It’s a split second exchange. Words between friends, loved ones, acquaintances. But compliments can be tricky, oddly powerful things. Let’s break it down:
1. Giving the compliment
This part is easy. Give compliments and give them often. Be sincere. Be Leslie Knope. Aim to hurl an onslaught of compliments at everyone in your path, so when you fall short you're still spreading the love.
2. Receiving the compliment
This is where it can get really tricky. The politics around a ‘thank you’ can be staggering. Thank you, 2004, for preserving compliment insecurities for the rest of our days.
Too often, we are blinded by our own insecurities to see all that receiving a compliment can say. With a simple “thank you,” you’ve told the person you’re talking to that you value them, you respect their opinion and you appreciate their kindness. (I’d like to point out that I’m talking about genuine compliments in true conversation, not remarks from strangers that make you feel uncomfortable. That, my friends, is for another day.) In a second, you’ve returned what’s been given to you without deflecting or minimizing. It’s powerful.
3. Internalizing the compliment
However, it’s easy to say “thank you” when we believe the compliment. So what happens when you’re not totally on board? Does it matter if you believe them or not?
I was always taught to respond to any compliment with “thank you” when I was growing up. It became a knee-jerk response, but it also fostered an underlying foundation of self-worth, even when I didn’t realize it was there. The ingrained response allowed the compliment to be what it was - nothing more, nothing less. I took them when they came, but didn’t have to rely on them.
Then quietly, slowly, without conscious effort, my "thank yous" started slipping into something else. Instead it would be a surprised, “oh, wow,” or “you’re nice.” I had tricked myself into thinking that maybe I was growing in humility, and deflecting back onto others was possibly a side effect.
So imagine my surprise when, after hearing kinds words from a friend, I responded in a new way:
This was not from a place of humility. My innermost thoughts had finally broken out from where I’d kept them buried. Surfaced and shrinking in the light. This was not who I am supposed to be. This is not where I want to be.
In short, I believe that I stopped saying “thank you” because I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t want to internalize it. And while I think insecurities may be at the root of this recent shift, I also think I can turn it around in the same fashion.
Say thank you. Don’t justify it. Don’t bury it. Let it stand there on it’s own and fulfill the original intention: kindness. In doing so, you can spread that kindness to yourself and to others in one fell swoop.