A Self-Esteem Strategy

When some extra time remains at the end of my weight-loss support group sessions, I often suggest an exercise that my mother, an elementary school teacher, uses with her students. She calls it a “pride whip” – children sit in a circle and each one takes a turn to make a statement about something that they are proud of.

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When some extra time remains at the end of my weight-loss support group sessions, I often suggest an exercise that my mother, an elementary school teacher, uses with her students. She calls it a “pride whip” – children sit in a circle and each one takes a turn to make a statement about something that they are proud of.  

However, when I am feeling particularly sadistic as a support-group leader, I modify the exercise. One group member moves to the center of the circle, and as we go around, each of the other members is instructed to say something positive about the member in the center. Each member must take a turn in the center. Whenever I suggest this, I see people look for the closest escape route. The thought of literally being “the center of attention” and receiving a compliment feels quite daunting and uncomfortable to us as adults. Why?

In our society, we (particularly women) are taught that humility is a virtue, and are often trained to deflect the positive feedback that we receive from others. “You look beautiful in that dress!” is met with “Oh, this old thing? It’s probably just the lighting in here.” Blowing off compliments is a self-defeating behavior to which many of us fall victim. Consider the following and you might just decide to work on breaking this bad habit.

Consider the Source: Think about the last time that you gave a genuine compliment and the recipient laughed in your face or called you crazy. Did you feel embarrassed? Insulted? Dismissed? When we reject positive feedback, we are, in essence, invalidating the other person’s perspective and feelings. Further, the compliment-giver may have spent considerable time and thought deciding how and when to approach you with their feedback. When you dismiss the comment, you dismiss their efforts and their opinions.

Give It Some Practice: Because we are conditioned to shy away from compliments, accepting them may feel unnatural at first. Training myself out of this behavior has taken some serious conscious effort.  I purposefully pause for a moment (catching my automatic impulse to deflect), remind myself to smile, look the person in the eye, and say, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.” People’s response to this kind of reaction is almost always positive. They look pleased to have been able to help brighten my day. Ironically, I have never sensed that someone thought I was being arrogant or conceited by accepting their compliment, which refutes the irrational assumption that accepting a compliment makes us seem vain and narcissistic.

Write ‘em Down: When we deflect compliments, they go in one ear and out the other. However, when you learn to accept compliments, you start to remember them. You could even try keeping a “compliment log” in which you record each compliment you receive and who delivered the positive comment. I have found great benefit in this practice. Most obviously, it can be a tremendous confidence booster on the days when I feel like I can’t get anything right.  Additionally, it has allowed me to better identify my strengths and to highlight which people in my life are especially good at reflecting positive images of myself back onto me.

So, the next time you are receiving praise, make sure to pause, smile, and say, “Thank you.” You may be surprised at how rewarding this practice can be.

Blog written by Katie Rickel, PhD
Dr. Katie Rickel is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in weight management and health behavior modification. She...