An odd thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I was walking back from Peirce with one of my friends. We were chatting, and he complimented me as we were entering our dorm. I think it was something along the lines of “Well, you’re amazing.” My response, almost as a joke, was a cocky “Oh, I know.” Me acting overconfident wasn’t the strange thing that struck me. His response to me was “Oh my god, Jenna accepted a compliment. It must be the end of the world.” Now, this is a very small incident, but it got me thinking about the subject and the idea of compliments.
We give them, and we receive them. Compliments appear out of the blue from friends and the occasional stranger. They’re nice ways to show people that you notice how they styled their hair that day, the pretty dress they’re wearing or a positive thing they are doing.
Responding to compliments, for whatever reason, feels awkward and can be confusing. I often feel insecure, so having and exuding confidence can be challenging. Receiving compliments confuses me, and sometimes makes me uncomfortable because I don’t know how to reply. I wonder “Wait how do I respond?”
Naturally, I usually reply with a compliment to the other person. They like my skirt; I like their shoes. It’s courteous. Right? Maybe. I (as I’m sure many who use the same response) want to sound humble. In this way, though, it deflects compliments away from myself. I am giving myself the last word of why someone else is great rather than accepting the same kindness they have showed to me. It almost feels like an obligation to not accept these spontaneous words of kindness.
I think it’s possible to accept compliments without sounding stuck-up or cocky or vain. It’s the tone with which you respond. But, also, who cares if you sound a little cocky occasionally? Being confident is not a bad thing, not at all. You can be confident without sounding like a jerk. Be nice to people. Show them that you care and that you love and appreciate them, but also be kind and appreciative to yourself.
Now, there was something fundamental that bothered me the more I thought about this subject. Why is it we really only compliment people for looking beautiful? So many advertisements today have celebrities praising the power of inner beauty and of being (and caring about) more than your appearance. Yet, I struggled to make the list of things we compliment people for above that didn’t have to do with one’s appearance, which we have very little control over after a certain extent.
Why not praise someone for a good deed, like taking care of a sick friend or being friendly to a stranger? Why not compliment someone’s good heart or way with words or for being a good listener? Why is it so strange or surprising that I (almost) constantly give my friends compliments like, “You’re amazing” and “You’re such a good friend”? I want them to know that I love and appreciate them. Isn’t that what compliments are, a show of appreciation?
The incident I began with is rare. Maybe I was feeling particularly good about myself that day (or in a good enough mood to fake feeling good.) Maybe I was wearing something I knew I felt good in, so it didn’t feel weird for me to accept the compliment. Who knows? All that matters is I took it. The world didn’t end, as my friend joked. I am growing.
Having confidence isn’t easy, and something simple like accepting compliments can be the first step towards gaining it. Consciously making an effort to accept compliments rather than deflect or turn down the person can help you gain confidence over time. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” right? Confidence, like everything in life seems to, takes time. I am definitely still working on it. It’s never too late for you to begin, too.