Giving and Accepting Compliments with Social Anxiety

At the beginning of this year, I made it my new year's resolution to compliment others more. I wanted to give back to strangers who have complimented me in the past and made my whole entire day! A few simple words could turn someone’s okay or gloomy day into a better one, and I thought, why not add a little positivity in such a politically, culturally, and environmentally tumultuous time?

Caption: Compliments!


Fast forward to now, 2019 is rushing to an end, and it’s hard to believe that it’s November. While I’d like to say I successfully reached my goal and became this ultra great amazing compliment giver, throwing them around like frisbees and making the people around me 100% happier, the truth is that I sucked.  

It’s strange to say that giving compliments to strangers was hard. Besides the fact that I’ve programmed myself to compliment them in my head and never in real life, I get in my head about how awkward the whole interaction was or if I came off as a weirdo. I was at Forever 21 the other day and I thought I’d compliment the two buns the cashier was sporting while she was ringing me up. She thanked me in a manner that I felt was lackluster and then I immediately began to regret the words that came out of my mouth and started beating myself up for it. Giving compliments felt like such a burden on the other person and that’s the strangest thought to have ever occurred to me because receiving a respectful compliment is like a little surprise of joy and giving one has the same amount of warmth.  

Caption: Demons in my head


If you’re sharing a similar mindset and have social anxiety, just know you’re not alone. It’s difficult to shut down the demons in your head telling you that you’re doing it all wrong. It’s something you may need to work on, and personally how I confront myself on these issues is to just keep repeating to myself that it’s important to be present in reality and not be living inside my own mind. This may not work for everyone, but for me it helps to be my own cheerleader and say these little cheers. 

I have since reflected about that moment at Forever 21 and have come to the conclusion that gratitude wasn’t owed to me, and that I couldn’t go straight to thinking the worse just because she wasn’t overdramatically displaying her gratitude. My compliment came from a good place and sometimes they may or may not be appreciated but I can’t make it about me. I can’t dwell. I need to move on and can’t let moments like this haunt me and prevent me from spreading more positivity. 

Giving compliments is hard, but, oh boy, is accepting compliments worse. You will 100% find me deflecting compliments, negating them, or nervously laughing and quietly saying “thanks” or nothing at all. I know a lot of people can far more relate to this than the difficulty of giving compliments, and I think that says a lot about our society. Why can’t we accept the compliments that we are so willing to give to others?

The best way I can describe one of my tactics when receiving a compliment is that comeback you used to use as a kid that goes: “I know you are but what am I?" It’s my personal Uno reverse card where I get complimented and reply by telling them that compliment more so applies to them than me. If you find yourself doing this, the first step is to be aware of it. Catch yourself in the act of scaring away an opportunity to recognize that some aspect of you is pretty cool. I believe that most of the time someone is giving you a compliment and they aren’t expecting you to or even want you to gift it back to them. It’s yours! That nice thing is for you and you deserve to hear a nice, respectful complement.

Another strategy I use to fend off a compliment is one that most people are probably familiar with and it’s to negate them. I am a big offender of a self-deprecating approach to compliments. A friend will say that I look great today and I will blurt out that I in fact actually look like hot garbage or any trash equivalent synonym. There are so many issues with this and it’s upsetting that many people do the same. They aren’t nice to themselves and become their biggest bully to the point where they believe all the mean things they think about themselves. Please be kind to yourselves and acknowledge that self-care is more than manicures, face masks, and taking breaks from work. It’s being nice to yourself too. It’s about working on yourself.  

Caption: A quote from the Queen Bee herself.


My last approach is my inner turmoil presenting itself on the outside. A conflict between wanting to accept the compliment and not believing that it’s true. The other day a girl in my class told me that I always look cute coming to class. I was so happy to hear that and felt validated that people were recognizing the effort I put into my outfits but something inside me couldn’t let me have it. I struggled between feeling like maybe I would be a narcissist if I accepted it but so thankful she had said that so I just laughed nervously and I don’t even know if I said thank you. To me, thank you meant that I agreed with her. It was like that scene in Mean Girls where Regina tells Cady that she’s pretty and Regina asks, “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty.” The thing is when you say thank you, you should agree. Agree with a nice thing said about you. Appreciate yourself by expressing gratitude. Why? Because those nice things are true! 

Receiving a compliment is awkward for many people and my guess is because no one is seeing how spectacular they really are. We let our insecurities and anxieties eat us up and spit us out with no confidence and low morale. You must remember that this issue deserves your attention. Reality check: you don’t automatically wake up one day and you’re good at accepting compliments. It’s gradual. You are a work in progress and that means you have to put in the effort. It’s okay if you need to reach out to others, especially a professional for help. Both receiving and accepting compliments are difficult and you’re not alone.

Here’s a couple of phrases that I believe are true about you: You are cute! You are good at that one hobby you have! I appreciate your existence! You’re doing your best and I recognize how hard you’re working to achieve your goals! 


All Images created by Rosalie Rubio.