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Why Women Can’t Take a Compliment and How to Break the Habit

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Your cheeks start blushing, you are at a loss for words, and you avert your eyes. You have just been complimented by someone and, like most women, you are acting like a complete freak.

The whole “women can’t take a compliment” thing is a stereotype except, and I hate to say this, I really think it is a true one. After extensive research, I have come to the conclusion that these three things usually happen when a woman is complimented.

1. She blushes, cocks her head, loses the ability to speak, shakes her head, and looks down

According to social psychologist Laura Brannon, who has studied the interaction between compliments and mood, women with high self-esteem may tend to reject compliments because they want to be seen as modest and self-effacing.

2. She will take a compliment but put it down like the thing she did was absolutely nothing at all

If she just assembled a space rocket, she says a child could have done it. Comedian Amy Schumer did an amazing skit on this very habit. It goes a bit far, but you get the point:

3. She immediately compliments the person who gave her a compliment to get the attention off of her

Psychologist Susan Quilliam told The Daily Mail, “Most women’s knee-jerk reaction to a compliment is to think that the other person is just being nice, or feeling sorry for them. The second reaction is: ‘What do they want?’ Most women are suspicious because we find it hard to believe nice things people say to us. It’s a self-esteem thing.”

You will notice that none of the options included saying thank you. Ladies, what is the deal? We here at Levo are constantly trying to remind you (and ourselves) to boast about your achievements. I am not saying you should walk in a room and expect applause (though that would be nice!), but learning to take a compliment when you have done something well would be a good first step.

Women tend to favor self-deprecation over self-assertion. It’s easier and can be used as a tool to make others more comfortable, but this can become detrimental. Emma Gray of The Huffington Post wrote after the Schumer video came out:

These sorts of comments reinforce a pattern of continuous lady self-loathing. When being unable to accept praise is the norm, it makes it more difficult for us to take pride in what we do or what we look like. And frankly, when I compliment a friend or acquaintance, I genuinely mean whatever I say—I don’t want her to brush it off and insult herself as a result. Instead of downplaying our accomplishments, intellect, and looks, women should be celebrating those things that make us exceptional. Owning your awesomeness doesn’t make you obnoxious or arrogant. It makes you confident.

I get absolutely high off of compliments, yet I totally make an excuse as to why I get them. Someone compliments my outfit? Well, I just copied some celebrity. Someone says I wrote an article well? That was just luck. Someone compliments my hair? I say “Well, I actually brushed it today for a change.” Why has this automatic put-down reaction become the norm?

Instead of reacting in one of the three ways described above, try something different. When someone gives you a compliment just say, “Thank you.” And then try not speaking for the next two minutes. You can think that earning your degree from Harvard really wasn’t that tough, but do not say it. Then, maybe, this will eventually become the norm. Whether or not it does, it is an experiment worth trying.

Do you have any tips on how to gracefully take a compliment? Share them with us in the comments section below!

Plus, ask award-winning journalist and Levo mentor Soeldad O’Brien for her advice on taking a compliment!


#Communication #Women In Comedy #Confidence Lifestyle
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Maggie Seaver
Maggie Seaver

This is SCARY true! Meredith hits the nail on the head, once again, with her incredible insight into the nuances of female tendencies. Next time someone gives me a compliment (fingers crossed), I am just going to say, thank you!

I am guilty of all these reactions to compliments and I'm glad to know I'm not alone in not being able to properly receive a compliment. It's definitely something I personally need to work on and I think women in general need to take action and be more comfortable with being complimented.

After recently receiving a promotion at work, I knew it would be announced to my colleagues. At that moment, I made a point to accept congratulations because I had earned it and they were genuinely being nice -- it made a world of difference on how I felt and who the well-wisher acted too.

This is SO TRUE. My voice teacher is constantly trying to get me to stop acting so sheepish after I receive a compliment. My knee-jerk reaction is to, like Meredith writes, assume that the complimenter feels sorry for me. I think that, along with self-esteem issues, this stems from the lack of trust women have in each other, which is just terrible. I always assume that they are going to turn on me behind my back, like Regina George and the girl with the vintage skirt!

It's so very true! But, I'm glad to say I've learned to break out of the bad habit a while ago. I realized that, since I genuinely give compliments there's nothing wrong with receiving them, especially when they're true. The next time you get a compliment, if you REALLY feel the need to say something, I would advice paying the other person a compliment too. When I meet/see someone, the first thing I would look for is something I can pay a compliment on. It's a great icebreaker.

Great piece! Let's go "own our awesomeness".

One time I actually used "Don't talk for the next 2 minutes" technic and the reaction of other women surprised me:) When I fist time came to the US eight years ago, a female friend of my boyfriend complimented on my English language. My response was "Thank you". There was a pause and then a female friend of a women who complimented me said: "Did she just say Thank you?". Both women looked at each other and then at me and smiled. I could tell that they haven't heard a reaction like that in a while and they found my response exotic. I haven't done it in a while but will do it more often from now on:)

Wise words! It is a little sad but so true. Thank you writing this article- I think it will help a lot of women in the way they react to compliments.

Such a truthful article!! I can relate to being self-depreciating, often thinking I am only lightening the mood and making others more comfortable... but it probably is beneficial to also be able to take a compliment and own our achievements, so we can lead the way for others to be able to do the same instead of blowing them off!

I've been getting compliments on my glasses -- I can't resist telling people how cheap they were ($24)! I am going to try the Thank You and wait, I don't have to always share that most good things I wear are inexpensive.

Kristi Daniel
Kristi Daniel

After reading several of the comments below, I had to add my two cents. First, the best response to any appropriate compliment is "thank you". However, it's not always wrong to disperse some of the praise. For example, if you're a team-lead and you are recognized for the product of your team, it is always appropriate to say thank you and then something to acknowledge and praise the team.

I have also been in the situation where the compliments being received are completely inappropriate, ie "you were great last night when I dreamed of you". I was in a hostile work environment where I truly felt like speaking up would get me fired, so I didn't say anything more than "my husband's a Marine, watch it". Looking back I wish I had said been assertive enough to not have received those "compliments" at all.

I know I've gone off on a tangent, but that hostile work place taught me how to deal with jerks who don't see me as anything more than a girly. So when I was confronted with someone who literally said "you know what my opinion of women is?" after giving me the most disrespectful crushing handshake he could manage, I could say "I really don't care what your opinion on anything is" and walk away with my dignity.

Brenda McCaffrey
Brenda McCaffrey

Try saying "thank you" when someone criticizes you. It is much calmer and more professional than becoming defensive. It has saved me from saying so many things I might have regretted later. I learned this habit from watching Marshall Goldsmith at the INC500 conference in Chicago a few years ago.

Brenda McCaffrey
Brenda McCaffrey

When someone says such disrespectful things, I always assume that they say it because it is sanctioned by their superiors in the work environment, otherwise they wouldn't say it. So, take a close look at the company because the leadership is flawed and they probably won't survive in the global economy.


I've been trying to just say thank you whenever someone gives me a compliment. It's ironic that something so simple is so hard to do.

I thought that too because I never felt my abilities matched up to what they were saying.


I'm guilty of doing all of the above. A tip I picked up when accepting a compliment is actually taking it a step further, like if someone compliments me on my necklace my mom gave me, I share that info with them and how much the necklace means to me.

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