Why can’t I take a compliment?

‘You look rough as dogs?’ says a friend of mine. You probably didn’t need to say that to me, I think to myself. The initial upset caused by the uninvited opinion on my appearance flows swiftly into an inner shrug of ‘fair enough, you’ve got a point there.’  For multiple reasons, which I’ll go into during this post I have always been able to take on and believe the negatives, the criticisms, and even the derogatory, but found it almost impossible to accept or agree with any compliments directed my way.

I’m a fairly easy-going girlfriend, or so I’ve been told, I have never cheated or done anything to warrant the boys in my life to get angry with me, but boy do I have an incredible ability to make them hugely frustrated.

I think it’s important as we go through life, and inevitably through people (via friendships that drift or relationships that end) that we do some personal accounting. How did I behave in that partnership? Could I have been better? Did I do too much of this? Did I do too little of that? If I think about all of my meaningful romantic relationships there have been some obvious patterns in my behaviour, things that I have or should acknowledge to myself as truths. If every partner has brought up that particular issue or gripe, I have to be open to the fact that they may have a point, and maybe it’s something I should take some time to look at. Perhaps it’s something I need to dedicate time to working on. Maybe it’s effecting other aspects of my life too.

So one of my annoying personality traits, habits or tendencies, is my inability to accept a compliment without looking incredibly awkward, throwing it straight back at them ‘no, you do/are’, or getting a bit cross because I presume the compliment is an attempt to soften me up so they can get something from me, whether that thing be gossip, money, trust or sex.

Si paid me a compliment this weekend, and after receiving the usual dismissive reaction from me, we embarked on a discussion to work out where it all stems from and we came up with a few theories.

I think some of it comes from growing up in the UK and soaking up many of stereotype characteristics Britain is known for. We love a success story, one full of pathos and heartbreak, which see’s an underdog overcome obstacles or defy expectations against all the odds. However, the tabloids at least, also love to tear anyone down shortly after they reach that pinnacle – either calling them sell-outs, over-exposed, or finding some dirt to dish which will knock them back down to where they were, or even further down than that. Then there’s British humour which is famed for it’s self deprecation. We’ve grown up watching people take the mickey out of themselves, pointing out their flaws and celebrating them via jokes. This has got to have an influence us, particularly on  a telly addict like myself. 


It’s so different to the attitude of America, who love to celebrate the victors and achievers, and are quite happy to congratulate themselves on the goals they reach, their heroics, even the natural talents they have (the ones that haven’t earned or grafted for). If they’ve done something good they’ll tell people about it, loudly. They don’t see it as arrogance, they see it as confidence, self belief, positivity and giving themselves an empowering much deserved pat on the back. I know i’d benefit hugely from a bit more of this sort of mentality.

My family have always been very English in their reactions to any of my achievements, which has undoubtedly rubbed off on to me. When I was asked to take a couple GCSE’s a couple years early not only did they tell me not to, they said we shouldn’t tell people, for fear of what people would say. If I won an award there wasn’t a big hooha and it was all kept on the down low. Even when I achieved at First Class Degree at uni, during a very stressful time in my life, the reaction was pretty  muted. Whereas, in the newsletters we receive from our transatlantic friends they’re listing pages worth of all their kids achievements, big and small – the pride is gleaming off the paper.

Much like my mum I think I am also a natural worrier, constatly concerned about other people, and how things might effects them. So I think I was always super conscious about talking about certain achievements in case doing so impacts someone else negatively. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel sad because they got a lesser grade for example, or value their own achievements less because in comparison it might not appear as worthy of celebration. As I type this I wonder if that stems from growing up with a brother who gained 9A stars at GSCE and 4 A’s at A level, and how much worry that caused me during the school years. It instilled a sense of failure in me, even though I was doing just fine!

In hindsight, looking back on my youth, I think my families approach to modesty was perhaps a bit too far from boasting territory, and that it has had an adverse and notable effect on my confidence. Because I’m so used to not being congratulated or gushed about when I have achieved, and because n- one has been a cheerleading and telling me that ‘I’m great’ at doing something or ‘awesome’ at just being myself, I guess I’ve never known whether I am an okay person in any of the categories that make up a humans totality. My natural tendency to worry and doubt myself has now taken over, it’s not allowed for any belief that I’ve done anything good, ever look good, or capable of good. As a fairly understated family, the sort that just like to get a long with people, keep ourselves to ourselves, knuckling down types, we have never warmed to boasters and braggers. In our effort to never be like that we’ve gone too extreme in the other direction, which has left me wracked by a severe lack of self worth. I wonder how the rest of my family feel?

But why don’t I believe some compliments? Well firstly, I was a rather sickly looking child at times, extremely thin, with dark underneath the eyes, and various skin issues, so I never felt particularly attractive as a youngster. When I started to improve slightly I don’t think the perception of myself caught up, and I still felt like the girl that was only ever friends with boys, with the incredibly knobbly knees. So I guess while I still feel/see that girl, I can’t fathom that when someone says they see something else, something cute… or attractive….or sexy (I cringed even typing that), that they can be telling the truth. I guess the whole social media, everything’s relative thing, doesn’t help now either, because even if they do say those things and I believe them to be genuine I still knock them back by saying, but not compared to “insert an instagram model’. So that covers compliments referring to my looks…

Then if someone compliments my journalism, my artwork, my interviews, my whatever, I immediately reply with something like.. Well, if that were the case I wouldn’t be broke, I wouldn’t be living with my parents. In short, due to my position I’m in financially, due to a mixture of bad luck, ill health, and working in industries that perhaps haven’t been kind/fair, I’m not where people or I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I feel like a complete failure to be honest with you. And although I know largely it’s not my fault, the resulting pangs of self hatred and disappointment are loud and frequent enough to rebuff any positives that occur in my career, and any compliments from others about them. Are they just saying these things to make me feel better and to be encouraging? Surely if these things were true I’d have been a success by now, I think to myself.

Then there’s been people who have said nice things, I’ve let them into my life, my heart, or my circle of friends, only to discover later on their kindness and complimentary words had a purpose and agenda, one that would benefit them in some way and more often than not harm me in some way. This has burned me many times.

Undoubtedly a huge unwillingness to believe nice things said in reference to me is because an ex love, which we now refer to as a massive regret, used to say the most outrageously gushing things about me, make me feel like I was in a Nicholas Sparks movie floating around in a boat surrounded by geese (or something similar) and then would go on to be so cruel, hurting me both mentally and physically – the effects of which I deal with in some way every day of my life. One of the after-effects has to be that I have trouble equating lovely comments about me with truth, because his actions seemed to say something completely different to the positive feelings expressed to me.

It’s ironic that earlier I was saying I don’t want to talk about the good things I’ve done in case it brings someone else down when you consider how I’m making lots of people feel bad when I deflect their complimentary words away.

People give compliments because they want to be kind, they want to bolster someone if they deserve it, or if they can tell that person is in real need that kind of boost. It’s meant to be a feel good process, which can hopefully start a trail of good vibes that can continue to travel and spread.  In refusing to accept a compliment, making the situation awkward, or questioning their motives you, instantly kill that good vibe and potentially shut down the potential for future happy vocal transactions.

I know many of my partners have felt sad following my refusals to be gracious when it comes to compliments. They interpret my lack of appreciation or acceptance as a slight on our relationship,  translating it as an omission that I don’t trust what they say to be true, or that I question their intentions in saying it. They have also said that it makes them feel like a bad partner, like they don’t make me feel special, or make me realise my worth. So I feel bad about myself, so don’t believe when someone says something nice, reply in a way that makes them feel bad, which then makes me feel even worse. You can see how negative this pattern is….

Recently I’ve really seen how this has effected my work and my general progress. People have actually had to take me aside and have a word with me because they read my blogs and watch my videos, and to them it is glaringly obvious why I haven’t become a bigger influencer. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should others?” They say, referring to both potential subscribers and brands who may consider working with me. Blogging/YouTube is an aspirational thing. People want to follow people who inspire them, or who appear have a life/personality/career they’d like to have. Of course they’ll want to be like that cool confident girl who is happy to express herself, rather than the emotionally wobbly one who doesn’t look like they’ve got a fart together let alone her shit. Yes some find comfort in those bloggers that show vulnerability, but they’re going to want to obsess over the exciting, positive, self-confident influencers,  as it’s something they can fantasise about having themselves – something to reach for in the pursuit of happiness and badass- ness. 

The growing bloggers/YouTubers are those that are tweeting every time they doing something ‘cool’. They’ll tweet every time they do something kind even. They’ll pin a tweet that showcases something that makes them look as successful as possible. A lot will say I love this video I’ve made and I can’t wait to show you, or something of that ilk. I always intro a video with something a sentence that incorporates an apology. It’s ridiculous.

Okay some of them veer a bit too close to cocky for my taste, but they’re definitely playing the game more savvily than I am. I have also got to remind myself that my view of being proud of oneself and making that known is a bit skewed too.

Yes, being self deprecating can deliver a funny Instagram caption or a some amusing blog one liners, but after a while it can get on people’s whick. If it’s a constant stream them people start to question whether it’s genuine, or whether you’re just trying to deliver ‘relatable content’ which we all know is all the rage right now. Isn’t it sad we cant’ even just ‘realness’ anymore??!

A lot about blogging is creating an illusion of success. You have to look busy, like you’re inundated with lots of opportunities and deals, because then you will suddenly become a more appealing prospect for another brand searching for a suitable collaborator. If you look in demand, people will wander why and will hopefully try to find out what’s so demand-worthy about you.

So I really need to change my habits. I need to force myself to start accepting compliments and even using those positive words to my advantage. I’ve started retweeting more nice tweets I get from followers as thats a way of self promoting without me having to say the words myself.

Next I need to feel okay with telling my followers when I like a video I’ve done, when I’ve achieved a landmark number of sales in my Etsy, or sealed a big Sponsorship deal. Maybe an easy one to start with could be posting an Instagram and saying something as simple as ‘I like my outfit of today’.

I need to find a mentality that allows for me to feel comfortable to be publicly proud of myself. But first I need to work on actually feeling proud of myself. There’s a lot that needs to be undone…this is going to be a long road.

Are you good at accepting compliments? Are you able to talk about your achievements without worrying about sounding arrogant or boastful? 

Leave a Reply