Hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge used to believe that accepting compliments equalled “arrogance”. Now, she’s learned to love them – and it’s had a huge impact on her life.
There’s no getting away from it: accepting compliments is tough – particularly if you’re a woman.
We are taught, from a very young age, to be “sugar and spice and all things nice”. To be sweet and well-mannered. And to, above all else, be modest and humble in all that we do.
These are the lessons that tend to stick. In the last few years, research has found that, for women, there’s nothing quite as terrible as being seen as cocky or too confident. As such, it makes sense that so many of us find it so embarrassing when someone praises us.
“Part of growing our confidence is in accepting and appreciating ourselves,” hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge tells Stylist. “But as women we’ve been conditioned to be overly modest; we bat away compliments and many of us find it hard to even think of ourselves in positive ways, let alone blow our own trumpet.”
Brotheridge goes on to reassure us that accepting a compliment absolutely does not make us arrogant in any way.
“Liking yourself is a cornerstone of self-esteem and having a healthy level of self-love means we can be our best selves; we’re calmer, we trust ourselves and we can ask for what we want and need,” she says. “Please don’t be concerned that in accepting compliments you’ll suddenly become arrogant. Arrogance comes from deep insecurity but what we’re building here is self-respect. It’s totally possible to learn to love compliments and start to believe that you are more than enough, just as you are.”
In a bid to help other women boost their self-esteem, Brotheridge has penned a straightforward guide entitled Brave New Girl: Seven Steps to Confidence. In it, she uses her own stories, scientific research, and the experiences of other women to show her readers how to:
- Feel more confident
- Spend less time worrying and people-pleasing
- Build self-belief
- Reach your full potential
- Assertively set boundaries for a happier, healthier you
Intrigued? Her ‘Learn to Love Compliments’ chapter has been shared exclusively with Stylist below.
Why is it so hard to accept a compliment? I confess I’ve batted back a fair few in my time. Maybe you’ve discounted what someone said about your new dress, ‘It’s five years old!’ Or argued back, ‘It makes my love handles look HUGE though, doesn’t it?’ Or scrambled to compliment them, ‘No, your dress is incredible.’ Or my personal (least) fave, simply got embarrassed, changed the subject and so ignored they ever said anything nice (yeah, sorry about that #rude).
We reject compliments out of hand from embarrassment and from trying to be modest, plus a side order of thinking, ‘They’re just saying it to be nice.’ A 2017 study found people have difficulty accepting compliments when we don’t believe the other person is being sincere, which is often due to low self-esteem. If a compliment doesn’t fit in with our intern- al image of ourselves, we might think, ‘They’re just saying that!’ Or, ‘What does she know?’ This can make a compliment backfire, as it highlights and worsens how unsuccessful we feel we are. But think about this: even if someone is only complimenting you to be nice, they’re doing it because they want you to like them – which is actually a pretty amazing compliment in itself.
Many of us feel we must appear modest and are scared of appearing arrogant or conceited. Often, we’re conditioned like this from an early age. I was raised to believe being mod- est, listening more than speaking, and not ‘showing off’ were key when it came to being liked. Messages from parents or teachers along these lines often came from a place of love or concern (although it’s true some people do trample on you to elevate their own self-esteem). But when we internal- ize them, take them too far, it can result in us holding ourselves back and covering up our most sparkly selves.
Also, have you ever thought how batting away compliments can have the opposite effect to the one you’d intended? Because when you reject compliments, you either seem ungracious or, worse, as though you’re fishing for more!
Accepting compliments also makes the giver feel good. If you snap back that you don’t agree that your coat is ah-may- zing and that, in fact, it’s old or unloved or unstylish, you’re actually dissing their taste. Being given a compliment is like being given a gift – would you throw a gift back in their face and tell them it’s a worthless piece of shit? No! That would be rude (also, you love gifts, remember!?).
Try to accept a compliment graciously, trusting it comes from a good place in the other person. Doing this has been shown to help you to be mentally healthy. A Japanese study found praise can improve performance, and compliments can also boost your mood, your confidence and your level of motivation.
Recognise your human need to feel appreciated. Give yourself permission to receive. When you’re being given good feedback or praise, listen with openness, take a deep breath and let it sink in. Make a mental note and reflect back on it often. I’ve learned to treasure the compliments I’ve received, and some of them I love to think about. Keeping them in mind can work as an antidote to the self-flagellation many of us subject ourselves to, act as balm for our self-esteem, a shield against negative self-talk and help stop us taking external criticism to heart.
So, how can we get better at accepting compliments?
Exercise one: fill up your compliment bank
Mentally review all the friends, family, partners and bosses you’ve had in your life. As you do, make a list of every compliment each one has given you and every good bit of feedback you’ve received. Save the list somewhere you can review it often – and particularly when you’re stuck in imposter syndrome or self-doubt.
Exercise: alien appreciation
Most of us are conditioned to spot our own flaws. When we measure ourselves against the filtered perfection of Instagram stars, our own less-than-perfect forms can seem starkly lacking. We’re often much harsher on ourselves than we are on anyone else. I noticed this recently when sitting opposite a woman on the train. I admired her interesting personal style, wearing a checked shirt and boyfriend jeans, the comfortable way she held herself, and her hair that fell artlessly just below her shoulders. She didn’t look polished and she didn’t fit with the constructed idea of perfection that society has created. But she was beautiful and I could appreciate her attractive-
ness in a way I couldn’t my own.
It made me think of all the times I’ve only been able to see my flaws. And reminded me of how easily our self-perception can become warped, due to our own low self-esteem and when reflected by the media and social media.
In this exercise, I’d like you to start to see yourself the way a (friendly) alien would. To this alien, without a frame of com- parison or perfection, everything is equally beautiful and amazing – every colour, shape, size and texture is incredible.
Imagine coming to earth with these fresh eyes and seeing yourself as if for the first time. View yourself with the same awe and admiration as you would a rare and beautiful animal. The next time you catch yourself grabbing your belly fat in despair or lamenting your pore size (I mean, how ridiculous that this is even a thing), can you hold this frame of reference in your mind?
- Make a conscious effort to accept compliments graciously.
- Remember all the compliments and good feedback you’ve been given. Review them regularly.