Why is our natural reaction indifference? Especially when, let’s be honest, we do try to look pretty? Why do we deflect when a guy validates our attempts, instead of being gracious?
My personal response to compliments in the past was “Really?”, which, looking back, must have been so annoying. Someone says, “I like your hair today.” “Really?” “That dress looks nice on you.” “Really?” You get the point. Instead of saying thank you, I’d counter with a dull antidote. I never even noticed I had such a nervous habit until I dated a guy who pointed it out. He told me I looked beautiful, and, as if anticipating my response, in sync we both said, “Really?” He laughed it off, but I was thankful he brought it to my attention.
I think as women, we internalize appreciation more than we realize. Although deep down his compliments resonated with me, I was unconsciously ruining those moments with my outward reaction. Not only was I rejecting his compliments, but I was also taking something away from him that is so important in relationships — acknowledgment. I hadn’t been acknowledging his efforts to make me feel appreciated.
As it turns out, my inability to graciously accept a compliment had nothing to do with him or his words — I learned that people complimenting me made me uncomfortable. But why?
We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
I recently listened to a particular radio interview, “Understanding Appreciation,” with Alison Armstrong, in which she discusses this “tyrant” that women innately have. Alison Armstrong, author and relationship guru, suggested that women need to learn how to dismiss the tyrant, not the compliment. We girls are born with this internal enemy; its job is to keep us in check so that we never feel too good about ourselves. It’s there to discourage us, to make us question if we ever do anything right, and to deflect any nice thing anyone says to us.
Women need to learn how to dismiss the tyrant, not the compliment.
Armstrong suggested that while men are more connected with the physical world, a.k.a. reality, women, on the other hand, are more connected with the eternal world, believing, subconsciously, in a utopia. This alternate reality is the idea that perfection is somehow possible if only we were to try hard enough. It’s why, for example, we buy into cosmetic companies’ marketing ploys when they use words like “flawless” to sell us more products.
We can create impossible standards for ourselves and leave it to that tyrant to remind us every time we’ve missed the mark. We can always be prettier, smarter, sexier, you name it; in the eyes of our personal enemy, we’re never enough. So, when our boyfriend or the guy we like tries to tell us we’re beautiful, we think, “What? He’s just saying that. He couldn’t possibly mean it. Doesn’t he see all my imperfections?” Maybe he does, but when the man you love tells you how beautiful he thinks you are, the absolute best thing you could do is believe him.
Failing To Acknowledge Your Partner Can Ruin Your Relationship
Even if you don’t feel beautiful, even if that tyrant is screaming at you that you aren’t, you are beautiful to your man, and whether you understand it or not, that’s one little way he’s trying to appreciate you. His compliments may have unwittingly triggered your internal bully and have you mentally retracing your steps of what you did that day to get ready to find justification for his words, or even worse, it may have you questioning your man’s sincerity, but both reactions are wrong. This tyrant in your head could very well be ruining your relationships.
Perfection is impossible, so instead of aiming for that, recognize how sweet it is to be appreciated simply for your efforts.
Instead of dismissing compliments, we should be renouncing the real villain — the one that has us convinced that a perfect version of ourselves exists — because it doesn’t. Armstrong told listeners that her life didn’t change until she learned to stop listening to the tyrant and got a reality check. Perfection is impossible, so instead of aiming for that, recognize how sweet it is to be appreciated simply for your efforts. When you’re offered praise for something, consider that the person means what they say. Your tyrant is always going to put up a fight, so don’t let it win.
Obviously, I’m also referring to appreciation for more than just your physical appearance, as well as from people besides your significant other. You might, like I did, have the same reaction when receiving compliments from co-workers, friends, or even strangers. The reason I used examples focused on physical appearance is that it’s something that we as women, as well as our personal tyrants, give a lot of attention to. Thanks to social media and our culture, how we look tends to be something we’re easily insecure about.
I’m also not speaking in absolutes; we all know there are men and women who will make compliments with ulterior motives. However, with rational thinking, it’s pretty easy to identify the difference between someone who is being genuine and someone who is being manipulative. How? By always remembering that true appreciation is never used with coercion.
Remember that true appreciation is never used with coercion.
The bottom line is, compliments from your partner aren’t that complicated. For the most part, men think women want to feel beautiful. So, when he acknowledges how pretty you look, it’s important to acknowledge him for saying it. All you have to do is say thank you. It’s a small thing, but it just shows genuine appreciation for each other.
I hope that if you struggle with receiving compliments from anyone, that you learn to be more gentle on yourself. I hope you learn to focus more on your efforts than on what you get wrong, and I hope you learn to embrace your imperfections that just don’t matter. As I’ve learned, there is a great difference between being insecure and being humble, and we want to make sure that we aren’t masking one for the other. As a good rule of thumb, honor all the good things people say to you or about you. And most importantly, practice appreciating yourself a little more. When you have real confidence, you’ll refuse to let that tyrant win.