucking up or insincere.  It can also depend on the headspace of the person as to how the compliment is accepted – or not – as the case may be!  It can be a very fraught situation indeed.

Here are some real examples –

1: You’re looking well!

If you want to tell someone they look well, why can’t you just say so?  Well you can, but more than likely the recipient will take it that you are saying something entirely different!!

Hidden thinking: Apparently telling someone they ‘look well or good’ is code for DON’T YOU KNOW YOU’VE PUT ON WEIGHT?  Regardless of the fact they’ve recently suffered a great loss, have been away on a rejuvenating holiday and come home looking refreshed – and are looking well.  Be warned the recipient may just take it a different way.

Response: We must learn to say a simple thank you and accept the nice words as just that – a nice, reassuring, well-meaning and positive comment. They are not telling us we have put on weight, they are saying we look refreshed, happier, comfortable in our skin and maybe more content than the last time they saw us.

2: Your hair looks lovely today.

Hidden thinking: What’s wrong with my hair every other day?  Has it been looking messy, dirty, tired or unflattering of late??

Response: They are not telling us our hair has been looking dreadful, but today they’ve just noticed how nice it looks and decided to tell us so. We should learn to say a simple thank you.

3: I love the back of your hair

(especially after a recent haircut or change of style)

Hidden thinking: What’s wrong with the FRONT of my hair? I’d rather my face and the front of my hair looks good than the back, as it’s the part I see the most.  I can’t even see the back, so I don’t care that much about it.

Response: They are trying to help us out by telling us the back of our hair is sitting well, purely because they know we can’t see it ourselves, unless we were to contort ourselves in various mirrors. A simple thank you for the comment is all that is required.

You have your own blog? Your life must be all kinds of fascinating.
You have your own blog?

4: You look like you’ve lost weight.

Hidden meaning: This can be a very sore point.  You’ve either lost weight recently because you’ve been trying to, in which case you accept the compliment with a smile or you’re sick and have lost weight unintentionally. Whichever scenario suits you, dictates your response.  On the other hand, if you haven’t lost weight but they think you have lost a few kilos, are they actually trying to say you need to lose weight?  It’s a fraught situation and one you’re best to steer clear of. Unless you know the person has actively been trying to lose weight, don’t go there!

The other one that is a definite no-go zone is where you congratulate someone for being pregnant, when in fact they have actually just put on weight! Or they were pregnant and have recently had the baby.  OOPS, it happens far too often!!

Response: We must learn to say a simple thank you and move on.  It really is no-one else’s business!

Paying someone a sincere compliment can make you feel good, as well as the receiver.

It would be a sad old world if we stopped giving compliments, so my suggestion is that we stop overthinking things and just accept the kind and well-meaning comments for what they are.

In my opinion compliments aren’t generally patronising or sleazy, unless of course they’re said in a way that makes it so.

What are your thoughts?

Have you an example of giving or receiving of compliments?  What are your thoughts on this subject?

“But I’d rather look like you than be pretty,” she told Anne sincerely.

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

I did some in-depth research on a wet and miserable indoors-y day and came up with these helpful hints.

I found this interesting article about the 10 Worst compliments you can giveI particularly like #5 on the list about the backhanded compliment. Attaching a qualifier to the end of your compliment actually turns it into an insult.

You look good for your age.

You carry your weight well.

Have you ever been given a compliment that made you feel worse instead of better? The most typical form of this compliment goes something like this: “Nice hairdo! It looks a lot better than it used to.” In other words, the person has, in a subtle way, put down your previous hairstyle, but cloaked it as a compliment. Realise that when you give these types of compliments, you are not helping anyone. They are usually offered to make the giver feel good and the receiver feels bad. Instead of cutting other people down, work on building your self-confidence so that you can offer genuine words of praise.

How to give a compliment

  • Find something you genuinely like about the person
  • Compliment someone’s point of pride
  • Say something that isn’t obvious
  • Don’t compliment everyone the same exact way
  • Focus on achievements more than physical traits
  • Compliment generously, but not excessively

Some of the compliments in this article are a bit cringeworthy but I must say I’d love someone to tell me that I’m more fun than bubble wrap!  

Telling someone they smell nice is a bit off I must admit.  When I worked in a jail of men aged from 18-100, we were warned not to wear heavy perfume – you don’t know how creepy getting told you smell nice by an inmate is until it happens.

Some tips on how to accept a compliment

  • Do say ‘thank you’.
  • Be mindful of your nonverbal behaviour.
  • Don’t deny or downplay the compliment.
  • Don’t question or insult the person giving you the compliment.
  • Don’t milk the compliment.

I had to learn to dismiss people who would criticise me based on nothing, but I also had to learn not to believe the people who would compliment me and think I was great based on nothing. And that led me to have a very, very strong sense of myself and my strengths. Justin Trudeau

It’s very hard

I have lots of questions.

Is it harder to accept compliments as we get older do you think?

Is it more problematic these days?

I also worry about telling babies and children how beautiful or cute or gorgeous they are – but shouldn’t we be looking at their achievements as well. Girls can be clever as well as pretty, as can boys.  See it’s all fraught when we overthink it.

I know I often find it hard to accept a compliment.  I want to dismiss the compliment as I don’t always believe it,  or I don’t want to appear arrogant by accepting what’s being said about me.  My daughters often accuse me of fishing for compliments, so I’m afraid I just can’t get it right.

Is that just my age or my insecurity talking?

I’d enjoy hearing any compliments gone wrong stories you may have, or any suggestions on how to accept a compliment, so feel free to leave me a comment below.

Deb xx

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72 Replies to “Why can’t we just accept a compliment?”

    1. Thank you Donna, I’m glad you also think it’s a topic worthy of discussion. I enjoyed writing my thoughts on the subject and it all started from a comment my mother made. I will definitely come to Canada, just to meet you and Justin! Compliment graciously accepted 🙂


  1. Oh it’s so hard to accept a compliment, but so important to be a gracious recipient. The problem I think is that then one feels the need to compliment in return and that can therefore come across as insincere! Arghhhh! Katie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s good that you have taken up this issue, Debbie…..judging between genuine and exaggerated compliments is an art that needs to be mastered, but in both cases the graceful thing is to acknowledge the same and move on….nice write up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh yes “fraught with danger” is apt. Loved the – rather be like you than pretty – lol… made me smile there.
    Yes a backhanded compliment won’t get someone far – but it’s working on looking at the good – even the
    giver of such said compliments. Non-flattery being the thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a good topic Deb! I’ve always found it hard to accept compliments, but have now learnt, by saying a simple Thank you with a smile. Why is it difficult though? I have no idea! Like Donna, I too love Justin Trudeau’s quote. I do like to give compliments though, it’s not too difficult to make someone smile 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think many of us do the sane thing Rachael but it is a but disrespectful to the compliment giver isn’t it? I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, you’re definitely not alone in being embarrassed 😊


  5. I kind of think of backhanded compliments when some strangers sees me out and says ‘well done!’ for nothing. Like for what, getting out of bed? And this is something else, but when people tell me my kid is beautiful first, before anything. No, smart first. And related to that, when people say she’s beautiful but looks nothing like me. She does, though.

    Favorite compliments, ever:

    You’re a good mother
    You write well
    You have the best laugh.

    I like to point out good things that people might not notice about themselves. And if I say I like you better than coffee, you’re my best friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good one Lorna, I agree about those sorts of back handed compliments.I think it’s important to tell kids they’re smart too, rather than focus on their looks (even if they are beautiful). I think being told you’re a good mother is one of the best things to say. Thanks for joining in.


  6. An important topic, Deb. One worth repeating often. I believe learning to accept a compliment gracefully takes practice and whoever actually teaches us this? Instead we are taught to be self effacing, at best. Receiving the good stuff takes practice. Hearing it, accepting it, and believing it is all too rare. Let’s all help each other practice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with you Janet and appreciate your thoughtful comment on the topic. I wondered if it would be of interest as I was writing it but am pleased to see it’s been so well received. Maybe we all need to remind ourselves of these things every now and again.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Deb,
    Compliments have always made me uncomfortable. Even if I was sure they were sincere if I just accepted them I wondered if I was being conceited or self-centers. In the past few years I have definitely tried to accept them more graciously and assume good intent on the part of the giver.
    Interesting topic…
    And, I love your blog and look forward to each post. (sincere compliment 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Someone once told my mother: “Myrna, you look so nice today I almost didn’t recognize you.” Seriously! Here in New York City, when someone compliments you on an article of clothing, the response is invariably to reply “I got it on sale at Bloomingdale’s/Saks/Barney’s for just X amount!” Honest. They ALWAYS tell you how very little it cost. I have learned from this. I just say “thank you”.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I think a lot of us have trouble accepting compliments because of our insecurities. As I’ve gotten older and believe in myself a little more, I’m learning to graciously accept a sincere compliment, and brush off the ones that aren’t. Thanks Deb, for another insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Sue, it’s a lesson we all have to learn at some stage. I’m getting better at it these days but it is still hard at times. When it’s a sincere compliment it’s easier to accept I think. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject 🙂


  10. You’re the best sister ever!

    Great post. I’ve learnt to be gracious and just say ‘thank you. That’s very sweet of you’. I’ve learnt it’s not good to be too self-effacing as you spend too much time swatting the compliment away and that makes more of it than is required. That’s my view anyway.
    Great smile Deb!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for your kind comment little sister! I agree with your thoughts, and think a simple thank you is the best way to go. I do enjoy giving a compliment to see the resulting happiness. Always great to have your comment and support.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Well, there’s lots of comments so it must be an issue we women struggle with Deb. I dated a lovely young man when I was 18-19 and he used to compliment me regularly and I didn’t know how to handle it – I always blew it off and turned it around because I had no self-esteem at all. He stopped me one day and asked why I couldn’t accept being told something nice about myself and I told him I didn’t know what to say. His reply – “just say thank you” and that has stuck with me all my life. It fits well with what you say in your post – I think “thank you” is the simplest way to accept someone’s kind words without feeling like you’re preening or boasting. Great post (just say “thank you” 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m smiling as I say ‘thank you’ Leanne! I agree, I too have been surprised at the responses to this issue, it’s great to get such feedback and everyone sharing their thoughts so generously. I love your story and agree with you wholeheartedly. Thanks again for joining in the conversation.


  12. This is such a great discussion topic, Debbie. The way I look at it is that I don’t give compliments unless I really mean them. And I don’t keep repeating the same compliment to the same person. However, I dislike receiving compliments myself because I see it as putting me as the centre of attention, and I don’t like being in that position. Sure, I will say a simple ‘thank you’ but I will then move on as quickly as possible.
    Compliments are great, but I see myself as being more polite. So, for me, opening a door for somebody, or allowing somebody to pass me by first, is of far greater importance. It also makes me feel great when I know I’ve been polite to somebody, even if they do not say a ‘thank you’ in return.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great to have your thoughts on this topic Hugh. It’s funny how we all seem to shy away from wanting to be the centre of attention and that getting a compliment puts the focus on us. I like your idea of being polite and kind to others. Those sorts of actions also give me a great sense of satisfaction and pleasure. I’m really pleased with the response I’ve had to this post, it seems to be more of an issue than I first thought. I really appreciate your comment, so thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, you’re welcome, Debbie. Well written and thought-proking posts will always get great responses. The responses this post has generated show that everyone has read the post, rather than leave a comment pretending to have read it or just skipped through it. You’ve come up with a great subject and written about it in an engaging manner. For me, this is what blogging is supposed to be all about.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Sue, it’s been interesting to read everyone’s comments on this topic. I also feel I’m better at accepting compliments the older I get. I really enjoy giving them much more than getting them though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I can’t think of a particular offending “compliment” but I know I have received a few. I think most people have good intentions and the fact that they noticed at all says something. I hate when you have purposefully made a change or are feeling well put together and NO ONE NOTICES!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. LOL, I never found compliments about my weight to be offensive, but I have been working really hard to lose weight! Usually when people tell me, “You look well,” they mean that I look skinnier. 😉

    Two compliments are very awkward for me to receive. The first is, “You are an inspiration.” Generally this is in reference to my making it through the challenges I have faced. But it kind of creates a disconnect. What I hear is, “Wow. Crappy stuff happened to you, but I am glad it doesn’t happen to me.” When what we all really want to know is that we are not alone in our struggles.

    The other one is, “It takes a special person to do that.” This was always in reference to my former job or my daughter. I used to teach special education, and I ended my career on medical leave after some serious injuries. So hearing that “compliment” kind of says, “You weren’t special enough of a person to hack it.” It doesn’t take a special person to teach students with disabilties. It takes a dedicated person with sufficient support.

    My daughter has autism, and I’m never sure what to make of it when people say it takes a special person to be her parent. Really, what I’m hearing is that they don’t know her at all. She is seriously the easiest child in the world to raise. 😉


    1. I totally get your thoughts on the various types of compliments and really appreciate your sharing your observations. Sometimes people just don’t know what to say do they, and what they do say is better left unsaid.

      I agree it takes a dedicated person with sufficient support to teach those with disabilities. I taught in a prison for over 20 years and saw nearly every type of disability and was lucky enough to have great teachers in supportive roles. We made a real difference but others couldn’t always see the worth of it.

      You know your daughter best and it’s lovely to hear you say she’s the easiest child in the world, it means you’re doing a great job and love what you do.

      Thanks again for your honest and insightful comment and adding to this conversation. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Deb, this is a great article – full of details and and examples (and I sincerely mean this too)! I’ve thought a lot about compliments in the past because I was not good at giving them, and I was not good at receiving them (I’d blush like crazy and find myself at a loss of words). Why is “thank you” so difficult sometimes? I think in my case it was because I felt like I should say more than just “thank you” back, but a simple “thank you” is really perfect! I also find that blogging has been the perfect outlet to practice compliments. It’s easy to find different compliments on someone’s writing as there is so much to ponder as you read (content, style, prose, etc.). I find it much easier to give compliments in-person these days too, and I know that a simple “thank you” works well as a response when receiving a compliment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks to you too Erin! I agree blogging is a great way to practice both giving and receiving compliments. It can be hard to know the right thing to say but if we’re sincere I’m sure that comes across in both words and actions. It’s been so interesting to hear from so many others on this topic, we all seem to have similar issues with compliments, so in one way I’m glad to know I’m not alone 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. An excellent post. I, of course, agree with your point on complimenting little girls on their looks–this had a huge impact on me in my life and I try to focus on achievement or character, not looks. I think you’re right about those “hidden” things I might think when I hear a compliment in the “wrong” way. Anais Nin commented that we don’t experience the world as it is, we experience it as WE are. So if I am feeling insecure about something or just in general, I’m likely to misinterpret even the most innocent of comments. I’ve done it many times.
    Thank you for sharing helpful tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I don’t think it’s harder as we age, I just think we get less of them so it’s more noticable how poorly we accept them. I think in this country, women are taught not to acctept them well (for fear of being ‘up themselves’) so I have started correcting myself. If someone says ‘nice dress’ or whatever, my default is to launch into how it’s old, it was cheap or I’m too fat for it but wear it anyway. I’ll start up but I now cut myself off and say “Thank you. I love it” or it is nice or whatever. But for me it’s def a habit I need to break. And I’ve started correcting other women that do it. With a “No, yes, thanks!’ is the correct response.” Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Deb, I’m terrible at accepting a compliment! I am trying to improve though and just say a simple ‘thank you’ instead of brushing off the compliment. If someone takes the time to genuinely say something lovely about you, then appreciate it and accept it. A good reminder as I look at myself at the moment and think I really need a makeover! Have a great week. #lifethisweek

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sue, I think we’re all a bit funny about accepting compliments but I agree if someone has taken the time to comment the least we can do is accept it! Have a great week.


  19. I laughed so hard at this. These days I try so hard to just say “thank you” but my most dreaded one is the “You’ve lost weight…” or one I got a little while ago (after having not lost any) “you’ve lost weight, you must be happy with yourself…” the meaning, of course, being that there’s no way I could have been happy with myself if I hadn’t. I try not to compliment on looks these days, but when I do it’s genuine & not with a hidden message…at least I hope that’s the case!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know!!! The whole weight thing is a dreadful situation that rarely works well. I think you’re sensible on not complimenting on looks anymore and I try to be genuine in all my comments. My pet hate is people telling my (always skinny) husband that he’s lost weight when I’ve been trying to lose weight for ever and no-one seems game to say anything to me……argh
      Thanks for letting me know your thoughts and that I made you laugh, I’m so happy 🙂 Thank you x

      Liked by 1 person

  20. When my Aunt turned 70 I said to her “When I grow up I want to be my Aunty Robyn!” I was 50 myself at the time, lol! Aunty Robyn is so full of life, funny, kind and well known for always getting her words mixed up. Her response to my compliment was “Oh Sandra, that’s a lovely thing to say, but I’m afraid you don’t have a big enough mouth to be just like me because I always have both my feet in mine!” Now that’s a laugh out loud, huggable compliment if ever there was one. 😉

    I was nodding along to all the hidden thinking Deb! We sure do need to just practise saying ‘Thank you’ don’t we! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great laugh out loud compliment!! I’m happy to hear you could relate to my hidden thinking, it seems to be quite common for us. Yes a simple thank you and a smile is the perfect response 🙂


    1. What a delightful person you are to dish out compliments to complete strangers!! I can imagine the joy you give to people with your comments. I will sometimes get up the courage to comment on something if it really appeals to me but I’m maybe a bit more reserved. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post 🙂 . Thanks so much for joining me on this compliment journey!


  21. I am definitely getting better at accepting compliments and I have no qualms at all about giving them out! I think we can sometimes overthink things. I think the relationship between the giver/receiver also makes a difference and at the end of the day, although sometimes things can get lost in translation, a compliment is given to make you feel good and should be accepted with the sentiment in which it was given.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. A great topic and I found that when I was gaining weight as young mum no-one said anything to me (phew) except my hub’s Nan who said “you’re looking well”…which meant I had gained weight. So, over the years, when I was very overweight it was a challenge to accept myself (and mostly I did not) so I could not accept a compliment. However, I GIVE compliments. I like to. I still do, even to strangers but it is never about size or age. A little story, I have lost a lot of weight in the past 3-4 years, some anxiety based and other cancer based. Yes, I dress differently and can wear clothes that are less about covering every inch of me. BUT, I am now complimented by my Dad and I accept with grace but underneath, I want to say “why couldn’t you have said that when I was bigger?”…yes, it is still a tetchy topic for me.
    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek 14/51. Next week’s optional prompt is 15/51 Share Your Snaps #3. 15/4/19 Hope to see you then. Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Denyse, I feel your pain – it’s so hard to let those things go even after many years isn’t it? Thanks for your comment and sharing your memories. I love giving compliments too 🙂 . I think you’re a terrific blogger by the way!


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