How to Take a Compliment
a guide for the confused
You should just smile and say “thank you.” But don’t deliver it too smoothly. Otherwise, it will seem like you so routinely receive compliments that they mean nothing to you. You want it to come off like the compliment was genuinely meaningful, like you were aching somewhere inside, and the compliment remedied that private solitary pain.
This is one situation in which actually being in emotional pain is helpful. But only a little pain. You can’t act like you were desperate for the compliment—it is rude to reward praise with a glimpse of your private abyss.
After you say thank you, let the moment of warmth sit there between you. Then, redirect the conversation somewhere else.
If you’re really daring, you can spin the compliment into a conversation topic, reflecting aloud about how it effectively soothes one or another of your ongoing insecurities. This is a good way to sound self-absorbed, which is a good way of filtering out conversation partners who are not particularly interested in you.
Do not under any circumstances try to deflect or refuse the compliment. If someone tells you that they admire your recent work, do not respond that your work is, in actuality, “kind of mediocre lately.” You are telling them that their judgment is incorrect, or that you are a vain person who can only be loved with very specific maneuvers.
Sometimes, someone compliments you, but only because they want approval themselves. Their real goal is that you compliment them back, or offer them assurance of some kind. They’re saying “your hair looks nice,” but what they’re really saying is, “help me stop tearing myself apart.” If you try to compliment them back, you will find that it is impossible to be sincere—even if your compliment is real, the demand will make it seem fake. But if you ignore their moment of emotional need, and respond as if it’s a normal compliment, you become a bystander in their ongoing self-cruelty.
The answer is that this is an unsolvable problem; it’s terrifying, but relaxing, to remember that there are such things. Sometimes you want to be kind but there is no obvious slot for your kindness to fit into.
One approach you can take is just not receiving compliments. It’s a reasonable one: as you can see, compliments can be awkward. You can avoid them by:
Being truly mediocre
Doing excellent work, invisibly
Sometimes, loneliness is the cost of peace.
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This one actually made me laugh out loud - I'm always caught up in that loop of thought. Thanks for sharing!