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The Best Way to Handle a Compliment

Don't just sit there and cringe — say two magic words

I was having dinner last night with the woman I’ve been dating for the past few weeks and, suffice it to say, I like her very much and was telling her just that. I’m generally not the gushy type, except when I am. All through the evening, I was going on about how beautiful, intelligent, sensitive and interesting she is, and as I did, she nervously laughed.

“I just can’t take compliments,” she said.

“I’m the same exact way,” I admitted.

For as long as I can remember, I could never graciously accept a compliment. Whenever I received high praise, I thought the person praising me must be high. If someone said something nice about, say, my writing, I’d automatically deflect it with a negative response. (“Eh, it was sort of a Woody Allen rip-off and the kicker could’ve been way stronger.”) I just couldn’t stand to hear anybody saying anything good about me, which is pretty ironic because, for as long as I can remember, I lived for everyone’s approval. I wanted nothing more than to be liked/admired/adored/loved and then whenever I got the slightest taste of it, I’d spit it out like sour milk.

Whenever I was commended (and don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not like this happened all that often; geez, there I go again!), I’d feel sick to my stomach. I refused to allow good feelings to sink in. I never fully trusted them (thanks, Eddie Haskell!) and, to be totally honest, didn’t feel like I deserved them. Accepting a compliment meant that I’d have to like myself, which I struggled with for a long time. It also meant that maybe I wasn’t such a fake after all, which I struggled with even longer.

So I’d joke and diminish whatever kind words were being said until they dissipated like smoke, and I undoubtedly sounded unappreciative even though I thought I was being humble and self-deprecating. This went on well into my 40s. Then one day my father-in-law, Marty, pulled me aside and gave me the following piece of advice:

“Lar, the best way to handle a compliment,” he said, “is to simply say, ‘Thank you.’”

And that’s exactly what I’ve done ever since.

Saying those simple words somehow unlocked the iron gate around my heart and allowed me to trust the genuine affection being bestowed on me. It even led me to finally feel like I may have actually deserved the compliment. In short, I found grace.

Although that’s not her name, I related this little story to my dinner companion and she smiled her killer smile.

“Your beautiful face lights up when you smile,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said.

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