Compliments & Criticism: Learning To Accept Both

A strong woman accepts both compliments & criticism graciously, knowing that it takes both sun & rain for a flower to grow.

Best Selling Author, Mandy Hale

I’m going to start this post out a little differently than usual … I’m going to start it out with a question.

Friends, wherever you are right now, no matter who may see you … Let’s do the following …

If you are good at accepting criticism, raise your hand!

Okay, obviously I cannot see all of you right now, but I have a feeling that the hands in the air are far and few between. Because let’s face it, it’s human nature to not love criticism, even when it comes in the constructive variety. If you are good at this … Congratulations. Most of us could learn A LOT from you!

Now, I’m going to ask another question, and again I’m going to ask you to raise your hand if your answer is yes.

Tell me: Are you good at accepting compliments?

I have a feeling that even fewer of you may have your hands in the air this time. Because as much as we might dread criticism, many of us tend to be even more painfully uncomfortable with compliments. And if you ask me, this doesn’t make any sense.

Why do we lack grace when it comes to acceptance of both these forms of feedback? It’s utterly bizarre and wildly nonsensical. But it’s something I’ve seen among so many people, most especially myself.

I’m definitely not a psychologist (Intro Psych in first-year university did not go super well for me), but I do have a theory on this nonetheless. While my theory may not be sound in any sort of clinical basis, it is based on 28 years of experience of being a human, surrounded by humans, which I think gives me enough of a background to make it worthy of sharing

I think the reason that many of us struggle with accepting compliments is the exact same reason why many of us struggle with accepting criticism. It comes down to a lack of assurance in our own individual worth, and the way both compliments and criticism make us increasingly aware of this reality.

I want to clarify that when I talk about a lack of assurance in our worth, I’m not necessarily talking about a complete lack of self-esteem here. I believe those are two different things. What I’m referring to is less about liking yourself, and more about knowing who you are.

More specifically, it’s about knowing who you are in an unshakable, impermeable way. Self-worth is something I’ve worked on for many years now, and while I’ve grown exponentially in this area, that complete comfort in my own identity is something I am still trying to achieve.

I believe that when a person has an innate sense of self-worth, both compliments and criticism become easy to hear, absorb, and accept.

When a compliment is given, and the recipient does not feel it is warranted because of what they (probably falsely) believe about themselves, it might make them feel uneasy. In my experience, it’s as though the compliment is a reminder of the ways in which they are not living up to their own impossible standards.

Likewise, when criticism is given to someone who struggles with self-worth, the recipient may lack the confidence (which contributes to humility) required to have the open heart and mind to hear this feedback. Once again, it is a reminder of the ways in which they are not living up to their own impossible standards.

If you’re anything like me, having grace with yourself is often easier said than done.

One of the personal goals that I’ve been working on for the past year or so, is to become better at accepting both compliments and criticism. I know this is an area I struggle in, because I see it with my own eyes on a regular basis.

hate this about myself. I hate it when someone pays me a compliment and I hear false-humility bumble out of my mouth as I release credit for my own hard-work. I hate it when I respond to a compliment by pointing out exactly how I’ve fallen short, as though I’m apologizing for my success. I hate it when someone offers constructive criticism, and my gut reaction is to become defensive or to shrink away from accountability.

These are terrible traits, and I’ve been consciously working on them for awhile. I am happy to say that I do feel like I’ve made progress, but I still believe I have a long way to go.

The progress that I have made however, has come not from focusing on the actual compliments or criticism themselves, but instead through a focus on building up my own sense of individual worth.

How do I do this? The answer is so simplistic, I’m almost embarrassed to write it here:

I actively practice being my own best friend.

What does this mean?

It means that when I think or say something negative about myself, I put on my ‘best friend hat’ and rewind. I ask myself how I would respond if someone were to say those very same words about one of my nearest and dearest? I’d no doubt defend them to the ends of the earth, and so I engage in that exact same inner dialogue on behalf of myself.

It means playing the ‘compliment’ game we tend to play with our besties when we see them for the first time. You know what I’m talking about … You compliment their hair, their skin, their new job, their cute dog … Within my friendships, I find myself so enamored by my gal pals that I could go on and on about their wonderful traits all day long. So in the spirit of being my own BFF, I try to do the same thing for me. Every night before bed, I reflect on how I made myself proud that day. Through this habit, I pay myself an honest and true compliment every single night.

It means having the same level of honesty that we owe to our closest companions. This of course, is where the criticism comes in. Self-worth should not be about false confidence, but rather it should be about authenticity and truth. So at bedtime, after I’ve paid myself that daily compliment, I also ask myself how I could have done better. Is there somewhere I went wrong or a way that I could be doing more? I answer the question without holding back, and my inner best friend thanks me for it.

Lastly, it means taking care of myself in the way I’d take care of anyone else I loved. This means feeding myself healthy food and moving my body as often as possible. This means taking time to nourish my soul with quiet time, good books, and occasional Netflix marathons. This means pushing myself past my comfort zone, but also knowing when to slow down and just breathe. This means nourishing my soul in the best way I can, because I am now starting to believe that I am worth it.

Readers, I know compliments can often make us feel awkward. I know that criticism can be even worse. But, I also know that as Mandy Hale wrote, these are both the ways in which we grow. I hope each of you find the self-worth you are looking for, and that we can all exhibit grace along the way.

This is something I am working on, each and every day.

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