A mindset tweak to sort your fear of compliments.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are desperate to escape or distract when someone compliments or praises you?
To some this might sound ridiculous and irrational in the extreme — but many readers will recognise this feeling. Rational? Who said all feelings had to be rational?!
Feelings are real and a sign of something — something rational.
So — listen to them!
Picture this: you’ve just smashed that massive project at work or aced it in your community by organizing that brilliant event. People start heaping praise on you, telling you how bloomin’ amazing and talented you are. Your heart starts racing, your palms get all sweaty, and you’re thinking, “Blimey, now they’ll expect me to do this every single time! What if I can’t live up to their expectations next time?”
In this scenario — the feeling is a fear.
Q: What is scary about being praised?
A: What if you are not as good as they think? What if you mess up next time? What if they later regret that they were so gushing in their praise?
What if accepting the praise makes you seem like a show-off?
You might be experiencing a strange but very common fear cocktail — fear of success, failure, being a dissapointment and being judged as a show off!
I made up a term for what happens when you supress your personality, power and passion out of these fears — ‘Self-Squashing’.
This fear of accepting praise — does it matter?
Are you simply a ‘humble’ type?
Well — there is a fine line between healthy humility and an unhealthy humility — the kind that holds you back — squashes you.
As Arno Ilgner says — ‘Don’t let unconscious feelings of self-preservation make you cling to limiting beliefs.’
(Any excuse for some Arno wisdom.)
Let’s explore ‘praise’- what is going on when you want to run away from it and how you can break this habit.
The joy and misery of receiving praise.
First things first, let’s be honest — receiving praise feels pretty brilliant, doesn’t it? It’s like a warm, fuzzy hug for our egos, and it gives you the validation that maybe you’re doing something right here. It makes you feel seen and appreciated.
That’s the nice version!
Here is the not so nice response to praise –
You have a deep dread of being a dissapointment. You start fearing you won’t be able to keep it up in the future.
Or maybe you feel embarrased because something in your head is telling you that you don’t deserve the praise — it was luck, priviledge, fluke, a one-off.
Then you look around at the people smiling or clapping — and believe it to be nothing more than a polite act masking jealousy or anger!
You are falling into a spiral of self-doubt that removes you from the land of reality!
How to get better at accepting praise.
First step — know that you are not alone in being bad at accepting praise.
Some people cannot take a compliment. Contrary to their intended effect, compliments make such people feel uncomfortable and evoke their pre-existing self-doubts. Murray, Bellavia, Rose, & Griffin, 2003
Numerous studies along with my own experience suggest there is a strong correlation between low self-esteem and the inability to feel good about receiving praise.
In research carried out by Kille et al (2017) they discovered that ‘the positive information conveyed in a compliment is too discrepant from LSEs’ (low self-esteems) self-theories.’
All very well — and maybe this is turning on some little lightbulbs with you… but what to do about it?
Cultivate your Concrete Mindset
As a coach, when I use phrases like ‘do the forensics’ and ‘detective mindset’ it is to facilitate a shift from inner focussed, overwhelming or subconscious responses to a more rational, considered response that is fuelled by curiosity rather than negative self-talk.
How does using a concrete mindset help you joyfully receive praise?
Take a look at the photo above.
I am a new climber — getting better at indoor climbing but very nervy on real rock!
This was my first experience of climbing on gritstone — up a so called ‘slab’.
Here is the difference between adopting my abstract versus my concrete thinking mindset:-
I’m getting on and my knee is a bid dodgy — it could suddenly give way and I will be sliding down with my face grazing against the gritstone.
Who am I kidding thinking I can do this rock climbing thing — I was never brave or sporty. I am a coward really.
I will never be good at this — it is not my thing.
The rubber on my climbing shoes sticks firmly on the gritstone. I need to angle my feet, core and head in the best way to maintain balance — just like I have been taught and seen others do.
My knee is fine as long as I don’t make sudden twisting movements — which I don’t need to do in this case.
The best way to learn is to give things a go — I might not succeed first time but it will be a good learning experience.
Now let’s apply this to ‘accepting praise’.
You have just given a presentation and over coffee you are approached my a number of individuals who are full of praise about the presentation.
“That was so thought-provoking.” “I loved hearing that perspective — so original.” “Your delivery skills are brilliant — I was so engaged.” “That was incredibly helpful — thank you so much for the work you put into that presentation.”
Help! You feel so uncomfortable.
You smile and attempt to be polite — but make an excuse to leave! Maybe you go and spend the next 15 minutes in the loo?
Or you reply with phrases such as:
“Oh well — I wasn’t sure it hit the mark really — but thanks”.
“I give credit to others — it wasn’t all my original idea.”
“I stumbled over the last slides — not my strong point.”
In an ABSTRACT mindset you are self-focussed.
You are thinking:
- This is awkward — I am not really that good.
- I think they are just being polite — I hate that!
- I don’t see myself as a good presenter — they are just being nice.
- I spent ages over it — I guess it was bound to be ok-ish.
- It was a fluke — got away with it.
(If those last 2 examples resonate — check out my video on ‘The Impostor Cycle’.)
In a CONCRETE mindset you are focussed on the actual situation as it is!
- It did go well. No blunders.
- I prepared well for this — it has paid off.
- It is clear the audience got value from this — and I had thought of them of course.
- These people could try to avoid me if it went badly — they are making a conscious effort to come up to me.
A couple more reminders
Do a ‘reversal’ experiment.
How do you feel about GIVING compliments and praise — and how do you hope people will respond?
Keep working on awareness of symtoms of impostor syndrome and ‘self squashing’.
Oh — and you are not alone in this challenge….
My skin still crawls if you call me a movie star. I get embarrassed. I think, don’t be ridiculous. Maybe it’s because I’m British. To me, Julia Roberts that’s a movie star. But when people do call me one, that, I think, is an enormous compliment but, my God, is that a responsibility!
Exploring your FIBs that are holding you back — unsquashing your self-belief — these are things I create resources on and explore with clients.