Why Do We Feel Uncomfortable When We Receive Compliments?

December 19, 2018
If you feel uncomfortable when you receive compliments, you're not alone. In this article, we look at why this happens and give you some helpful tips.

Do we really like receiving compliments at all times and under any circumstances? Perhaps you’ve felt uncomfortable when you’ve received a compliment at some point in your life. This situation is more common than you might expect.

But let’s start from the beginning. What exactly is a compliment? A compliment is a specific expression that highlights someone’s positive characteristics. Compliments serve as social reinforcement and help make interactions between people more pleasant.

Putting it another way, a compliment is a form of praise. When you receive a compliment, the person who’s complimenting you is trying to highlight one of your positive traits. Thus, there’s no reason to feel uncomfortable when someone compliments you. However, these forms of praise make a lot of people feel uncomfortable, perhaps even very uncomfortable. But why is that?

Rethinking compliments

As we mentioned before, a compliment is, in principle, something pleasant and positive. Giving a compliment is saying something nice to another person. In practice, this means pointing out one of their characteristics or behaviors that we like or value in a positive way.

These women know how to get compliments graciously.

We all like to listen to agreeable things about ourselves. It makes us feel good. Nevertheless, in our society it’s not very common to exchange positive verbal messages. We rarely use positive reinforcement and we’re more used to dealing in punishment.

We consider what we see as “good”, “positive”, or “what we like and enjoy” to be “the way things should be”. As such, why should we talk about them? This is the main reason why we rarely give or receive compliments.

In fact, you might feel “shy”, “corny”, “dumb”, or even “ridiculous” when someone compliments you. Nevertheless, if you believe that positive reinforcement is better than punishment, you may be motivated to change this.

Also, when someone else gives you a compliment, it might surprise you, might seem odd, or, in extreme cases, it might even make you laugh at the person who gave it to you. That’s why it’s important to know how to receive compliments, not just give them.

What are the benefits of knowing how to receive compliments?

Receiving compliments is actually easy, even though it may seem hard for many people. In fact, there are many benefits to knowing how to receive compliments. Let’s take a look at them:

  • Through them, you discover what another person likes about you.
  • They help you establish friendships.
  • You can reduce the tension you feel when you’re too embarrassed, tense, or anxious to say anything.
  • They make other people feel good. We all like when others recognize our qualities, merits, and abilities.
  • They reinforce positive behavior. A person who receives a compliment may try to keep engaging in the behavior to increase their chances of getting more compliments in the future.

Negative thoughts that block you from receiving compliments graciously

Now that you know the benefits of knowing how to receive compliments confidently, we move on to the next question. Why does receiving compliments make us uncomfortable? Behind that discomfort, there’s the belief that people only do things when they want something in return. This belief may lead you to view praise as a danger or threat. As such, you might react with mistrust, fear, anxiety, or even distress. Nonetheless, many times there’s no such danger. Compliments are usually just means of positive reinforcement.

It’s true that sometimes people use compliments to manipulate you. Because of this, words that can at first create positive emotions can later be seen as negative. If you’ve experienced this before, you could interpret compliments as manipulation.

When you learn how to get compliments you can enjoy better relationships with your coworkers.

The fear of standing out might also block you from receiving compliments graciously. Some people believe it’s best to be simple and modest because people envy those who outshine others. This belief can even destroy your own ability to say nice things about yourself.

Another belief associated with the discomfort of receiving compliments is related to the quid pro quo of it. You might think that someone who compliments you is just hoping to get a compliment back. That belief is irrational. You can’t know what another person is thinking. It’s best to believe that people give compliments spontaneously without expecting anything in return.

One last belief associated with the discomfort of receiving compliments is that the person who’s complimenting you is actually teasing you. You might often assume that people who praise you are being sarcastic and are only doing it to annoy you.

If this is your case, it’s best to change this belief to something healthier. You can believe that it might or might not be a sarcastic comment. Either way, it’s best to accept it as a genuine compliment. If it happens to be sincere, it’s good for you. If not, then your gracious acceptance will still ruin their attempts to mock you.

You can change these irrational beliefs that cause you discomfort when you receive compliments. That way, you’ll get closer to being able to receive them graciously.