Habitually rejecting compliments is maladaptive

Margo replied that she did not want to discuss the award and turned away. The co-worker walked on, feeling disquieted. The two co-workers did not know that Margo always rejected compliments given to her by others.

Why is habitually rejecting compliments a problem? 

Because it damages a person’s self-confidence, it interferes with the person’s learning what to do that most pleases others, it harms relationships with persons who utter compliments, it leads complimenting individuals (who are trying to be nice) to feel bad, and it makes those nice individuals less likely to give compliments in the future.

Why do some individuals habitually reject compliments they receive? 

Here are four reasons:

1. They have low self-esteem and thus do not believe anything positive said about them. 

2. They fear they will appear vain if they agree with a compliment. 

3. They fear that a compliment means that they always have to perform the complimented behavior at a high level or others will be disappointed. 

4. They are a member of a family, culture, or religion where thinking and talking positively about oneself is viewed as bad.

How do we compliment someone who rejects compliments? Try this: instead of stating your opinion, for example, “you are the kindest person,” state your own emotion, “I feel happy seeing you help others.” It much harder to reject a person’s emotion than it is to reject a person’s opinion.

How does a person who habitually rejects compliments change? I have discussed this question with many individuals who have made the change. 

Many of these individuals were encouraged to change by a loved one or a work supervisor. These individuals made the change by imagining themselves in the position of the complimenter, by focusing more on the feelings of that individual than on their own feelings, and by deciding to respond to compliments in a polite manner by saying “thank you.”

Then they rehearsed their new response. Some individuals did this by replaying in their mind compliment-related interactions and inserting the improved response. 

Others asked someone to role-play compliments with them, so they could get used to responding politely. Their final step involved testing the new response in real life and observing the results. 

The results usually included a satisfied complimenter.


[Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash]


  • Ira says:

    I’ve figured out how to continue rejecting kindness from others when they disguise their compliments: simply reply “you’re entitled to your opinion,” and I dismiss myself from the uncomfortable situation.

  • jmalouff says:

    I recommend a gracious “thanks” whether you agree with the compliment or not.

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