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Can’t Take a Compliment

Can’t Take a Compliment

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Dear Rachel,

This might sound like a silly kind of problem, but I hate compliments. Not all compliments, of course, but the kind I feel are not deserved. I try to be graceful about accepting them, but theyI hate compliments often make me want to cry. I’m very uncomfortable and don’t know where to put myself. I don’t know why I feel this way.

Please help,

Overwhelmed


Dear Flattered,

Humility is a positive trait in Judaism. However, it doesn’t come from not valuing your virtues; it comes from recognizing that these virtues and the strength to use them come from G‑d.

Your difficulty pinpointing what exactly is bothering you about receiving compliments might stem from the fact that not all compliments are created equal. Some are sincere, others polite. You might be bothered by not being able to differentiate between them or believe the ones that are merely polite.

Not all compliments are created equal.

Also, a lot of judgments masquerade as compliments. There’s a difference between saying, “You look beautiful!” and “I like the way your dress brings out the color of your eyes.” Or “You’re a great cook!” and “I love the taste of this goulash!” One type of comment is a judgment, and no one likes being judged (even positively and with the best intentions) and having to live up to the judgment. It’s much easier to accept a descriptive positive statement that carries no pressure; it’s specific and easier to digest.

Many people who were severely criticized when they were young don’t feel comfortable receiving compliments because an inner voice insists that it’s not true. It’s the voice they heard as children, always finding fault. Compliments make us question the beliefs we hold about ourselves. The things we’re used to, even negative, are easier to deal with; they are familiar. That conflict might be what’s causing your distress.

We also tend to be very self-critical in ways we wouldn’t be of someone else. The biblical commandment to love others as ourselves requires us to love ourselves first. We can’t see the good in others if we’re oblivious to it in ourselves. We hold ourselves up to impossible expectations, often seeing what’s wrong instead of what’s right.

Here’s an idea:

Make a list of all your good points, virtues, talents and skills. Be specific. Keep the list somewhat descriptive and include things other people usually say about you.

Here’s an example:

  • My friends say I’m a good listener.
  • I like playing with children.
  • I have a warm smile.
  • I’m an excellent teacher.
  • My chocolate cake is a winner.
  • My colleagues ask for my creative ideas.
  • I remember family and friends’ birthdays.
  • I am helpful and enjoy volunteering.

Keep the list with you for about a month and add things as they come up. If someone gives you a compliment, put it on the list. If they give you a compliment that you don’t believe is true, ask yourself why you don’t believe it. Maybe otherA compliment can tell you something about the person giving it people see things about you that you don’t see. People often see the good in themselves in other people. Maybe the compliment also tells you something about the person giving it.

It’s good manners that when given a compliment to give back a smile of pleasure and wholeheartedly say, “Thank you!” It’s also good manners to return the compliment in some way, graciously.

Judaism tells us that we are all made in the image of G‑d. We have value for no other reason than that G‑d put us on this earth to fulfill a mission. Each of us, without exception, has sparks of holiness in her soul.

Maybe that’s what people envision when they compliment you. And maybe it’s being given so that you come to value yourself more.

With my compliments,

Rachel

Rosally Saltsman is a freelance writer originally from Montreal living in Israel.
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