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#448: How do I accept compliments?

Superman flying above a city.

“Saving the world is just what I do; save your many synonyms for ‘amazing’ for someone who cares.”

2/11/13, 7:30 pm, comments on this thread are now closed.

 

Dear Captain Awkward:

How do you non-awkwardly handle compliments and being thanked?

I’ve always hated being praised or thanked, even as a kid. I never know what to say.

My mum constantly thanks me for stuff that is a normal part of being a housemate. She really does not need to thank me for hanging the washing or doing the dishes – its what people who want to live in cleanliness and household harmony do. Not something extra. How do I say “you’re welcome” three times in five minutes while sounding sincere?

Also, how does one make being thanked for buying gifts less awkward? I know it was nice to do, thats why I did it, I don’t need to be given more than a cursory thank you and perhaps an update as to how they enjoyed it.

I loathe being praised, so much that as a child I would hide good marks on assignments so my parents wouldnt praise me. If I’ve done good, generally I just enjoy the thing well done.

But since I know thats my issue – how does one graciously accept praise and what are ways to quickly change the subject?

Yours,
Awkward Turtle

Dear Awkward Turtle:

The answer to this is always “Thank you” or “You’re welcome” or “It was my pleasure,” and the subject will change itself.

Feel like you didn’t deserve the compliment? Say “Thank you.”

Feel like the person is overly effusive in their praise? Say “Thank you.”

Person says thank you for a nice thing you did? Say “You’re welcome!” or “My pleasure!

Have weird issues about accepting/deserving praise? You should still say “Thank you,” when you get a compliment.

As the Artist Formerly Known As Miss Plumcake says, you don’t have to believe the compliment to accept the compliment.  This is pretty much the opposite of the hugs question. With unwanted hugs? Say you don’t want a hug or physically move away. With a compliment? Take it. Your issues are 100% your own to deal with in private, away from the person who is saying nice things to you.

When someone says “You look nice today” or “Thanks for your work, it was very good and I appreciate it” and you try to dodge and weave and deny what they said, like “Oh, this old thing?” or “It wasn’t that good really” you’re basically saying “You have terrible taste and are stupid for noticing nice things about me.” You’re being rude. You’re making the other person stop their day and take care of your feelings – whether it be low self-esteem or a self-esteem so high that you’re like Superman – “No need to thank me, saving the day is just my default natural state because I am so awesome.” And what is going to happen if you dodge or deflect the compliment is pretty much exactly what you don’t want to happen – the other person will now try to convince you of your greatness, and you will be the one who has made it super-weird, and a 10-second “You’re great/Thanks!” exchange wil now become a 10-minute Dance of Awkward. You did a nice thing for the person. Let them complete the ancient gifter/recipient circuit and say thank you.

Now, if someone goes on for like, fifteen minutes of complimenting and is being weirdly effusive? Say “Wow, THANK YOU, but I’m really blushing here. Can we talk about something else?” (Note: You still say ‘Thank you’.) If it’s a total stranger or someone you don’t like at all acting like Smoove B., take whatever evasive action you need to, no thanks required.

It’s not that I don’t empathize, I basically had to go to therapy to learn how to just accept praise and actually feel good about good things I’d done. As a kid praise and attention or being singled out in any way publicly made me want the earth to open up and swallow me. I would do stuff like learn to play the flute or join the debate team and then quit as soon as people said I might be good at it, because being publicly good at things was too much pressure. So let me validate your feelings of weirdness and discomfort: They’re real! And wicked uncomfortable! Congratulations!

"I don't know what my feelings are doing" Benedict Cumberbatch

It’s okay to feel weird, just say “Thanks” and it will pass sooner!

One therapist a long time ago made me practice affirmations in the mirror and it was seriously THE MOST SQUICK-INDUCING WEIRD AWKWARD THING but if I didn’t do them at home I had to do them AT therapy (I could have lied and said I’d done them, but if you are lying to your therapist you’re probably not helping yourself and also holy wow have you identified an area that needs to be worked on). My Jerkbrain also has that nice mix of New England Puritan work-ethic and Catholic guilt that says that being perfect is just what I’m naturally supposed to be doing and should never, ever be praised. Was something fun to do and did it come kind of easy and am I talented at it? Fuck no, I’m not allowed to take credit or accept praise, because the only things that “count” are painful and difficult. Also, admitting that I needed help with anything = failure! Needing help is a sign that I just needed to try harder!

Yeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh….I needed a licensed third party to tell me “Uh, that’s weird, Jennifer. Happy people let themselves feel good and proud sometimes, and they ask for help when they need it, and they don’t freak out when people are a basic level of nice to them, maybe you could try it?

Validation/Jerkbrain analysis over. Take the compliment. Feel whatever you genuinely feel, but to the other person say a simple “Thank you” or “You’re welcome” and move on with your day. If you need to change the subject, try: “How did you enjoy recent (event)?” “How is your grilled cheese sandwich tasting?” “Lovely weather we’re having.” “Did someone just fart?” “Oh look – THE QUEEN!” 

Or turn the tables with a compliment of your own. Ha! That will teach them!

And finally, I really disagree with you about the housemate thing. Yes, washing dishes, etc. is just what housemates should do for each other. But often we think that politeness, gratitude, and expressing appreciation doesn’t matter with people we are closest to. “Oh, spouse knows I think s/he’s pretty, I don’t have to say it all the time.” “Oh, aging parent who moved back in with me knows I am glad to have her here, I don’t have to tell her all the time.” “Oh, boyfriend knows I love it when he makes breakfast, I don’t have to tell him.” I think that compliments, “please,” and “thank you” matter MORE when you share space and intimacy with people. It’s a way to make sure you don’t  lose the plot with each other. It’s a way not to assume that everyone knows what you feel and to keep yourself in the habit of saying what you feel out loud. Those tiny kindnesses add up to a life of love and friendship and appreciation, please don’t be so quick to sweep them away as something that doesn’t matter. Your mom, by complimenting/thanking you, might be modeling how she’d like you to talk to her because she sincerely wants to smooth the way between you and let you know you are loved. Sure, you can assume love, but isn’t it better to know?

The Winter Pledge Drive (where I awkwardly shake the tip jar in your general direction) continues through tomorrow. I’m about halfway through thank you emails, and will hopefully finish those in the next day or so.

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313 comments
  1. My Jerkbrain also has that nice mix of New England Puritan work-ethic and Catholic guilt that says that being perfect is just what I’m naturally supposed to be doing and should never, ever be praised.

    Oh ye gods and little fishes, New England Puritan work-ethic and (Baptist, for me) Religious Guilt is just the worst combination. “You must always be doing nice things for everyone! Fixing and accomplishing everything around you is a default state! What, you want a pat on the head for ACCOMPLISHING HUMANITY?” Why do we do this to our kids, seriously why.

    • THAT ^^^ ALL OF THAT ^^^

      My Aunt wants me to do some work for her and my stupid brain keeps telling me that I’m not good enough/don’t have the experience/I’m not a *professional* who should be paid for doing said work… All of it throwback from stupid upbringing in stupid cult with stupid unrealistic expectations of people and stupid emotional blackmailing and guilt tripping. It’s a work-in-progress *sigh*.

    • Ve said:

      “You must always be doing nice things for everyone! Fixing and accomplishing everything around you is a default state! What, you want a pat on the head for ACCOMPLISHING HUMANITY?” Why do we do this to our kids, seriously why.

      Ha, great comment! I’m not from New England, but I come from an extremely conservative Christian upbringing, I can relate. My mother acts the same way towards me.

    • Private Business said:

      OH FUCK THAT EXPLAINS.

      I didn’t grow up in a culture like that, but I had a decade-long situation where someone who *did* had the opportunity to slowly grind me down over honestly accepting compliments and honestly acknowledging my own awesomeness and honestly evaluating my work, value, and qualities as a good human being. The constant refrain was that I was too arrogant and needed to be more humble. And that it was NEVER ok to accept compliments – they ALWAYS had to be diffused with ‘what, this old thing?’ or ‘oh, I couldn’t have done it without X’s selfless work’ or more self-depricating crap.

      This person (and hir friends) spent ten years trying to tear me down, both to my face and in private to other people in the organization we were all part of. Still is, AFAIK.

      I knew sie had once been Baptist and had made the connection that it was part of why sie was so rabidly *righteous* about hir’s participation and status as Most Righteous Ever, but never that it was why sie was so rabidly *righteous* about enforcing the self-deprication/false modesty crap … because sie was the most arrogant fucking person I have ever met, and it was all coated over with false modesty. So tacky.

    • “You must always be doing nice things for everyone! Fixing and accomplishing everything around you is a default state! What, you want a pat on the head for ACCOMPLISHING HUMANITY?”

      Lol. Yes! This is internal on my part rather than external (to a large extent) but still, WHY? Who made me the mother hen over everyone around me? I have been weaning myself off this bit by bit, but only after being pushed beyond my limits over and over again. When you figure out that breaking down in sobs just thinking about an upcoming event is NOT NORMAL it finally clues you in, right? :)

  2. I just wanted to mention as an aside that this is actually different for many East Asian cultures. It is considered rude to thank someone if you are complimented; it would be like saying ‘oh, well yes of course I’m awesome, I completely agree with you’–even if you do agree, the more acceptable thing would be to disagree. ‘No, no I’m not that awesome’ (and then the conversation would move on, that being a normal response). It is an issue of humbleness, and is one reason that sometimes Americans are considered rude or full of themselves when they talk to East Asian people.

    Just thought I’d put that out there for thought, but I completely agree with everything the Captain said!

    • JenniferP said:

      Asians and Midwest USians have a lot in common with this one.

      Question for you – is the “No, I am not really that awesome” more common among women than it is among men?

      Men in the US have an easier time saying “Yes, I am awesome” and women are more likely to deflect and be seen as “stuck up” or “full of herself” if they don’t because people are expecting the whole self-deprecation dance from women.

      I like to subvert that dance. I especially like to subvert it when it’s the whole deprecating-yourself-in-order-to-fish-for-more-compliments dance, like teenage girls trading “I’m sooooooooooo fat” “No, you’re not fat!” affirmations. From me “I’m sooooooooo _________” gets shrug and “Sure, if you say so” (if I don’t like you) or “Well, you look great” (if I do).

      I’m glad you brought up the cultural differences, though! It feels like every culture has its weird compliment dance.

      • Yes, I think it is maybe more acceptable for men than women to admit their own awesomeness, but still pretty rude in general XD Cultural differences are really interesting I think!

        • Yeah my mother was telling us recently about a conversation between, I don’t know, some guy she knows and some other guy who worked for an American company that had relocated here to New Zealand and were (apparently) having trouble finding qualified staff. The local guy pointed out that in America people (especially men!) try to talk themselves up on job applications much more than we do in New Zealand, and if you take that into account they actually had some quite good choices. Which is a pretty good example of how different the attitudes are! We aren’t as humble as those parts of Asia though – people are still expected to accept compliments and thanks, we just don’t make a big deal out of things.

          • Kaz said:

            My dad vets applications for something with a highly international pool of applicants and he’s mentioned how they sort of scale the reference letter depending on the country it’s from, because e.g. the US goes in for far more effusive praise than the UK and Asian countries are different again.

          • kanel said:

            I know of a Swedish company with an office in California, where they really have a hard time finding qualified staff for the same reason, but inverted. Americans talk themselves up, as you say, while Swedes are more modest. I’m not sure if they hired Americans and were disappointed by their performance or if they managed to notice before hiring, but I do know that they are a little wary of American applicants from past experiences and that they were quite happy to have Swedish applicants also for their L.A. office, just because of this cultural difference.

          • Kanel: Yeah, I’ve heard something similar from a guy who was on a research board, granting research money to international applicants. He said Swedes have a tendency to dismiss Americans who boast about their accomplishments, because to Swedes these Americans seem to have an unrealistic view of themselves and what they’re capable of accomplishing.

          • serin said:

            Reading the Harry Potter books made me aware of my American tendency to expect scaled-up praise — the first time Hermione did something amazing and was told, “Full marks, Granger,” I was going, “Bu — bu — but she deserves more than that!”

      • tcheasdfjkl said:

        I feel like it might be a little different, though, if, as cloudninja says, “the more acceptable thing would be to disagree. ‘No, no I’m not that awesome’ (and then the conversation would move on, that being a normal response) – as in, there’s no dance and the “No I’m not that awesome” is sort of functionally equivalent to the “Thank you” you’re advocating in that it’s the most neutral response and keeps the conversation moving along normally. Yeah, it’s self-deprecating, but if this is what everybody ALWAYS says it’s not really gonna be taken as sincere self-insult anyway. So I think that for people who move between these cultures it may help to have a double protocol – “thank you” or “no I’m not that awesome” depending on who they’re talking to, keeping in mind that really they mean the same thing.

        This reminds me of how Russian immigrant parents in the U.S. (I’m a Russian-American immigrant kid) make fun of how American teachers compliment kids no matter what – “if you always tell them they did great how are they learn when they need to improve?” – but in reality, the kids know when they really did well and when the compliment is perfunctory social lubricant and the real content is the “…but here’s what you need to work on.” People adapt to their cultures and figure out what does and what doesn’t need to be taken at face value.

        • MusicSheep said:

          Along those lines, I think it is considered an acceptable response, in America, to say “no problem,” or “no trouble at all,” when someone thanks you for a favor. It is an idiomatic equivalent to “you’re welcome” even though its meaning is more along the lines of “oh, no, I’m not so awesome.”

          • I use No Problem very often, and for me it’s a way of saying “Oh, don’t worry about it- it wasn’t some huge burden that you placed on me!” because a lot of people tend to get so stressed about taking up people’s time/asking something of people (that old protestant worth ethic of “WE SHOULDN’T NEED HELP” cited above), so I find it helps dispel that.

      • I vividly remember a class in Chinese school where the teacher told us that the appropriate responses to compliments were either ‘no, I’m not really _____ at all” or “I wouldn’t dare [say/think about about myself]” or whatever the accurate translation of “bu gan dang” would be. I think it’s considered equally rude to accept among both genders, though, since when I was a kid and getting compliments, my dad used to tell me “you know, they’re just being polite,” as if I wasn’t really pretty/smart/whatever.

        While I understand that he was trying to instill humility in me, it…kind of didn’t work so well. Back to the topic at hand, though, the above responses don’t really generate a compliment dance among Asian circles. Or if they do, it’s super short and you move on.

        For the most part I switch off depending on which culture I’m interacting with, though, but I did have a lot of problems taking compliments growing up!

    • away said:

      This is so real! I’m half Chinese and half American (from the Midwest, too, where I feel like we kind of have a weird humble farmer-y “aw shucks no it was just a thing I did” sorta thing going on with regards to compliments), and I was socialized with exposure to both cultures, so I’ve kind of taken to using a mix of the two compliment-acceptance approaches.

      Usually, when I receive a compliment, I pair the two together and say something along the lines of “Aw, no, I’m not that great/I was just having fun with it/it’s not that big of a deal/etc. + But thank you for the compliment/that’s very nice of you to say/thank you for noticing/etc.!”

      That way, I’ve found, makes me feel less weird about accepting the compliment (because if I just say “thanks” I usually feel like cloudninja said, like I’m saying “YEAH I’m awesome, I totally enthusiastically agree but you just beat me to saying it!!!!”), while also thanking the other person for taking a positive interest in what I’m doing/wearing/saying.

      I also switch it up depending on what company I’m in–in Chinese company, your parents will brag for you, so you just have to sit there and be humble, otherwise it looks weird. In American company, especially at formal events/with more authoritative figures, I will often just say “Thank you” and leave it at that. It depends!

    • Nerdlinger said:

      Oooh yes this! My Jerkbrain is a lovely mix of my (very un-Americanized) Asian parents always criticizing and rarely a good word (when they would on a blue moon compliment, it was ever so awkward). Good words were so foreign that when they were told to my face, until a few years ago, I wondered if people were making fun of me when they said nice things.

      Healthy right? (Thank you my therapist for helping me see what healthy pride is)

      Totally agree with le Captain on thanking – compliments are a verbal gift! I also like saying, “Cheers!” or “You’re too kind.”

    • Ha, quite right. I spent a semester tutoring ESL students in Chinatown, and they drilled it into my head that in Chinese culture, you do NOT say ‘thank you’ when your friend does ordinary friend-things for you, and you particularly don’t say it whenever someone you know, like, passes the salt. The idea is that you do basic polite things as a matter of, er, basic politeness. Thanking people for doing it implies that you think of them as a stranger who has no particular reason to give two-tenths of a damn about you. I look and sound very American, so I just got laughed at when I did it reflexively, but I can see where that would be some kind of awful cultural whiplash for someone who grew up in an East Asian family, living in an area with very Western customs.

  3. I actually don’t think you have to accept unsolicited compliments about your appearance. You don’t have to be rude, but you don’t have to accept them as an inevitable part of reality. “I appreciate you’re trying to be nice, but unsolicited comments, regardless of content, make me uncomfortable.” They say sorry, you say you understand, they know better for future reference.

    • JenniferP said:

      The list of exceptions begins!

      This is true, especially from a stranger or someone being creepy. I once gave directions to a man on the bus. When we got off the bus and were waiting for the next bus, he asked if he could give me a compliment. I said “Is it ‘you give really good directions?'” and he said “No” and I said “Well, then no, we’re good” and he bitched me out for being one of those women who can’t handle a compliment from a man. But that was someone who had been eyefucking me for the last 10 minutes and was trying to get up in my space. I didn’t have to give that guy directions, or a single second of attention.

      The “have you lost weight?” thing can be really fraught, as well, or “You look hot today” coming from a boss or coworker. They can be inappropriate for sure! For that I’d go with the Intern Paul Thanks, which has a question mark at the end of it. “Thanks?”

      But the examples the letter writer cited are 100%: “Thanks.”

      And even in a slightly uncomfortable situation, the quickest, most frictionless way to get to a new topic is “Thanks.” If you can handle some friction and think it’s warranted, then push back. If you want the moment to pass as quickly as possible, “Thanks” is the way.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        I dislike giving even faux-thanks to “have you lost weight” because I actually find it kind of insulting (that’s highly personal and couldn’t you just say I look good without making it a…thing?) but this is a good point. Maybe faux-thanks would make it go away instead of becoming a big uncomfortable mess for everyone. Must Ponder This.

        • dee said:

          I hate being told I lost weight as a compliment too, so I just pause a beat, say “Okay” or “if you say so”, and go back to whatever we were talking about earlier. I usually prefer a more direct approach, but my attempt to actually tell a friend not to say that to me resulted in a hurried “Oh I didn’t think you were fat before!”, which was even worse – I AM fat! I like being fat! I dislike being told that looking different than what I am is a good thing.
          (on the other side, I have friends who do try to lose weight, so I occasionally say things like, “I see you have lost weight, which is a goal you set for yourself, so I congratulate you on achieving that goal” or something similarly clunky.)

          • notemily said:

            I just try to stay away from physical compliments in general unless they’re about something the person clearly picked out themselves, like clothing or shoes or a cool hair color. Otherwise it gets into this weird territory of complimenting people on traits they can’t control, which edges too close to the body image hierarchy women are often forced into. And I never, ever compliment someone on their weight/size. After I got really sick a few years ago, people would compliment me on having lost weight, and it seemed really fucked up to me that they were complimenting me on something that wasn’t good for me at all. I stopped saying anything to anyone about body size after that.

          • I’m usually so surprised that someone says so — I am fat and in the range where I can swing five or more pounds and I have no idea. So when someone is like “Oh you lost weight” I am like “I did what now?” and it takes me several seconds to remember that they probably mean it as a compliment.

            So that always kind of goes awkward and usually they move to “um yeah, you look great!” and I can say “Oh thank you!” or something, or we just have an awkward moment and then move on.

            It’s funniest to me when I just got back from the doctor and learned that actually I’d put on weight over the past three months. People are sometimes really bad about accurately noticing weight changes.

      • kristinmh said:

        Even if it weren’t rude to bring up how much/little someone else weighs, “Did you lose weight?” can lead to MAJOR AWKWARD simply because people often lose weight due to stress or medical issues. One time my mom ran into an aquaintance, noticed she’d lost a bunch of weight, said something like “Jolene, you look amazing! What’s your secret?”, only to find out Jolene’s husband had abandoned their family and Jolene was trying to cope with supporting and raising her kids by herself. Caused a very awkward moment in the grocery store checkout line.

        • I know, right? I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t call something a “target weight” when. the last time the scale read that number, I was in the middle of a divorce and on an antidepressant that was SO WRONG for my as-yet-undiagnosed bipolar that I was sleeping three hours a night and eating one meal a day. I was in NO WAY in good shape, even if I could fit into size small babydoll T-shirts.

  4. I am a recovering Unable-to-Accept-Compliments Person (also a recovering Serial Apologizer, and I suspect that these afflictions are related). It’s been a long road but I am usually able to respond with some sort of “thank you!” instead of arguing or trying to deflect the compliment in other ways. And now that I know other people who also can’t take compliments, it’s made me a lot better about noticing when I have the urge to argue about one and just take it gracefully, even if I’m in a bad place and don’t think I deserve it.

    At some point a few years back I picked up the habit of cheerfully saying “no problem!” when someone thanks me for doing something I consider not-super-special. Sometimes “you’re welcome” sounds really formal to me but “no problem!” feels better, and for whatever reason I do feel more comfortable using that and it’s helped me avoid telling people that they didn’t actually need to thank me in the first place, surely those cookies I made couldn’t have been all that tasty, etc. etc.
    My one caveat is that I read an article once bemoaning the use of casual substitutes for “you’re welcome” so apparently some people would find this rude? I haven’t encountered this personally, though.

    • ona555 said:

      Cheerful “no problem” is an awesome response. Also an alternative to thanks, esp. in regard to multiple compliments in a row, is a polite smile and wink or nod, or an “of course/happy to!”

      Aaand, for the heavily compliment aversive, “aw shucks” is also perfectly acceptable. It’s like you’re welcome/thanks, but also communicates that you find compliments embarrassing.

      • I am weirdly into saying “howdy” as a greeting so I feel like it would be appropriate to fit “aw shucks” into my vocabulary. I may try that out the next time I get a chance.

        • Ann said:

          You may also enjoy *mimed hat tip and nod* “Ma’am,” when genderishly appropriate.

    • I use “no problem” a lot too and come across many, many other people who do. I’ve read the very occasional thing where someone suggests it’s RUDELY CONDESCENDING to imply that something that someone was so grateful for is such a tiny little thing of no importance but that seriously seems to be an extreme minority opinion and I suspect it’s just an example of how you can’t please everyone. I think if someone told me that in real life I’d be pretty shocked and just be like “Um… I’m sorry???”

      • panda flannel said:

        I think it really depends on how and to whom its said. “No problem” never bothers me 99% of the time, but I once had a co-worker who would say, “No big deal,” (common variation of “no problem” where I live) instead of “You’re welcome” to customers, and something about the way it came off was super condescending.

        I think it’s worth being conscious of the context/tone and whether that makes it come off as “No problem, happy to do it,” or “That thing that was important to you meant nothing to me.”

        • I accidentally said ‘you’re welcome’ to a customer once…it doesn’t work in that context. But in almost every other context, a chirpy ‘no problem!’ or ‘you’re welcome!’ totally works.

      • Hazel said:

        Some people just have naturally plentiful reserves of condescension, so everything they say sounds snide even if the words themselves are polite.

        • panda flannel said:

          Oh god, that really is the secret.

      • I had a coworker once who told me never to say “No problem” to a customer because it suggests to them that it might have been a problem at one point.

        To which my response was “Uhh, okayy….?” followed by an internal shrug and complete dismissal of anything he said after that.

        Which included graphic details of him going down on his lesbian girlfriend (??) and an “Oh here let me walk you to your car and check underneath it to make sure no one’s waiting under there to rape you, because THAT WON’T LITERALLY GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES,” so I suppose that was the right course of action. It also means I really don’t miss that job or it’s family-owned-company-lack of an HR department. (O_o)

    • Britt said:

      I’m a big fan of “no problem/no biggie”, but it occurred to me in the past few years that you have to sort of be careful with that and only use it if you really do actually mean that whatever it was was no problem. If you do something big for someone, even if you’re happy to do it, probably not best to go with something that minimizes the effort involved too much. It’s an easy go-to if it’s really something that you don’t think is a big deal and that really was absolutely no problem for you to do, though.

      • Oh yes, definitely if I’m being thanked for something that is pretty major I don’t want to say that, both because I’m trying to actually take credit for big things I do and because I think it can come off as flippant/sarcastic if you say “yup, I did clean the entire house while you were on vacation, no problem!”

        • Yeah with that I tend to go with something more genuine, like “I wanted to do it” or “You could use it [item, money, help] more than me”. It doesn’t have the minimising of “no problem” but feels more personal than “you’re welcome”, to me.

      • Jude said:

        Took insignificant effort: “No problem”.

        Took non-trivial/significant effort: “Thank you”.

      • My rule of thumb tends to be-

        Did it take less than a couple hours of my time?

        Yes = No Problem!

        No = It was my pleasure, I was happy to help!

        I figure you should just be honest in that sense. If it was a problem, or something stressful, or time-consuming, I want to make them see I’m HAPPY to do it. Otherwise, well, it’s really no problem.

    • I live in a household of recovering serial apologizers, and one of the tricks we use to cut that kind of thinking off in each other is to interrupt the apologizing and say, “you’re welcome.”

      It was kind of a revelation to me to realize how much of my default apologizing can and should be replaced with just saying “thank you.”

      • That’s a good trick! I could have used that on another apologizy friend and I will keep it in mind for the future.
        I’ve actually started self-interrupting sometimes and saying “hey actually I’m really worried that [I'm annoying you/I didn't do enough today/misc. brain problem]” to the person I’m apologizing to, because generally if I’m in an apologizing loop it’s because there’s something behind that hitting my anxiety buttons pretty hard. It’s often tough to be that self-aware about it but I do find that I’ve gotten better with practice.

    • miss_chevious said:

      I’m a “no problem” person myself, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not accurate for a lot of the situations I use it for, so I’m training myself to move to “you’re welcome.” Because in the situations I’m dealing with, a lot of the time it WAS a problem, a huge one, but it’s my job to deal with it, so…you’re welcome. (Also, I am a devotee of Miss Manners, who comes down firmly against the expression.) Still, though, in my experience, it’s a commonly accepted response to a thank you.

    • mintylime said:

      One deflection I’ve tried to pick up is “Thanks – I’m glad you like/enjoy the cookies/whatever”, particularly if I can talk about where I got the recipe (or whatever)

      • caryatid said:

        that is my go-to as well, “i’m so glad you liked it!” or modified however the case may be.

    • That was something I noticed when I spent a year in New Zealand – there, people’s response to a thank you was usually “no worries”. I started using it myself and it still pops up every now and then.

    • Imbri said:

      I use a cheerful ‘no worries!’ when I’m trying to shunt aside thanks. When I say it, it has the added connotations of ‘glad to have helped’ and ‘say no more, say no more’. I’m very reserved and often prefer nonverbal or abbreviated responses to things, so the shorter and sweeter my response has to be the more comfortable I am. Since I have not quite managed to figure out how to blush on cue, my ‘no worries!’ seems to work out pretty well.

  5. Marty said:

    I quickly change the subject, so if someone says , I just skip the thank you and immediately start talking about the weather.

    If people are insistent, then I just argue with them and present all of the evidence of why I actually suck. It’s rude, but the silver lining is they probably won’t compliment you again.

    In all seriousness, my brain gets so confused and twisted up with how we’re supposed to act in such situations. So, it’s rude to argue, but it’s also rude to take credit for something you might not deserve, or to be too full of yourself. Plus, couldn’t accepting compliments give you a big head, and blind you to reality? Surely we all have friends who receive boatloads of insincere compliments (“I think you’re reeeeaallly smart,” says the guy who just wants to bone her for a night) and yet believe every inch of them to the point of being insufferable.

    Something like this letter came up at tonight’s dinner. I was lamenting how I can’t attract guys because I am unattractive. My friend assures me this isn’t the reason, and I am perfectly attractive. I counter by pointing out that 90% of my exes have told I am ugly in some form or fashion, that I’ve been mooed at in bars, that male strangers have actually acted offended when I’ve tried to flirt with them, etc. If that isn’t evidence of me being ugly, what is? And yet my friend said by rejecting her compliment, I was being rude. But she was wrong! (At least, objectively.)

    So what do you do when compliments are no longer a matter of opinion? When should they be taken as just a social nicety, and when should they be confronted as false? It’s all so confusing.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m going to be super-emphatic here because you are describing exactly the kind of exhausting, rude behavior I want the LW to avoid when receiving compliments.

      When a friend says “You look nice today!” or “You are pretty” that is THEIR OPINION. So say, “Thanks.” Don’t pull out the examples of 100 douchey ex boyfriends or men in bars as evidence, because your ugliness was also THEIR OPINION. If you do pull out that evidence, you are making it super-weird, and you are also saying “The opinion of a bunch of bad people from my past is more objectively true and important than the opinion of my friend.” Your friend is not obligated to agree with those people, even if you yourself do (this makes me really sad, by the way).

      RUDE.

      Err on the side of “Not rude” and let your issues & feelings with taking compliments be your own, private issues that you sort out with a journal, a counselor, or a very few trusted friends at discreet intervals (ie, not every single time they compliment you or every single time you hang out).

      Maybe you’re objectively ugly and people are lying when they tell you you aren’t? Sure, if you say so. Compliments aren’t facts, they are opinions and feelings. Say we just met and don’t know each other that well. I don’t know your whole history or feelings about your appearance, and I say “You look very nice tonight. I say, have you done something jolly with your hair?” If you tell me my opinion is “false” and get into all of your issues you are saying “You’re stupid.” You’re also assuming that our passing social interaction was an invitation to tell me all about your personal issues with appearance. So then I might decide “Rude, needy, and exhausting to be around. Avoid in future.

      And from across the room, at a safe distance, I still might have the opinion “Jolly hair, though.” And you would not be able to stop me from thinking that. People are not obligated to calibrate their opinions about you to the exact level of your self-regard or lack thereof.

      • rikibeth said:

        I could swear you just slipped a Downton Abbey quote in there with that bit about the hair. Lady Edith FTW!

        • She did! It was Sir Anthony “The Jilter” Strallan. So wonderful.

          • Ellex said:

            Aw, I felt so bad for Sir Anthony. That whole wedding scene was just agonizing to watch.

          • I still think of him as Lt. Eccleston from the Hornblower movies. I spent a lot of time in that story arc going “Oh, Lt. Eccleston, NO!”

      • Well, the whole thing could also be avoided by just not complimenting people. Yes, I am being rude by arguing with my friend…. but isn’t it also kind of rude to force a person to be complimented? Being ugly and feeling bad about it is my own personal issue, but it’s an issue that doesn’t have to come up unless the discussion somehow turns to appearances. So, by complimenting my looks, someone is bringing these issues to the forefront. They may not be aware they are doing it…. but then again, if they are my friends, they KNOW I have these issues, so why do they continue to insist on complimenting me?

        Isn’t the solution to just not compliment people unless you know it will be well-received? Why compliment a stranger’s appearance, after all?

        • ‘but isn’t it also kind of rude to force a person to be complimented?’

          Are you kidding? Because they like you and compliments are a way to express that. Your friends aren’t mindreaders.

        • toniprufrock said:

          I suppose that in some cases such as with anorexia sufferers and the like there is a clinical need for boundaries to be set in place so as not to trigger these thoughts that become so destructive. And, with close friends, there might be something to be said for sitting them down and having a frank caring talk and explaining (again) why a particular line of compliments is not something you’re comfortable with and why and that you need to not have attention drawn to it for your own mental health.
          This naturally is probably frustrating for the friend, because inside they’re all: “Jesus Christ honey YOU ARE NOT UGLY WHY WON’T YOU SEE IT?!” and so the compliments are there to try and show you this and change this toxic attitude of yourself in the most gentle way they can think of. Good intentions. And rudeness doesn’t help. But, naturally, people with friends who suffer from anorexia and the like know how harmful saying something like “You’re looking so healthy today!/ yay you’ve gained weight!” can be because something is awry in that person’s mental processing of their body image and it can kick them into abusing themselves more.
          (As far as I understand it. Please correct me, anyone who has better knowledge of this).
          So perhaps you need to have a calm boundary-setting talk and just say ‘I would really appreciate it if you don’t compliment my looks. I understand that you are trying to make me feel better and happy and I really appreciate that. But as good friends you have to understand that I need a break from it a while so I can recharge.’ Then you need to allow them to compliment you in other ways. And be gracious and polite because they’re not trying to poison you with them. Quite the opposite. But maybe these can be on other things, not appearance. Even if inside they’re always screaming with worry about why you can’t see the wonderful things that they see. Just as perhaps you would be really really worried if your smart, funny friend convinced herself that she was a failure and a dunce or something of the sort. To you that’s ridiculous and (I hope) you’d want to gently support her and remind her that she is in fact smart as hell. Not Einstein, perhaps, but what does that matter? Complimenting is just come people’s ways of trying to care. And to disregard that completely does major harm. But that is not to say that you should not set some boundaries in a measured way.

        • Bibliophibian said:

          I have a friend who hates being told she’s beautiful/pretty – she dislikes being complimented on her fortunate genetics. She asked our friend circle to instead compliment things she could control: “Wow, that dress looks awesome on you,” “I really like your hair/makeup today,” “Kick-ass dance skills!” That way we were complimenting things she had chosen to develop about herself and she could feel comfortable about accepting our compliments.

          Maybe you could employ something similar with your friends? You might find it easier to accept compliments about your fashion sense/sparkling personality/talents than your looks, and your friends can still express their good thoughts to you.

        • Briznecko said:

          Well, the whole thing could also be avoided by just not complimenting people. Yes, I am being rude by arguing with my friend…. but isn’t it also kind of rude to force a person to be complimented?

          Eh…this is where we get into the territory of expecting your friends, acquaintances, etc. to read your mind. Compliments (caveat exempting creepy compliments) are part of being a friendly person part of this society – so it’s not exactly fair to expect people to magically read your mind and adjust accordingly.

          I suggest with good friends pull them aside and set that boundary; perhaps as Bibliophibian suggested have them compliment you on the awesome stuff you do instead of how you look.

          With acquaintances just go with a quick “Thanks” + change the subject. Again, they can’t read your mind and don’t know your personal feelings about appearance, so don’t take it out on them when they do (inevitably) make that compliment.

          I also suggest you see a therapist – remember being in that place and feeling like I was this huge walking mass of GROSS and I really feel for you. Also, I know it’s linked here alot, but have you checked out Shapely Prose ? It has been closed for awhile, but this is an OLDY-BUT GOODY-GOLDMINE.

          *jedi hugs*

    • Muse142 said:

      Also, can I just say fuck the typical beauty standards?

      Point of evidence: Benedict motherfucking Cumberbatch was mocked literally his entire life for being ugly. Direct quote: “I look in a mirror and I see all the faults I’ve lived with for 35 years, and yet people go kind of nuts for certain things about me. It’s not me being humble. I just think it’s weird. I dislike the size and shape of my head. I’ve been likened to Sid the sloth from Ice Age…”

      Seriously, I will bet you money that Benedict could recite a similar “objective” list of reasons-we-should-think-he’s-ugly. And the features that people made fun of him for? Are the exact same things that fangirls faint over on Tumblr.

      “90% of my exes have told I am ugly in some form or fashion, that I’ve been mooed at in bars, that male strangers have actually acted offended when I’ve tried to flirt with them” … This is not objective evidence of ugliness. It’s evidence that your exes are unkind, or that the patriarchy and fat-phobia are alive and well. But there is no Platonic ideal of beauty.

      So yeah, fuck the typical beauty standards.

      • I’d just like to add that most of these things are true of me (mooed at in bars, offended strangers, the exes thing, etc,) and I conform to the typical beauty standard.

        • ona555 said:

          Ditto. Add on getting barked at as well as mooed. I consider all of that a form of negging* and have learned to respond with the appropriate level of disdain. That has taken @ 20 years, though, and sometimes it still gets to me, because it tends to happen when I am feeling quite good about myself.

          *behavior used by pick up artists to deplete a women’s confidence and therefore make her more vulnerable to being hit on.

        • As a busty blonde (I feel like a ’50s pinup!) I got that too. Weirdly as a redhead, much less negative attention…

          • There are still a lot of people who subscribe, at least unconsciously, to either redhead = WOW HOT STUFF, and/or redhead = YIKES TEMPER. They may be afraid that if they say something, you will simply turn around and kill them in an extremely sexy manner. :)

    • Pack Rat said:

      I want to point out that it is also EXHAUSTING to be the friend on the other side of this conversation. Constantly feeling pressured to reassure someone of their worth is my least favorite part of friendship and one of the things that makes me way less likely to hang out with someone. Even if they were sincere in their refusal of a compliment, which never seems to be the case with my friends, it is bred in me into my bones that It Is My Duty As A Friend To Try To Raise Their Self-Esteem. If this happens every time I so much as say a casual “you look nice today,” after about six months, you can be sure I find ways to spend less time with that person. I do not have enough energy to devote to telling someone how great they are, even when they are really really great, day in and day out. And while feeling bad things about yourself is terrible, it is also pretty hard to hear someone you love say bad things about themselves . . . not to mention that if only one person in the friendship replies to compliments in this way, it creates a power imbalance where one person may feel forced to constantly reassure the other without receiving similar emotional support.

      I am a serial apologizer and firm believer that I deserve no praise, ever, for any reason, so I really truly feel where you’re coming from, and I know it’s not an easy place to be. But I have also been the on the wrong end of this equation quite a few times. I don’t think that you are doing yourself, your friends, and most importantly your relationship with your friends any favors by responding in this way.

      • Aezy said:

        This! I am a very straight forward female so when I say “You look nice today” I mean it. Having friends pick apart what was intended to be a compliment (“Oh so you’re saying I don’t look nice the rest of the time?”) makes me get snarky and defensive. Having friends trot out LogicTM every time I express my opinion on their clothes/attractiveness/general awesomeness to be around is irritating and not fun and makes me feel like I cannot say anything nice for fear of it being pounced on and deconstructed.
        Also, I hate to point it out Marty, but how would you have reacted if your friend had looked you over and gone “Hmmm yes I see your point maybe your face is hideous”? How is your friend supposed to react to your long explanation of why you are unattractive?
        CA is right, if it’s a friend complimenting you and you feel like they are totally wrong, say thank you (or just change the subject) and leave it, focusing on the awesomeness of hanging out instead.

        • Actually, I wouldn’t mind a friend saying “Hmm, yes, I see your point about your face.” I’d feel RELIEVED. I am so, so, SO sick of people reassuring me I’m pretty to my face, only to talk about how ugly I am to my back. Compliments just…. feel so fake to me, and in my experience, ARE usually false, and are just a form of social lubrication. If a friend agreed with me, I’d feel like someone was finally listening, and not just hand-waving away my experiences and concerns.
          Frankly, I’d just like to avoid the topic all together. My ideal situation would be friends not complimenting me at all, thus no need to go near the topic.

          • I understand what you’re saying about how you’d like to drop the whole “you’re pretty” discussion.

            I liked the Pretty Should be Optional thread, not just in terms of having a right to choose how you present yourself but in terms of why should it be considered essential to your self esteem to see yourself as pretty? Can’t you just say “that’s not one of my particular blessings, but I’m ok with that ’cause I got others?”

            And yeah, if you are certain you are hopelessly unattractive, compliments on prettiness feel like gaslighting. Like, seriously — I’m supposed to overlook a lifetime of experience in which those people over there are consistently praised for their loveliness, and I am… not? I stayed out of the Am I Too Ugly to Date? thread because at some points it felt kind of gaslighty to me, with some commenters acting like there is NO such thing as an objective pretty vs-not-pretty. I would agree there are no absolutes — but not that there is not a prevailing standard or that most of us don’t have a fairly good idea where the majority of others would place us on the continuum.

            However, all that being said, I think when friends say “you look pretty,” what they are saying is “the sight of you sparks my pleasure-receptors.” And why argue with that? So they are deluded and confused, and they are failing to realize that is affection making the sight of me (or you) send pleasure through their system, not appreciation of your aesthetic qualities? Is it really important to pierce their delusion?

            As for the exes who have called you ugly, well, I’m thinking that’s because they figured out it was a weak spot in your self-esteem, as nasty exes are wont to do. Like someone else said, they went out with you! They must have found you attractive at the outset, right?

          • I’m sorry you have to deal with people talking behind your back. That seems like the real issue, your so called friends being insincere.

          • Blue Meeple said:

            The thing is, I don’t care what current popular beauty standards say about my friends. To me, they ARE pretty/handsome/cute/gorgeous/etc. It’s not a matter of “I see your point about your face” or “if you were thinner” or “if the skin condition cleared up”. None of it makes a difference. My friends are beautiful to me.

            Conversely, Conventionally Pretty People can be completely unattractive (to me) if their personalities are unattractive (to me).

            I agree with Kellis Amberlee that your so-called friends talking behind your back is a big problem. That’s not something friends do. I really honestly think my friends are not-ugly-people, I’m not just saying that. I would never insult them behind their backs, and in fact I would defend them against anyone who does! I couldn’t consider myself their friend if I didn’t.

      • Ethyl said:

        it creates a power imbalance where one person may feel forced to constantly reassure the other without receiving similar emotional support.

        That is so important and true.

      • Why not just not compliment their appearance at all? It seems strange that you would jump to not spending any time at all with them, instead of just avoiding this One Topic. For me personally, I DON’T want my friends trying to “raise my self-esteem,” since according to me, my self-esteem is fine. I don’t want them spending time explaining my worth, or arguing with me about my experiences… it’s why I don’t want to be complimented. I’d like to just avoid the topic all together. I understand it’s uncomfortable for my friends if I argue with them…. but it’s uncomfortable for me if they compliment me, because I feel lied to. Wouldn’t it just be easier for everyone if complimenting wasn’t the norm, or was only done with people who take it well?

        PS: I’m Marty, I have no idea by Blogspot keeps changing my name.

        • Pack Rat said:

          Well, usually when this is happening in one of my friendships, it’s is not the only factor that causes me to avoid spending time with that person. Instead, it’s just one of several behaviors which more or less constitute an energy vampire––you know, the boundary-ignoring, soul-sapping kind of person who sinks their emotional claws into you and never wants to let go.

          It sounds like you are definitely not an energy vampire, so four for you, Glen Coco! If I had a friend like you, though, I think I’d still prefer them to simply tell me “That was kind, but I would prefer not to be complimented” on repeat until I remembered not to give them compliments––I would feel less pressure and way less awkward.

          • panda flannel said:

            “Four for you, Glen Coco!”

            Oh. My. God. <3 <3

        • If you prefer not to receive compliments about your appearance, you are well within your rights to draw a boundary to that effect with your friends. “Friend, I know you mean well when you compliment my appearance, but I actually dislike receiving such compliments and would prefer that you didn’t.”

          But unless such a boundary is drawn, people have no way of knowing you dislike compliments. After all, most people like them, and they’re not usually considered such a sensitive topic that we have to ask first. And people like to use compliments in part to offset the fact that there are lots of assholes out there putting people down – so why not share some positivite opinions as well?

          All of which is to say, if you don’t want compliments, say so. Make it a boundary. But don’t argue with your friends’ compliments, because (a) as you noted, it makes them uncomfortable, (b) 9 times out of 10, they are NOT lying! Feeling lied to when you get a compliment is usually evidence of Jerkbrain of some sort going on. I’ve had friends who just would NOT believe that I genuinely thought they were cool in the way I said I did, and it is supremely frustrating to be thought a liar when I’m actually extremely honest (sometimes excessively so).

          So – I realize you may disagree with your friends’ assessment of you. But you do yourself a disservice by disbelieving them. I know it’s hard to believe opinions that totally contradict your own – but try to remember that they are OPINIONS and that opinions differ between people. Your favorite food? Someone in the world hates it, and they think you can’t possibly be telling the truth when they say you like it. Your face may be somebody’s favorite face, and even if you don’t agree with them, it won’t make their opinion go away.

          • Pack Rat said:

            Yes, boundaries are your friend here, I think! Explicitly creating the boundary without devaluing and delegitimizing your friend’s opinion (which is what you are doing when you argue with them) seems like a happy medium between what makes both people comfortable. Eventually your friends will learn that compliments are not a subject you enjoy, and you’ll be able to stop worrying about it.

        • Ethyl said:

          It seems strange that you would jump to not spending any time at all with them, instead of just avoiding this One Topic.

          Because honestly, with people who want to argue with you every time you try to honestly give them a compliment, it’s never about just one issue, it’s about the whole brain full of snakes telling them that they aren’t good enough ever. And that’s tiring to deal with each and every time you see someone, when even something mundane like “oh I love your new purse, where did you get it?” becomes an essay on how it’s not that great of a purse really, and they got it on sale anyway, and it’s a stupid purse and doesn’t even have any pockets. It’s exhaustingly self-absorbed.

          • I agree with this. It feels a bit weirdly self absorbed lot be all ‘you can’t think I am pretty and you can’t tell me because reasons.’ I compliment people a lot, and you know what? I mean it every single time. I say you have lovely eyes tonight? You tell me about wrinkles? Dude, it’s probably because of the wrinkles. I happen to like how people look when they get older. You telling me I am objectively wrong, because of what some frat boy said in front of his friends, or some ex said when he was emotionally hurting… You are telling me that you think my honest pleasure in the way you look, are, what you do, is worth less than some wanker who has obvious reasons to take you down. Yeah, that feels like an insult. But hey, I have never had a lot of stuff back from my compliments, so maybe they sound really sincere….

    • It’s also worth pointing out that whatever your and your crappy exes think about your appearance, as well as your friend believing that you’re attractive, she may well believe that you are more attractive than she is.

      I imagine it’s a very common experience among women to find themselves in a room where someone laments the fact that they are fat. And they have evidence, like their tiny jeans are getting tight, they look bigger than the woman on the magazine cover and a boy at school once called them thunder-thighs. But other women in the room argue with her, and they’re partly arguing with her because she’s wrong and they want to make her feel better about herself, and partly because they know, for sure, that they are fatter than she is. If she is fat, everyone else in the room is extremely fat. But there she is, still insisting that she’s enormous. Because she’s modest and self-deprecating. Or vane. It really can be read both ways.

      A person can’t necessarily help their opinion, especially when they have – as you have – been treated badly (I guarantee that people with far less going for them, according to our cultural standards of beauty, have had lovers who adore them, call them beautiful and never call them ugly even if things go wrong. Meanwhile, many models, musicians and actors, famous for their beauty, have had their looks criticised in public. That’s not about what people look like, only how they are treated.)

      However, your friend may well be sat there listening to your argument and all this evidence you have for your unattractiveness and thinking, “If you think you’re unattractive, what on Earth must you think about me? If you’re unattractive, I must be a Gorgon!”

      This applies especially to attractiveness, but it also applies to all other compliments and appreciation. If you challenge someone else’s positive opinion of you, you don’t merely risk rudeness, you risk making people feel pretty terrible about their own attributes and abilities.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        THIS this this this this OMG THIS!!!!!

        I am, objectively and by any rational standard, fat. At this point, this is neither good nor bad to me, it just is. I am a fat Polish lady from a family of fat Polish ladies, and my fat grandma just turned 97 this week. :) (She’s actually less fat as her health has somewhat declined, for what that’s worth.)

        I am not very good at being a sympathetic listener to someone who literally weighs half of what I do complaining about how fat she is. THIS IS RUDE LIKE A REALLY RUDE THING and people need to stop.

        [I have a small carve-out exception for close friends that I know to be recovering from clinically diagnosed eating disorders when I know what they are trying to say is "my ED is flaring up again" and it is coming out "OMG I am so fat!" That's a very different thing from the casual conversational bonding by putting self down.]

        And that thing about people farther from the cultural standards of beauty having awesome lovers, partners, etc.? Darth Vader Ex excepted, I’ve definitely had that. And the Darth Vader Ex’s favorite personal attack was not “fat” but was “slut/whore” because I’d had many more past partners than he had.

        • Blue Meeple said:

          I remember sitting in the lounge in college while two girls (who both put together probably weighed as much as I did alone) complained about how fat they were. And don’t bother trying to point out that you’re sitting there, an actual fat person, listening to them erase your existence. It’s insulting, infuriating, and exhausting.

        • Okay, clarify something for me here: you say you are, objectively, “fat.” But by the logic that these girls are not fat (because you are, and they are not you), and are thus insulting you by calling themselves fat…. couldn’t someone who is even bigger than you say the same thing about you?

          If we’re placing requirements on when someone can call themselves fat, where’s the line?

          INFO ON YOUR ACTUAL MEASUREMENTS/WEIGHT REDACTED BY CAPTAIN AWKWARD

          • JenniferP said:

            The line is, don’t sit around and criticize your body as a way to bond with people. The line is, who the fuck cares about what is “objectively” acceptable or attractive about a body?

          • Well…. I care. At least about my own body (I never criticize others.) I want to be attractive. Is it such a bad thing to want? Isn’t the idea we should be discussing our bodies and beauty standards and our feelings about them?

          • JenniferP said:

            This is not the place to post details of your own body and compare it to details of other people’s bodies. Consider that a firm boundary.

          • Apologies, I saw your comment down thread after posting the above comment. I’ll refrain in the future.

      • ona555 said:

        Oh, wow, this so much.

        I will tell a story. There once were three roommates, P, K, and O. P K and O were all roughly the same age, had roughly the same interests, same intelligence, and all met roughly the same standard for conventional beauty, but P, K and O also had three very distinctly different body types. P was slim and boy-shaped with a large chest, O was stocky and muscular with a prominent bottom, and K was short and quite voluptuous all over. These three roommates were also friends and were into the 20 year old dating scene, so they got dressed up to go out dancing quite frequently. Dressing up rituals, as most people know, tend to include self-deprication. When P complained about not having much of a waist, K and O felt bad about themselves because they both wished they had P’s thin, long arms and legs so they could look like she did in a short skirt. When K complained about being fat, P and O both felt bad about themselves because they wished they had her proportional curves. P wished she had K’s round bottom instead of her own flat one and O wished she had K’s ability to fill out a bra. When O complained about being small chested or about being burly, P and K felt bad about themselves because they both wished they were more muscular– P because she thought she was too skinny and K because she thought she was too fat. It was, in essence, a no win situation, because these three friends were comparing themselves to unrealistic standards that none of them fit, but each of them believed the others fit those standards better than they, themselves did. P thought that O and K were more photogenic than she. O and K resented P whenever she said she was getting fat, because they were both larger bodied than her and it made them doubt themselves, and because she had more romantic interests than her roomies. Instead of focusing on the vast number of not-shallow things they had in common and rebelling against external voices which told each of these roommates they were not good enough, P,K and O often found themselves engaging in sessions of self-deprication and compliment rejection, which led, ultimately, to fighting and the dissolution of the friendships. Society succesfully turned these three allies against each other. P and O were able, after a while, to salvage their relationship, K was never heard from again and the friends were not the better for it.

        The moral of this story is that beauty (and effort) is in the eye of the beholder (or recipient). That we are much more self-critical than our friends are critical of us, and when someone gives you (general you) a compliment, it’s not a slight against you but often a slight against their own self. They are often saying that you have a characteristic they wish they had, be it creativity, conversational ability, possessions, or a physical attribute. They are also saying that they like this thing about you and that is part of why they like you, so when a complment is rejected, the message is that they have wrong perceptions, wrong opinions, wrong desires. I like your hair + I hate my hair = your opinion of my hair is irrelevent = I don’t care what you have to say. Thank you for doing the dishes + whatever, don’t thank me = I don’t care if you appreciate my efforts or not because your feelings are irrelevent. That may not be the intent, but that can be the message. When someone says thank you for doing X task, what they are saying is I am glad I did not have to do X task myself, you showed me that you care about me by doing X. Rejecting that thank you can feel akin to rejecting the other person. It is saying, I do not in fact care about you at all, nor do I acknowledge my presence or contribution in making your life easier, because I don’t care if your life is easier or not.

    • 90% of your exes have told you you’re ugly? Well, 100% of them chose to date you – what, did they fail to notice for the first 3 weeks? My guess is they’re assholes.

      And anyone who fucking moos at anyone in a bar? Assholes.

      And good folk, if someone they don’t feel that way about starts flirting, respond somewhere on the spectra between “don’t wanna go any further, but wtf, flirting be fun”, “I’m flattered you see me that way, but no thanks”, and “uh-oh, I never get flirted with – I have no script – I don’t read Captain Awkward – rabbit in headlights!”. Folk who act offended that you dare express an interest in them? Assholes.

      Seriously, would you do any of the things above? Can you imagine CA doing any of them? These folk are cruel, nasty people who get a kick out of giving your self-image a kicking.

      I’ve not fully put together this approach, I don’t have all the words but – once I realise that someone’s saying something specifically to hurt me, and would likely have said whatever would’ve done that job, their input is too suspect for me to treat with any authority at all. It goes in the “haters gonna hate” filing cabinet aka the bin.

      Marty, I have no earthly idea what you look like. But I don’t for a second accept the testimony of your haters that you’re ugly. My guess is that you’re someone that some portion of people find attractive, and some portion find unattractive, and that both are moveable feasts. I know, controversial.
      My guess is that your friend was telling the truth as she saw it.

    • I used to be exactly like you – really confused as to how the hell to deal with compliments without (a) starting a yes-you-are-no-I’m-not arms race or (b) being boastful. The thing is, though, people don’t usually think you’re being boastful unless you actually explicitly say you agree with the person’s compliment (“yes I did really well!” – and even this is sometimes okay actually). “Thank you” itself doesn’t signal agreement, only gratitude/appreciation/acceptance of their opinion. After all, virtually anything anyone might compliment you is a matter of opinion – “you look good today,” “you’re awesome,” “you’re fun to be with” – which means your friends’ opinions may be different from your own, and certainly will be different from opinions of people who dislike you (and most people have SOME people who dislike them). That’s okay! People will have different opinions – and isn’t it a nice gift to be friends with people who think you’re great, even if you disagree? Do you REALLY want to convince your friends you’re not awesome or not pretty? Would that really serve you well? (No.) Plus you won’t be able to convince them anyway – you’ll just convince them that you have a self-esteem problem.

      As someone else here said, “thank you” is a complete sentence, and a pretty neutral one that actually doesn’t say anything about your own opinion of yourself. If you really want to signal your opinion, you can say “thank you?” and shrug, or maybe “thanks, I guess?” – but unless you’re with someone you’re so close to that you routinely share your vulnerabilities with them, I don’t really recommend it – it makes a normally positive interaction more fraught than the complimenter usually intends.

      • Actually, I do kind of want my friends to think I’m not awesome or pretty. Specifically, I want them to think I am what I am…. a normal, average, okay-in-some-situations, not-okay-in-others, decent human being.

        I am not awesome. That’s okay. I’m decent enough. I am not good at anything, but I am okay enough at most things to get by. That is the person I want my friends to see. Someone decent and average, not pretty and awesome. The pretty and awesome is a lie. It’s not true! Why would I want to be a lie, and why would I want to be friends with people who either believe a lie, or tell me a lie?

        I guess it just rubs me the wrong way that someone else’s opinion of me overrides my own opinion of myself. Aren’t I the ultimate authority of me? By saying “thank you,” aren’t I accepting their opinion of me…. even if it’s false, or way off base?

        I don’t want people-friends or strangers-to think I don’t see what I am. I never want them to think I believe I’m awesome or amazing or stupendous, when I’m not. I want them to know I see my own flaws, I am aware of my not-awesome-but-decent-ness. If people are complimenting or insisting on my awesomeness, it feels so much like there’s an elephant in the room, like I’m letting them speak an unacknowledged lie.

        Okay, maybe an example is best. My aunt showed up one Christmas with lipstick all over her teeth. A small but kind of noticeable thing. Our large family spent the entire evening complimenting her while muttering to themselves/others that SOMEONE should tell her she has lipstick on her teeth. But no one did…. they complimented her to avoid the awkwardness, but never told her what they were all thinking. By the end of the evening, she finally noticed, and was mortified that no one had told her.

        I never want to be that. I never want to be the person who everyone is giving a false compliment to, while really believing something negative. I want to always know I have lipstick on my teeth.

        Eh, maybe I’m just confusing the issue. Like I said above, maybe it’s just better to not compliment people unless you know it will be well-received, if arguing with someone is so exhausting.

        • Ethyl said:

          I guess it just rubs me the wrong way that someone else’s opinion of me overrides my own opinion of myself.

          You aren’t the only one saying this in this thread, so I’m not trying to pick on you :) But the thing about this reaction is, is that it’s totally out of proportion to someone telling you you look nice today (for e.g.). It really sounds to me like a jerkbrain thing, and a familiar one, and like CA says in the initial response, sometimes we need some help with this stuff. Jerkbrains are sneaky — they make you feel like what you’re thinking is rational and understandable (believe me, I know!), which is why sometimes we really need a disinterested third party to help us along.

          How do you think it would feel if you could go through life without constantly trying to convince people of what a terrible person you are?

          • What would it feel like? Like a lie. :-P Again, I’m not TERRIBLE, but I am not awesome either. I am a person who should neither be punished, OR complimented. I am not horrible enough to be abused, but I am not awesome enough to be praised. I am just average. Okay. Middle-of-the-road. Neither-stupid-nor-smart.

            I think if I could go through life just being acknowledged as “there”…. as a worthy human being even if I’m NOT awesome, that it’s okay to just be Average…. that’d be really nice.

          • The average person has weaknesses, but also has strengths! The average person probably does nice things sometimes, has qualities that makes some people like them, etc. Therefore, the average person deserves to be praised. Not praised to the skies like the new Messiah or Einstein or something, but praised nevertheless.

          • Ethyl said:

            What would it feel like? Like a lie. :-P

            I bet! Let me rephrase slightly — how do you think it would feel if next time a friend complimented your appearance, you just said “thanks” and let it go? I’m not saying you can’t argue with them inside your head, or in your journal, or whatever, but in that moment, just saying “thanks” and changing the subject? How would that feel? What do you think the consequences would be?

          • It would feel awful. Like I’m being lied to, or lying to them. Like I’m letting them walk away, thinking I actually believe that about myself. Like I’m being deceitful and dishonest and delusional all at once.

            The best example I can think of is, a person telling me the sky is green. If I agree with them, I am either lying, or being delusional (“wow, does she ACTUALLY think the sky is green??”)

            I don’t want my friends to compliment me for being pretty because I.am.not.pretty. I don’t want my friends to compliment me for being awesome, because I.am.not.awesome. I am not anything worthy of praise.

            If they compliment me, and I say “thank you,” I am letting them think that I am that thing, and that I BELIEVE I am that thing, when I am not. Plus, then they will KEEP complimenting me, and I will keep feeling lied to/delusional.

            It’s also, sometimes, I am actually to get my brain off my appearance. As soon as someone compliments me, my brain goes right back to agonizing every inch of my looks. It’s like,” Thanks, I was actually managing to NOT have an emotional melt-down about being ugly for a minute there.”

          • JenniferP said:

            This is some seriously distorted thinking, where only the most negative opinions people have had about you are “the truth” and positive opinions about you are “lies.” I second/third/fifth the recommendation to talk to someone professional about this. This is way too much work for your jerkbrain to be doing for a simple “I think you are nice to look at” from a person who likes you.

          • Ethyl said:

            Ok hold up a sec.

            It would feel awful. Like I’m being lied to, or lying to them. Like I’m letting them walk away, thinking I actually believe that about myself. Like I’m being deceitful and dishonest and delusional all at once.

            Ok, so some of these are things you would feel, and some of them are things you are assuming the other person is thinking. You don’t know what they are thinking, though. What do you think would happen next if you walked away after someone said something nice?

            As to the rest of your post… Everyone gets a bit awkward accepting compliments. But feeling like you are “delusional” when someone gives you a compliment that you simply say “thanks” to is not a proportionate response, ok? I really think it might be worthwhile to talk to someone professionally about why you catastrophize this experience like this. In the meantime, I think it’s definitely a good idea to ask your friends to not talk about your looks — this is good for most people anyway, in our looks-obsessed culture!

          • Anothermous said:

            I am not anything worthy of praise.

            This is the saddest sentence I have read in a long time. And, I’ll be honest, if one of my friends said that, or behaved in a manner that reinforced that perspective? I would not want to be that person’s friend for much longer. That is a huge sack of issues that they’re demanding I take responsibility for. I like my friends and I think they’re great people for various reasons. If I didn’t think my friends were great, I wouldn’t want to be friends with them.

            If your friends like you and consider you a friend, they probably think you’re great for various reasons, and are probably interested in communicating those reasons with you at various times. By insisting that they are wrong to find you great, you are basically telling them that you don’t respect the way they think or form opinions. That’s pretty insulting of you, actually.

            If your friends have a history of being two-faced or passive-aggressive, you need better friends. But with your attitude, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if better friends have, in fact, given up and let you go in the past. Because who wants to fight over how great their friends are? Who wants to be constantly told that they’re wrong for finding someone interesting/enjoyable/funny/engaging? That gets really old, really fast.

          • What can I say, I have a thing about authenticity. I would rather be my authentic, value-less self, than a person who has false value. (And yes, there are lots of people who both have value AND aren’t false. I am just not one of them.)

            I try not to put issues on my friends, but the Price of Admission to my friendship is I react very strongly to dishonesty or insincerity, even if well-intentioned. I talked down thread about how I made a bunch of purses for friends that were highly complimented, only to discover my friends really didn’t like them. That *really* killed me. I would much rather have them tell me the bags sucked (so I could get better) than lie in an attempt to be nice (which hurt me more in the long-run.)

            I don’t want my friends to think I’m great (and for the record, I don’t think they do.) I think they are friends with me because people like having lots of friends. People have hundreds-thousands!- of friends these days. I am just one tiny speck in someone else’s life, who they call up when they’re bored and need a ride to the mall.

            And ya know what, that’s okay. I don’t necessarily need my friends to like me. I *certainly* don’t need them to try to CONVINCE me they like me. All I ask is they be honest about what they don’t like. If they think I’m awesome in their head…. well, they’re wrong, but okay, they can think it, just don’t TELL me and set me up for disappointment. (“If they think I’m so awesome, why do they initiate contact?”)

            There is a personal preference sort of thing. You wouldn’t be friends with people unless they’re great, but not everyone operates in that way. Put it another way, I am not friends with those kinds of people, because I am not great. I am friends with people who just…. like having friends, not because they like ME in particular. And all I ask is that they not make that fact in-your-face obvious by feeding me insincere compliments.

          • Ethyl said:

            I am just one tiny speck in someone else’s life, who they call up when they’re bored and need a ride to the mall.

            Ok, I’m going to say this again, but these are not thoughts that are in proportion to what is happening. I know — I KNOW, trust me — that to you, they sound rational and logical, but they are not.

            Look, I’m really sorry that therapy has so far failed to help you out, but I really don’t think you’re going to find anyone on any internet comment threads or forums to either tell you you’re irredeemably broken or to magically fix you. Maybe you and your therapist are a bad fit, maybe you’re sabotaging yourself. We don’t know, but it sure sounds like you are really fixated on this idea that you are unlovable and unworthy, and that is no way to go through life. And you really, really don’t have to.

            I don’t necessarily need my friends to like me.

            Why do you WANT friends, then? Or a partner? You don’t seem to be a very good friend to other people, and you just said you don’t care if other people like you. So … what do you want?

          • @Ethyl

            I’m not really expecting people on forums to tell me ANYthing, that I am broken or magically fixed. I am just trying to share my perspective, which I thought was kind of the point? To relate, to share, to see different perspectives?

            As to your 2nd question, I want friends because I like them. I see them as exceptional people. That doesn’t mean they need to like me. I want friends because I enjoy learning about new things and interacting with different personalities.

            I’m…. not sure why I’m not a good friend to other people, but them liking me isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite. If they seem to strongly NOT like me, I’ll stay away from them, but it won’t stop me liking THEM and considering myself their friend, even if they’re not mine.

          • I’m…. not sure why I’m not a good friend to other people, but them liking me isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite. If they seem to strongly NOT like me, I’ll stay away from them, but it won’t stop me liking THEM and considering myself their friend, even if they’re not mine.

            …okay. That’s not the same perspective I have. The way I see it, if somebody seems to strongly dislike me, and I feel that I need to stay away from them, I don’t feel it’s possible for me to be their friend, even if I bear them no ill-will and would be willing to render them assistance if they needed it — if they dislike me, then they don’t want me to give them a ride to the airport, or help them with moving boxes, or what have you, and they don’t want my company, and there’s really no way for me to be their friend, because while friendship may be a feeling, it needs to be expressed in actions, and it has to be a reciprocal thing. If it’s not reciprocal, then some other word is needed to describe it.

          • Ethyl said:

            am just trying to share my perspective, which I thought was kind of the point? To relate, to share, to see different perspectives?

            This is an advice blog, you asked for advice above, and then turned around every single time people gave you well-intentioned advice to tell us all how wrong we are. This is frustrating a lot of people, because it seems like you weren’t asking for advice in good faith.

            I want friends because I like them. I see them as exceptional people.

            Why do you think other people are friends with people for different reasons?

            I’m…. not sure why I’m not a good friend to other people

            The reason I say this is because I don’t want to have a big long feelingssummit and wind up arguing with you about whether you are awful every time I want to say you look nice today or I like your haircut or envy your ability to sew. That behavior is selfish and rude, and not friendly. And in a long-term friendship, it becomes toxic.

          • Anothermous said:

            Okay, I’m going to try and dive into some of the things you’re saying here because it really, genuinely seems like you’re basing a lot of your conclusions on assumptions that are inherently flawed and I would like to make those assumptions more obvious.

            What can I say, I have a thing about authenticity.

            Implying that other people (in this case, potentially myself) don’t? Uh, trust me, I don’t want liars for friends, either. Assumption #1: people who compliment you, or genuinely like you, must be liars. Harsh.

            I would rather be my authentic, value-less self, than a person who has false value. (And yes, there are lots of people who both have value AND aren’t false. I am just not one of them.)

            Assumption #2: you have no value. I’d argue that one of the basic tenets of human decency is that everyone has intrinsic value, because they are people. People have value, period. I side-eye the idea that some people are value-less HARDCORE because that is the same principle upon which all bigotry and discrimination are based. If you have no value then who else in this world has no value? And who gets to judge the relative value of human beings? And those people who have no value, why should anyone care about them at all? Why should they be allowed access to resources of any kind–food, shelter, medical care? After all, they have no value. You cannot argue for social justice if you accept that there are people in this world with no value. Every justification for oppression has begun with the assumption that some people intrinsically have more value than others.

            I try not to put issues on my friends, but the Price of Admission to my friendship is I react very strongly to dishonesty or insincerity, even if well-intentioned. I talked down thread about how I made a bunch of purses for friends that were highly complimented, only to discover my friends really didn’t like them. That *really* killed me. I would much rather have them tell me the bags sucked (so I could get better) than lie in an attempt to be nice (which hurt me more in the long-run.)

            I read your comment about the purses, and that is a hurtful situation. But I notice you never actually quote a conversation in which your friends straight-up state that they didn’t like the purses. You talk about them not using the purses. Thus you are ASSUMING that the reason they don’t use the purses is because they don’t like them. There could be other reasons they don’t use them. For example, my mother gets me bags and purses all the time as gifts–I don’t use them all because I can’t! (I have more than a dozen bags, now.) Or I use some on specific occassions, but not every day. And honestly, regardless of whether or not I use them, I still appreciate her gifts! They still demonstrate that she cares for me and that still makes me happy. That praise your friends gave your purses? It is possible it was legitimate.

            I don’t want my friends to think I’m great (and for the record, I don’t think they do.)

            Why not? Serious question. Why are you more comfortable with the idea that you have no value, that your friends don’t really care about you, than the idea that you do have value and that your friends do like you?

            I think they are friends with me because people like having lots of friends. People have hundreds-thousands!- of friends these days. I am just one tiny speck in someone else’s life, who they call up when they’re bored and need a ride to the mall.

            And ya know what, that’s okay. I don’t necessarily need my friends to like me.

            Why ever not? Why would you consider someone who doesn’t like you a friend at all? Do you like this hypothetical friend who dislikes you? Do you go out of your way to form friendships with people you don’t like? Do you think others would do the same?

            I *certainly* don’t need them to try to CONVINCE me they like me.

            And if they’re smart, they won’t try, because they’ll know you’ll just assume they’re lying, or something.

            All I ask is they be honest about what they don’t like.

            What if what they don’t like is the fact that you don’t seem capable of believing that someone could find you valuable?

            If they think I’m awesome in their head…. well, they’re wrong,

            This is SO ARROGANT I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH IT. Do you have a pathological need to be correct, or what?

            but okay, they can think it, just don’t TELL me and set me up for disappointment. (“If they think I’m so awesome, why do they initiate contact?”)

            I’m going to assume that’s a typo and you meant “why *don’t* they initiate contact” because the sentence doesn’t really make sense otherwise.

            Assumption #I’ve lost count: they aren’t initiating contact because you’re not valuable/you’re not worth being friends with. An alternate explanation is that these people are crappy friends. Yeah, it’s possible they don’t really see you as a friend. The idea that you have no value is not the only possible explanation as to why they don’t see you as a friend. They could be too cowardly to say to you up front “You know, I don’t really like spending time with you, I don’t want to see you anymore.” And if, as you said above, you’re always willing to do things like drive these people to the mall, why shouldn’t they keep you around, at least in a cursory fashion? You’re clearly willing to go out of your way for them, and expect no reciprocity. It’s win-win for them! They don’t have to put any effort into the relationship, but they still get someone who makes them purses and drives them to the mall.

            There is a personal preference sort of thing. You wouldn’t be friends with people unless they’re great, but not everyone operates in that way.

            True, some people are jerks who are willing to take advantage of people who think poorly of themselves because they can.

            Put it another way, I am not friends with those kinds of people, because I am not great. I am friends with people who just…. like having friends, not because they like ME in particular. And all I ask is that they not make that fact in-your-face obvious by feeding me insincere compliments.

            Look, you are entitled to live your life the way you see fit. If you are comfortable being in a place where your friends are just friends because you’re there, and not because they actually like you, then…that’s your choice. But I sincerely believe that it’s NOT the only option. You don’t have to settle for that. There are people in the world who would genuinely believe that you’re great and genuinely be your friend, because they like *you*. I would bet my life on it. But you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy. You insist that you’re not great, that you don’t have value, that you CAN’T be great or have value for REASONS that are OBJECTIVELY PROVABLE (and you’ve listed those reasons throughout this thread, so I won’t repeat them). And anyone who disagrees get’s told why they’re WRONG. That is not a dynamic that genuinely great people are going to stick around for. In fact, that dynamic is IDENTICAL to the dynamic of That Guy who always tells you why you’re wrong for liking your favorite book, or television show, or band, or whatever. The only difference is in whether the dynamic is externally or internally destructive. That Guy (with the books or TV shows or bands), is externally destructive–he’s not deprecating *himself* in the interest of being right, he’s deprecating everyone around him. You are deprecating yourself, and it’s particularly insidious because you get to bust out the card of you getting to be the ultimate authority on your own life, but the effect is the same. You invalidate the thoughts and feelings of those around you, and by doing so you will, of course, eventually drive away everyone who might honestly disagree with you, leaving you surrounded by exactly the types of people who will continue to provide evidence for the notion that you are, in fact, valueless. Circular logic is a helluva drug.

            I feel like I should put some kind of conclusion here but I honestly don’t know what to say anymore. Other than to recommend the old Fugitivus post “On Interpersonal Badness.” (http://www.fugitivus.net/2010/06/10/on-interpersonal-badness/) Because it’s relevant.

          • @thwarthed

            “If they seem to strongly NOT like me, I’ll stay away from them, but it won’t stop me liking THEM and considering myself their friend, even if they’re not mine.”

            You and Smeagol should go to the same party.

        • Heh, in the case of your aunt with the lipstick I agree with you. But I don’t think it’s a great analogy for the case of your friends telling you you’re pretty – the central difference being that having lipstick on one’s teeth is pretty much objectively wrong (lipstick does not go on teeth! therefore we can infer that your aunt had it there by mistake), whereas “you look pretty”/”I look ugly” is totally subjective. Not telling your aunt she has lipstick on her teeth is withholding the truth (although even in that case “you look beautiful” can be a true opinion). Telling you you’re pretty is expressing an opinion you disagree with. There is no such thing as “you’re pretty” being a lie because it has no objective truth value. It’s only a lie if the person saying it doesn’t believe it.

          Yeah, there exist people who compliment others to their face while talking shit behind their backs. These people suck. I hope your friends are not these people. If you have evidence that your friends ARE these people, probably look for new friends. But in the absence of such evidence (OTHER than their opinion of your physique disagreeing with your own), accept their compliments as true! Because they probably are, meaning that they express their opinion.

          Also, I’m gonna disagree with you about the word “awesome.” “Awesome” does not mean “perfect” or “unflawed” or even “outstandingly skilled at someting” It just means there’s something about you that someone thinks is great. I had the hardest time getting used to friends saying I was “awesome” – what the hell do you mean, I can’t even sustain a healthy sleep schedule or be on time ever, I’m hardly even functional – until I realized they weren’t evaluating me on my entire life. They were just saying there was something about me that made them really, really enjoy my company. Just like I think my friends are awesome even though I know none of them are perfect and most of them aren’t geniuses (some of them legitimately are, but they’re not really MORE awesome than the ones who just understand me really well).

          Also, I don’t think accepting compliments means letting other people’s opinions of you override your own. You and your friend each get to keep your opinions (just like you wouldn’t suddenly find your hypothetical secret crush ugly just because he/she said she is). You’re not gonna be able to force your friend to change her opinion anyway; all you can do is acknowledge hers and move on.

          If it’s too hard to just say “thank you”, here’s something that I did for a while: “I disagree, but thanks.” That way you can acknowledge the difference in opinion briefly, without (hopefully) dwelling on it for a long time, and still move on with the conversation.

          • Eh, maybe it just comes down to the whole “it’s an opinion/it’s subjective” debate. I actually think looks AREN’T subjective, as least, not overall. A preference for red hair over brown hair is, of course, subjective.

            But they have done countless studies over and over and over, demonstrating that physical attractiveness does have logic to it (clear skin. shiny hair, the right balance of body weight.) There are cultural components to it, but for the most part, humans largely agree on Who Is Pretty and Who Is Ugly.

            So a person CAN be objectively ugly. I know this is an awful thing to acknowledge in certain circles, but that is what all of the evidence points towards.

            I have lots and lots of evidence suggesting I am ugly. When a friend compliments my looks, what I hear is,” I am trying to make you delusional.” Since I don’t consider looks subjective, AND have lots of evidence to contrary of the compliment, the compliment comes off as insincere, even potentially sarcastic.

            It’s like if you scored really low on the ACTs, and your friend said right after,” Wow, you’re really good at tests!” Would you really believe that compliment was sincere??

          • They aren’t trying to make you delusional, they are trying to make you happy/comfort you/encourage positive feelings. Yes, the things they say may or may not be objectively correct, but the intention isn’t to lie to and delude you.

            That is unless you spend your time around a lot of REAL assholes, in which case, you may want to work on that.

            Maybe in the world you live in people use compliments in a negative way to manipulate and hurt people. That’s entirely possible. But believe me when I tell you that there are lots of nice people out there who just want to say nice things to you to make you feel a little happier. You may not agree with those things, but you can try to take their positive attention to heart.

          • But is it really comforting if it’s a lie?

            Okay, for example: I complain to my friend I am ugly. (I’m ugly because, let’s say, I don’t take care of my skin and have huge red pock-marks from zits, and I don’t shower regularly, and I wear too-tight of jeans so I have a muffin top.) My friend quickly assures me that no, I am beautiful! (Because hey, it’s HER opinion, right?)

            I am now supposedly “happy” because of the compliment. But I’m not fixed. I continue to be ugly, and guys continue to not want to date me. So the cycle starts all over again.

            The thing is, I can’t always be self-aware about my flaws. It is human nature to shield ourselves from the more negative aspects of our personalities/bodies. I frankly don’t need compliments, because I get more than enough from my own brain.

            What I need from my friends is perspective. Since I can’t always be objective about my flaws, that’s what I need from my friends. Compliments don’t help, because they just reinforce my own self-delusion. I don’t need compliments, I need answers!, sort of thing.

          • The thing about any kind of studies involving human behavior and thoughts is that they find you the averages. The average man is taller and heavier than the average woman; there may be some differences in behavior based on gender (again, at the level of averages); the average person finds people with a certain waist-to-hip ratio more attractive than those with a different ratio. That’s what you get in the press release.

            But there is variation! SO MUCH variation. There are plenty of tall women and short men; there is usually a HUGE amount of overlap between genders in any study of gendered behavior; and there are plenty of people whose personal standards of beauty don’t match up with the standard of their societies. (I think you don’t give enough weight to the power of culture in determining beauty standards, btw – IIRC, it’s mostly just the really basic things that are consistent across cultures.) I often find myself disagreeing with others about who is attractive and who isn’t. So there are some general trends, but there is lots and lots of room for debate.

            And plenty of people who don’t match the dominant beauty standard still find plenty of romantic/sexual prospects. Once again demonstrating the fact that there is variation in opinions.

            The existence of variation is part of why, nowadays in much feminist-leaning discourse, people tend to say “doesn’t conform to our society’s beauty standard” rather than “is ugly.” This allows us to acknowledge the existence of the beauty standard and the fact that we CAN generally determine who is conventionally attractive and who isn’t – while also acknowledging that despite the existence of the standard, attractiveness is still fundamentally subjective, as demonstrated by the huge amount of variation. Whereas when I hear “ugly”, I assume it either means (a) objectively ugly (which I don’t agree with because VARIATION!) or (b) ugly IN MY OPINION (which I can agree or disagree with, but can’t challenge because OPINION).

            And so if someone says they’re ugly, I feel like I can’t agree with them without stating that they’re ugly TO ME, which is often untrue even if I recognize that they don’t match dominant beauty standards. And when I say “well I don’t think you’re ugly”, I’m not so much arguing against your opinion of yourself as just offering a data point – look, there exist people who think you’re pretty, even if others disagree!

            So if you want to avoid that kind of reaction to your quite reasonable complaints about having trouble finding dates because you don’t quite match the beauty standard, it might help to phrase it that way – not with “ugly”, but with something like “I don’t match most people’s ideas of ‘pretty’, so it’s hard to find a date.” That I would readily sympathize with without arguing.

          • What you’re supposed to do is to see that your friend wants you to be happy, and to feel happy with yourself. That’s why she’s saying that. She’s TRYING to comfort you, I’m not saying she’s being successful. What you’re supposed to do is take that attempt and say “My friend cares about me and wants me to be happy, isn’t it nice to have friends who want me to feel happy when I am saying shitty things about myself.”

            But if you don’t want people to respond with knee jerk compliments, don’t go around insulting yourself.

            I have a demonstrably large ass, it is large, guys have driven around blocks to tell me how big it is, I am aware of this. Invariably jokes about my fat ass are met with denials and niceness from women who don’t know me that well. This is a social program, it’s not personal, it’s how we’re socialized. And despite your unique snowflakeness you do not exsist outside of a social structure that encourages denials for self deprication. So if you don’t want people to tell you you’re not ugly, don’t go around talking about how ugly you are.

            If you have real concerns about your appearance or other issues that you want to discuss with your friends then be more specific. “Gosh I wish I knew what to do about the fact that I continue to wear jeans that are the wrong size and look unflattering on me!” And your friend may respond with a shopping trip proposal.

            But it sounds like what you want is to say something negative about yourself and have everyone else pile on. That’s not going to happen, because 1, you’re probably looking at yourself from a very negative place and may actually be totally wrong about your own ugliness 2. we’re socially programed not to do that, and 3. That would be a totally shitty thing to do to a friend who was feeling bad about themselves.

          • Shinobi, I just want to say that your description of your large ass made me laugh a bunch. :)

          • Erl said:

            “What I need from my friends is perspective . . Compliments don’t help, because they just reinforce my own self-delusion.”

            (Accepting, for the time being, that there is an objective standard of attractiveness.)

            So, there’s a lot of data out in the world. Some of it suggests that you’re uglier than you are. Some of it suggests that you’re prettier than you are. Some of it suggests, in fact, that you are stunningly gorgeous, while others suggest that you are troll like and repulsive. This is just what data does! (There are really good normal distribution reasons that this is the case.)

            From this massive data set you want to deduce The Truth. However, in order to do that well, you have to accept ALL OF THE DATA, EVEN THE WRONG BITS. (There are even better Bayesian reasons that this is the case.) By assuming a priori that complements are false, you are fucking with the data. You’re shutting out data that is an important part of assessing how attractive you are, and doing so in a biased way. Some of that data may be lousy, but some of the data from all over the spectrum is lousy! With this approach, you are guaranteed to inaccurately underestimate your attractiveness. (I can produce Condorcet jury theorem papers that will show this.)

            Now, it seems like part of your experience is that high-estimate data is likely to be untrustworthy, but low-estimate data is not. But that’s just a question of perspective—and the unfortunate fact that you are a nice human. If you weren’t, you’d know that quite a lot of low-estimate data is in fact an information-theory attack, designed to fuck with you and your self-assesment probabilities as much as any false compliment. So your axiom, “I don’t need compliments,” is unsupportable and inaccuracy-producing.

            Finally, and with regard to my initial parenthetical stipulation, I encourage you to listen to the Awkward Army when it tells you that the sorts of thoughts you’re describing here, (to wit, the conviction that insults are consistently credible and compliments are consistently untrustworthy) despite their apparent rationality, are actually inaccurate. They are. They may be brought on by quite reasonable mechanisms, by real experience, but they happen to be wrong. And it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that they were brought on by arational or irrational subconscious processes, of the type that aren’t good for you.

            Now, all that said, I think you’re entitled to refuse compliments on your appearance. But not, I’d say, to argue with them. Instead, I encourage you to develop a script like “thanks for the sentiment, but I’d really prefer we not talk about my appearance,” (repeated liberally). Also, I’d urge you to explore the pervasiveness and sources of your presumptions about the relative accuracy of insults and compliments, in therapy, with reading, or with journaling, or other tools. It is not impossible that these thoughts are part of a pervasive pattern of getting the world wrong; they are consistent with a common such pattern of wrong-getting, and you owe it to your truth and yourself to check to see if you’ve fallen into such error, as we all sometimes do.

          • Em said:

            @ThwartedNeedle — Fine. Let’s say we accept that you do not think you are attractive. Let’s even say that we accept that on some statistical level, the majority of people might agree with you. None of that negates your friends’ opinions.

            This is why it’s rudeness to argue with them. Attractiveness is an opinion, not a scientific fact, no matter that you might think your opinion on the subject is “objective.” Though there are beauty ratios and conventions and patterns, there are exceptions to ALL OF THOSE. There are always people who like the opposite of the conventional. Also, conventions change over time, proving their subjectivity. What was “hot” in 1813 and 1913 and 2013 are all different. Just ask Beyonce how well she would have done in those first two, eh?

            If you don’t want anyone to comment on your appearance at all ever, that’s fine. Set that boundary with the people you love and handle strangers however you see fit. HOWEVER, your friends aren’t trying to gaslight you (unless they’re really bad friends, and it sounds like you don’t think they are in general). They have an opinion that differs for yours and if you don’t want to be a) rude or b) seem like you’re fishing for a contradiction, handle this difference like you would any other. Your friend LURVES anchovies. You do not tell her that the majority of people dislike anchovies, therefore her personal tastes are WRONG. You shrug and say “I’d like green peppers on my half of the pizza.”

            Telling people their personal tastes are wrong is, bottom line, mean. You may think that you have a right to do this because they expressed that personal taste in reference to you, but what that means is you have a right to ask them not to express it. Your friends don’t deserve to be told they’re wrong (read: stupid) for thinking you’re awesome/hot/smart. Even if you think they are objectively, factually wrong (they are not), this is an “agree-to-disagree” category. Arguing with them will only make you seem like the Grinch of Compliments.

          • Mary said:

            I totally know people who have red pock-marks from zits, don’t shower often enough and have too-tight jeans. I agree that there are a generally accepted cultural standards of beauty and that people fall on different places on the spectrum, but at the same time, there is literally no characteristic you can point to that there isn’t someone with that characteristic who is beautiful.

            Your friends are probably not kidding when they say they think you are beautiful. It’s very hard to look at someone you like and enjoy being with whose face makes you smile and think, “Yeah, you are actually objectively ugly”.

            Do you do this kind of weighing-up “you are not technically awesome, you’re just ordinary” *to* your friends, or is it just the way you think people should treat you?

          • @Mary

            Do I do any weighting of my friends? Um, not exactly? I DO compliment them based on things I believe I have evidence for. Like, Friend A *might* be smart, but I have no direct evidence of it (nor do I have evidence of her being stupid), so I won’t compliment her on it. I DO have evidence of her being a fantastically insight person, so I weigh her that way.

            I don’t like contradicting other people’s opinion of themselves, positive or negative. Like if my friend says she’s smart, I’m not going to say “Maybe you are, I have no evidence of that.” If she thinks she’s smart, she gets to say she’s smart, regardless of my own opinion of her, because she has more evidence of herself than I do. But that also means I won’t always contradict someone’s negative opinion of themselves, unless I have strong evidence to the contrary, because they know things about themselves I don’t.

        • Mary said:

          I totally agree that if pretty isn’t part of the identity you want to have for yourself, then you don’t have to buy into anyone else’s definition of you as pretty. And I also get that it’s totally undermining and demoralising if you’re OK with your not-prettiness, and you’ve got people telling you that no, being pretty SHOULD be part of your self-esteem and your character. One of my friends called me on that once, and she was totally right.

          But – according to your first post, you weren’t saying, “I’m not pretty, but hey, that’s cool, I’m lots of other great stuff”, you were saying, “I’m so ugly that nobody wants to date me.” Like people said, there is not an obvious relationship between pretty -> people want to date you and not-pretty -> people not wanting to date you.

          It’s totally cool to not care about being pretty. But if you’re complaining about nobody wanting to date you because you’re not pretty and you need other people to recognise this supposedly objective evidence of your not-prettiness, it does sound like you’re kind of more invested in it than you think? I don’t think that makes you forced to accept compliments from your friends, but if you started the conversation about how you’re so ugly that noone will date you, what kind of response *were* you looking for from your friend?

          • Well, it’s me trying to accept being ugly. I am not there yet. I have been trying to accept and just deal with it for the last few years, and compliments just set me right back because then I’m having to confront the Lies of Society (“you can be anything you want!” “beauty is skin deep!” “if you work hard enough, you can have anything you want!”…. Those sorts of lies.)

            The response I usually want from my friends is,” Yeah that sucks.” Really, that’s it. Just some acknowledgment. Some recognition of my difficulties and experiences. If I say “I’m ugly, no one will date me,” I don’t want them arguing with me (especially by giving me false, cheer-up compliments), but instead a shoulder to cry on that says “I understand. That sucks and is difficult.”

          • unlurking said:

            @Thwartedneedle – >”Yeah that sucks.”
            Given most people’s desires to be encouraging & supportive, it may be extremely difficult to find a friend who would say this, unless you explicitly tell them that’s what you need, and even then it may feel really hard FOR THEM, especially because “ugly” is not “average” – average means some good parts & some less-good parts, whereas “ugly” generally looks like black-and-white thinking, and black-and-white thinking /is/ lying, I promise you that. And I think what C.A. is trying to say is, to exit the situation & move to a different topic, it’s easiest to say, “Thanks, hey, did you see movie x?”

          • Mary said:

            >>I don’t want them arguing with me (especially by giving me false, cheer-up compliments), but instead a shoulder to cry on that says “I understand. That sucks and is difficult.”

            Yeah, it does suck when you want a bit of a moan and a bit of recognition, and people keep offering solutions or challenging your thinking. But at the same time, if a friend complains about the world and does themselves down, it’s pretty normal to try and challenge their negative thinking.

            I think you really have to believe that your friends aren’t lying and *do* think you’re attractive. They might be objectively wrong, but they do believe that. You can ask them to stop telling you that, but you can’t ask them to stop believing it!

        • mintylime said:

          By saying “thank you,” aren’t I accepting their opinion of me…. even if it’s false, or way off base?

          Straight up – NO.

          You are accepting that they have that opinion of you, which is not the same as accepting their opinion as being factual or of more importance than your opinion on the topic. Captain Awkward makes a comment somewhere in here about mentally adding “You think” to what other people say … so that you do not have to internalize/accept what they are trying to say about you. This works whether their opinion is good or bad.

        • So my question is, why didn’t YOU tell your aunt?

          I think you’re wrong here.

          While I see your point about your Aunt, I think you’re missing the underlying intentions. No one intended to embarrass her, they wanted her to feel good.

          Compliments, generally, are intended to make the recipient feel good, which makes the giver feel good and creates a happy feedback loop of happy people who are happy together. Now, this means that not all compliments are rooted in reality. Which is why I personally do not take compliments as statements of true facts.

          What it does mean is that the giver wants to say something to make you happy. They want you to feel good, and making you feel good makes them feel good and then everyone feels good.

          Is this a weird feedback loop that could lead to possible delusion? Yes. But as grounded individuals we know that everything ever that is said about us is not true. From insults, to compliments, they all come from people with their own reasoning and motives.

          What you are doing when you reject a compliment ISN’T expressing humility. You’re rejecting their attempt to make you feel happy. You’re not bringing the conversation back to a realistic view of your own personal failings, you’re just frowning back at a person who smiles at you.

          I do understand your concerns. I hate it when people tell me how smart I am, both because I don’t consider myself to be particularly smart and because I fear becoming a monster convinced of her own intellectual superiority. However pointing out to friends who have trouble with adding and subtracting fractions that I’m pretty bad at calculus would be pretty douchey of me.

          There is nothing wrong with trying to keep some humility, but there is no reason to reject other people’s attempts to make you feel happy. You’re allowed to feel happy and a little proud of yourself, even if you aren’t the most amazing smartest nicest hottest person on the planet. We all deserve to feel that a little now and again, even if it is only part of a weird social feedback loop.

        • I can concede pretty. It’s a crap milksop of a word. But I defend beautiful. Haven’t you ever looked at someone in a moment, maybe they were laughing, maybe the sun caught their eye and glinted, maybe they just looked the, them, and thought wow? And yet these are not objectively pretty people. My dad, older, hairy, a bit of a bear, likes food, has beautiful hands. They are hairy, and a bit wrinkled, and have callouses and are absolutely glorious. So no, actually, I think subjectively attractive isn’t all there is too it. If I said in a moment you look lovely when you laugh, then, isn’t that as true as truth can be?

        • JenniferP said:

          Marty/Thwarted: You don’t get to control everything your friends think about you. You don’t get to make it match your own experience and perception exactly. That stuff is actually outside the locus of your control.

          Inside that locus? “I know you mean well, Friend, but compliments about my appearance make me uncomfortable. Let’s stick to the good stuff we do.” Sounds like a good solution for you.

          But “Don’t think I’m pretty, you’re wrong about that” isn’t inside anything you can control. That’s a transaction that is happening inside another person’s eyes/heart/brain and you don’t get to go in there.

          And “Compliments are rude (because they mean I can’t control how people perceive me)” is not a standard I’m going to endorse.

        • Ellex said:

          Decent IS awesome. I have met some decent people, and plenty of not-decent people. I wish there were more decent people out there.

          I think you are selling yourself short. You don’t have to be Einstein or Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Hillary Clinton or Harriet Tubman to be awesome.

        • ‘I am not anything worthy of praise.’

          That’s simply not true. I don’t agree with most of what you say but you’re great at saying it.

        • zandperl said:

          Wow, I find some of the replies to your comments quite shocking. You know your own worth, you have a healthy self-esteem without an overinflated ego. This is the situation I’m in too, and when people try to needlessly puff up my comfortable self-esteem by calling me some sort of ubermensch, it’s just not right.

          I hate when people say to me “you do physics? you must be so smart!” Y’know what, I’m good at physics b/c I work my ass off, and so do my peers. But you know what else? I suck at other things like history, geography, and current events. I know that and accept it. That’s not the same as me having a low self-esteem, I don’t need people buttering me up to feel better about myself, and I certainly don’t need false praise from someone (“oh, you figured out where Palestine is located? how wonderful!”), and I’m not about to accept that sort of bs from anyone.

          And besides, I certainly hope the people who are good at those other things like history are working their asses off at that. If they’re not working their asses off at whatever they do, then shame on them for having the potential to be and do so much more and not living up to it.

          • JenniferP said:

            I feel like you and Marty/Thwartedneedle should be friends – you really get each other.

            My point in the OP is FEEL anyway you like about the compliment. If you want to get from the awkward-compliment-receiving moment to the next with the least amount of friction, say a simple “Thank you” to the person.

            Or try “You are kind to say so” and acknowledge the kind intent without getting into the value statement of whether the compliment is true.

            Insults are not truths. They are someone’s opinion. Compliments are not truths. They are someone’s opinion. Insults are designed to tear you down and make you feel bad. Compliments are designed to be kind and make you feel good. If you have a good sense of your own worth (attractiveness, talents, hardworkingness, etc.), then neither insults nor compliments should have much effect on your own opinion of yourself. You actually have a lot of control over how seriously you take either.

            Someone saying “Nice shoes” or “I appreciate your diligence about homework” probably doesn’t want to engage with your personal philosophy of what compliments should be like, or need to know about your internal picture of what is worthy/unworthy of complimenting. If you want to make those interactions super awkward, icky, and full of friction, while also making the person feel stupid, by all means say “You really shouldn’t compliment me for stuff that isn’t true/just what I should do anyway.” And enjoy the resulting “A person tried to make you feel good, now you made them feel bad” dynamic that you created. There is a difference between humility, or observing cultural scripts, and the kind of compliment-avoiding which is all about you and your own ego, which a “You look pretty today”/”I am not pretty, so what you said is FALSE” dynamic almost certainly is.

            Anyone who said that to me, personally, would get an “Oh.” If I already liked you, it would go down as one of your quirks, to be respected. If I didn’t already know/like you, it would send a message “This person is a lot of work to be around.” Perhaps you feel that your complimenty friends are work to be around. It is your right!

            I’m not backing a “no one should give compliments because they might be untrue/unworthy” stance. But have whatever stance makes you feel good and gets you through your life.

          • Captain, is there really any need to be snarky? I’ve just been trying to give a different perspective…. that while your intention to give a compliment is to make the person feel good, it may actually make them feel bad. Yeah, they don’t NEED to feel bad… but a person doesn’t also NEED to give a compliment. The giver doesn’t need a feelings bomb dropped on them, but nor does the receiver deserve a (well-intention) feelings bomb exploded in them, either. Knowing that it is triggering for some people, isn’t it wise to err on the side waiting?

            Shouldn’t there be some awareness that complimenting might be something best left until you know the person well? More importantly, that compliments about looks should definitely not be given to strangers?

            Is that really such an awful perspective, to use caution when complimenting?

          • JenniferP said:

            I agree with you that compliments about looks can be inappropriate and best left for people you know well. And are not for work environments, for sure. Or interrupting people’s day, on the street, with strangers. We should not be commenting on people’s bodies, in general. I also think you raised a valuable point – if you give a compliment, and the other person does not accept it gracefully, then back off and don’t try to convince them to adopt your perception as their own self-image.

            But I also think that you can acknowledge the person’s kind intent without getting into the truth claims of a compliment. “You look nice today.” “You are kind to say so.” The question of “Do I actually, truthfully, objectively look nice?” does not have to enter into your interaction with the other person, even if that question is what is happening in your head. I don’t think saying “Thanks” or “You are kind to say so” is a endorsing a lie if you don’t 100% agree with the substance of the compliment.

            What does saying “Thanks” or “You are very kind,” cost you in the end? You can decide “That costs me too much, actually, and I’d like to set the person straight.” I can see this being useful in certain situations, like some guy on the eL bothering me about my sunglasses. I want that compliment (and really that interruption) to have friction and be costly for him, so he will think twice about doing that again to anyone. I want him to feel disrespected and bad.

            Do you want to train friends, coworkers, and passing acquaintances that they should not give you compliments because you do not like it? Then decide that giving you a compliment should carry friction. That is your right and will probably be very effective.

            You and I are strangers. So if at a party I said “I like your hair, you look really great” and you explained to me that no, it really doesn’t, and you don’t look great, and also that I shouldn’t compliment you about that because I made you feel bad, right there and then, we are probably done. I will say something polite to get through the moment, and then I will find someone who is less work to talk to.

            There are frictions and costs to giving compliments, and there are frictions and costs to arguing with them – you get to decide how you want to handle it.

            You can continue posting here, but I would ask you to refrain from posting details of your appearance including height/weight/body shape. The position of this website is that while cultural beauty standards exist and influence us, there is no objective standard of what is beautiful/unbeautiful so presenting “evidence” of unattractiveness is just going to be weird and triggery for people who might share (or even aspire!) to those characteristics.

          • “Shouldn’t there be some awareness that complimenting might be something best left until you know the person well? More importantly, that compliments about looks should definitely not be given to strangers?”

            Thing is, for your and zandperl’s negative reactions to comments we’ve had many tales of positive reactions. Most people react positively – sometimes extremely so – and so to base complimenting policy on a very-small-minority reaction would probably have a net negative effect. You’re free to draw no-compliments boundaries with your friends, but please acknowledge that most people are not like you in this respect and therefore we can’t and shouldn’t all change our interaction styles to accommodate you, because that would un-accommodate a bunch of other people.

          • Well I think we’re probably talking too wide of an umbrella of compliments. I never argue compliments with strangers. I also don’t thank them-I hurriedly change the subject, or in a lot of cases actually compliment them back. (“Oh, that was such a nice presentation you gave!” “Oh, no-hey, what about that speech you gave last week? That was phenomenal, can you give me tips?”) Diverting the conversation back to them with a compliment, 99% of the time, makes them forget that I didn’t agree with them, and there is no friction cause most people love talking about themselves.

            I only really argue with friends in a small group setting, because in a weird way, I’m trying to show I respect them enough to not let them live under a falsehood. (“Dude, I am totally pretending to be smart, it is a-okay for us both to acknowledge this!”) Though if they argue back hard enough, I usually give up and resort back to complimenting them, which changes the subject quickly enough.

          • Ellex said:

            You seem to think that people shouldn’t express that admiration about you working hard at something, but I have issues with your assertion that people should be ashamed for not living up to their potential. Frankly, that’s arrogant. A lot of people have potential they aren’t able to tap into for a variety of reasons, often through no fault of their own.

            For some people, something like “you managed to find Palestine on the map, great job!” may be a genuine accomplishment, and a genuinely deserved compliment. For some people, being able to work hard at anything is a huge undertaking, and even if they fail, the fact that they made the attempt is worthy of praise.

            Compliments are not designed to “butter you up”. They are not bullshit. They are not about “living up to expectations”. If they are, then they are not compliments.

            You don’t have to like being complimented. You don’t have to think the compliment is merited. You even get to say “I am uncomfortable with compliments/I am uncomfortable with compliments about x,y, and z things, and would appreciate if you didn’t express them.”

            What you do have to do is recognize the right of the complimenter to have their opinion, and to think that something about you is worthy of admiration. You have to accept that they think well enough of you to want you to know that they admire you and want you to feel good about yourself.

            Otherwise, you invalidate them as a person with a right to their own thoughts and opinions independent of your thoughts and opinions.

        • TL said:

          Well, you don’t get to decide what’s awesome to other people.

          I used to have a friend who was really craftsy and artsy and would make cards or art projects or whatever. And she wasn’t Michelangelo, but they were much better than anything I could do. And I thought they were awesome and she was awesome. To me, they were awesome even though I knew there were people who could do it better than her. I didn’t judge her on how she compared to Martha Stuart’s crafts, but appreciated doing it for me, doing it much better than I could, and that I didn’t have to do it myself. I don’t know Martha; I just knew her and she would help me. That’s awesome.

          Conversely, I’m fairly good with Excel and when I help someone, I know there’re people out there who are way better than I am, but that doesn’t matter to the person I’m helping. What matters is I can do what they need and that, especially if they don’t have a mind that’s good at Excel-think, is awesome to them, even if to me it seems really easy and not a big deal.

          • TL said:

            Oh, sorry that first sentence is kinda harsh and I meant to delete it.

          • True, but *shrugs* I get confused about the whole sincere-compliments, not-sincere, sarcastic, getting-your-hopes-up sort of thing.

            I took up sewing about a year ago, and for Christmas made a bunch of my friends purses. I worked very, very hard on them, and all of my friends complimented me to no end, saying how impressed they were and how they loved them, how they wanted me to make them more stuff. I was so excited and pleased…. until I noticed my friends never carried the purses. They were left collecting dust in the back of closets. Whenever I suggested getting together so I could sew them something else, my friends always conveniently had other plans.

            Eventually I realized the compliments, while well-intentioned, hadn’t been sincere. I was crushed. Not so much that they didn’t like my work. But I would have really appreciated them pointing out they preferred a different color/thought the seams were badly done/they’re prefer a zipper instead of a clasp, etc. Then I could have given the purse to someone else, improved my skills, and made them a more acceptable one. Instead, I got all happy about being “good” at sewing/gift-giving when in reality, it turns out I sucked.

            So no, I don’t get to decide what they think is awesome…. but so much of my experience of compliments is that they are insincere, social lubricants, that artificially inflate my importance.

          • So here is the thing about the purses, if I had been one of the recipients:

            Had you given me one, I would have been seriously impressed at the skill and effort involved. I sew, and I know what is and isn’t easy. And my praise for that would have been 100% sincere.

            However. I am not the sort of person who considers purses “accessories” to be collected in lots of colors and styles to go with different outfits. (That’s why God invented shoes.) I am seriously ADD, and wasn’t diagnosed until VERY recently, and for me, a purse is an Adaptive Device. I have ONE purse that I carry ALL THE TIME, and it has a very specific arrangement of pockets, and clips for keys, and slots for pens, and an elastic doodad that was probably intended for a lipstick but I keep my inhaler there, and the center compartment is big enough to hold my 13″ Macbook if I need it to, and it is plain black so it goes with everything, and the only time I carry any other sort of purse is if I’m wearing EVENING CLOTHES and carrying, like, one lipstick, my wallet, two keys (car and front door) and some breath mints. Everything else stays put in The Purse where I need it and can find it. Changing out my Stuff between purses is like moving house.

            But my parents drilled into me that when someone gives you a gift, you thank them for it. You don’t tell them how it isn’t something you’ll use, or that you don’t want it, or that you don’t like it. If it’s a bought present, you can go and try to exchange it without calling attention to it; if it’s a present someone MADE for you? You never let on that you don’t want it.

            If you noticed that I wasn’t using the purse, and asked me about it, I’d explain about my One True Purse and how yours was a great purse but I only ever carry the one. But unless you asked, I’d never breathe a word about it, because, by the rules I was taught, that would be MASSIVELY impolite.

          • @Riki

            Oh sure, that makes sense; I tried to make gifts that were person-appropriate, so in your case I probably wouldn’t have made you a purse, but a wallet or a mouse-pad or something. (I’m… working my way up to clothes. I can barely make them for myself.)

            But the ladies I gave the purses to are purse-ladies. The ONLY reason they wouldn’t carry em is if they didn’t like it. And if they didn’t like it-darn it, give it back then, I could try to sell it or make it better!

            Sometimes social niceties just seem so…. IMPRACTICAL.

          • Fair enough about these ladies being purse-ladies, and therefore if they’d really liked them, they might have carried them — but, again, if they were raised the way I was, they would have to overcome YEARS of social conditioning to be able to tell you that they didn’t like the purse. This is a thing that most parents start drilling into children from about their third or fourth birthday party, or Christmas at a similar age. They think of it as good manners.

            Now, I’m on the blunt side, so if, say, you’d made me a wallet, but noticed that I was still using my old one, and asked me “hey, did you not like that wallet I made?” I’d probably say “It’s really cute, but it doesn’t have a zippered pocket for my change, and that’s like the one thing a wallet has to have for me,” because I would figure you wanted information rather than reassurance.

            This has gotten me in trouble a few times.

            If you then said “well, do you want me to make you another one?” I’d follow the politeness scripts I’d been taught, and say “Oh, no, you don’t need to put yourself to the trouble!” It would take some effort on your part to make me understand that you wanted to learn and improve, and that I wouldn’t be greedy or selfish to ask you to make another one. God HELP me if I’d told Aunt Ethel that I didn’t like pink-and-green stripes, but would she knit me one in turquoise blue?

            What you want out of social interactions is very different from what most American women have had drilled into them since their earliest childhood. If you can keep in mind that your friends aren’t being intentionally cruel, and that they’re following the rules as best they know how to AVOID being cruel, it might be easier to live with. And if you want people to be blunt and objective even when it’s critical rather than complimentary, you’re going to have to tell them a lot of times. They’re going to feel just as horrible doing that as you feel when you get unwarranted praise.

          • Esti said:

            I think this purse story is a really good example of why people are struggling to understand your thinking. Because the fact that your friends didn’t use the purses (or didn’t use them in front of you — they might well have used them when you weren’t there to see, especially if, like me, they carry different kinds of purses for different kinds of events/weather/outfits) doesn’t mean that they weren’t sincerely greatful for them, or that they didn’t honestly think that you had done a wonderful job making them. The fact that you assume that the purses were badly made and the compliments insincere–and not just that your friends might have a ton of purses already, or prefer to carry backpacks, or not want to carry your beautiful handmade item except on special occasions, or not have an outfit that really goes with the purse–is, to me, a sign of how out-of-whack your perceptions are.

            But let’s say, for argument sake, that the purses you made just weren’t the kind of thing your friends like in a purse. I’ve had friends and relatives give me gifts that weren’t exactly my taste, that I don’t end up using very often. But that didn’t make me any less greatful or happy to receive them because the givers had still put time and thought into picking something for me to show me that they cared about me. One of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever gotten was a slightly ugly, not at all “me” denim jacket that my Dad had picked out for me at one of my favorite stores; the fact that he actually went to that girly store and looked through racks and tried to find something he thought I would like meant that that jacket still sits in my closet and gets a smile whenever I see it, even though I’ve never had occasion to wear it. If the giver actually made the gift themselves — something that takes a lot more time and effort — that would be even more appreciated.

            To most people, it would be extremely rude in that circumstance to respond to being given that gift by saying “this seam is actually crooked and I don’t really like the color or the size, so this gift, although perhaps well-intentioned, is not up to snuff.” To most people, the response of “thank you, this purse is beautiful and I appreciate so much the effort you put into making it!” is both polite AND true, even if one seam is a little crooked or the recipient already owns 14 purses and really doesn’t need another one. In short: it’s not about whether the gift is “acceptable”. It’s about whether the gift is thoughtful.

            Your friends are not, if they are good people, evaluating you and your gifts on some kind of objective scale where you can only be viewed as looking nice today if you would qualify for the cover of Sports Illustrated, or where your gift can only be sincerely appreciated if it is objectively needed and to the taste of the recipient. Even if you are not literally a rocket scientist, your friends may think (and say) “wow, you’re so smart” if you correctly answer a Jeopardy question about the French Revolution. The judgments we make about friends, which get expressed in compliments when they are positive, are not meant to be a permanent, overall evaluation of how someone stacks up to the rest of the planet. By that measurement, we are (almost) ALL average and non-exceptional. But we are friends with other people because we see something in them — a love of the same nerd stuff, passion for political causes, really sweet gestures like making handmade Christmas presents — that make them exceptional to us. I really do hope that you adjust your thinking, because part of what makes life and friendships great is discovering the things that do make us wonderful without feeling the need to tell ourselves we’re not so great at other things or compared to the pinnacle of human achievement in any given area.

          • @Esti
            Maybe I live on a different planet, or exist on a different mind-wave, but that sort of thinking (“I am never going to use it, and actually don’t much like it, but I *appreciate* it”) seems SO impractical to me. For one thing, them taking the purse but not using it (and they don’t use it, I saw the purse buried in a closet) is a waste. I didn’t spend hours and hours picking out fabric and ironing and cutting, just for it to sit in a closet. If you don’t like it, hey, that’s okay! I’ll sell it and make ya another one, or use it myself.

            My mother used to say that people who never call you or communicate with you aren’t your friends, even if they claim they are, and the purse thing strikes me in a similar way. How can you appreciate something, if you never use it and don’t really like it?? I mean, geez, what a waste of time for everybody! I don’t think a gift that is a waste is very thoughtful.

            If my friends never correct me, because they just apparently “appreciate” the gift so much, how can I learn? What if I made them a wallet next year in the same fabric? What if I tried to make them clothes when they didn’t really think my sewing was up to snuff? By not correcting me, because they think they are appreciating me and being thoughtful, they are setting me up for even bigger failure.

            I don’t want my friends to think I’m exceptional, if I am not. I want them to think I am exceptional -because I actually am.- I want them to compliment me because I actually earned the compliment. In the purse situation, I didn’t, and it broke my heart to think I HAD.

            I mean, which is worse…. thinking you’re average, and then discovering hey, you might be above-average, or thinking you’re above-average and then discovering you don’t pass muster? And how can I improve myself if my friends let me fail out of this need to be thoughtful/positive?

          • @thwarted

            The point is self worth. I get happy when I give someone a present that they like. But my value as a friend doesn’t hang on it,

            Your friends aren’t made for evaluating you, They like your company. Whether or not they like a bag you’ve made them doesn’t define the relationship. You have value as you are right now.

          • Grouchybeast said:

            Unfortunately, you are looking for the wrong things in the wrong places.

            Expecting constructive criticism from someone you’ve just given a handmade gift is an expectation that will only bring you disappointment. If someone makes you a gift, then responding by picking apart what’s wrong with it is the social equivalent of going to someone house and taking a shit in the middle of their living room floor. It’s a huge, awful faux pas.

            Whether you find it logical or not will not stop people thanking you for your handmade gift and focusing only on the positives of it. You might not like it that society works that way, but it does, and demanding that it should work in a different way isn’t going to get you any closer to your goals.

            If you want to improve your sewing skills, go to classes, or maybe make a purse and show it to your friends and ask what they think, stressing that you’re looking for honest critique to help you improve, *without* putting it into the incredibly loaded social situation of gift giving. Because as it is, by walking into highly structured social exchanges that provide one thing, while demanding they give you another, you’re just setting yourself up over and over again to get hurt.

        • FlyBy said:

          Close relationships with people changes your perception of them, though.

          In college I went on a study-abroad program with 23 other students. We all met up a few times before we went, and if you’d asked me I would have said we were a pretty average looking bunch. There were a few conventionally attractive people, a few not-so-conventionally-attractive people, and most of us were somewhere in the middle.

          The program was an INTENSE three months of study. By the end of it we’d all laughed together, cried together, played soccer in the mud, inadvertently walked through the red light district, and stayed up all night trying to figure out wtf our professors wanted. At the end of it, I had 23 new brothers and sisters.

          And we were a goddamn GORGEOUS group of people. I kid you not – by the end of the program I thought (and still think) that any of us could be on a magazine cover. I know our appearances didn’t actually change much during that time, but I cannot convince my brain of it. They have their flaws, physical and otherwise, I’m not blind, but I also completely believe that they are special and fantastic and beautiful people whom it’s a privilege to be with and anyone who says otherwise can go jump in a lake.

          I began to be comfortable with myself when I realized that my friends see me that way too.

    • Ellex said:

      Your friend is not wrong. Attractiveness is entirely subjective, not objective. There are plenty of people I think are good-looking that are considered unattractive by current societal standards. Moreover, standards of attractiveness are markedly different from one culture to another, and have changed drastically over time. Give your friend credit for her individual tastes and opinions.

      And your looks have nothing to do with attracting guys. I’ve seen plenty of women who would be considered ugly by current North American standards but are in loving, committed relationships with great partners. You’ve been unfortunate enough to be exposed to more than your fair share of assholes who can’t look past their own shallow expectations.

      90% of your exes have told you that you’re unattractive? The key word here is “exes”. They clearly thought you were good-looking enough to date in the first place. You’ve been “mooed” in bars? It’s a bar, a significant portion of the people there are going to be drunk or on the way to being drunk and their opinions are suspect. Also, you may want to try a different bar with a better class of clientele, because that kind of behavior is just nasty.

      My mother does something similar to you from time to time. She’ll get into a mindset where absolutely everything is her fault and her responsibility. Case in point, a few weeks ago I knocked over my water glass. She was in another room at the time, but it was still somehow her fault. As I explained it to her, when she does this she is invalidating me as an adult and an autonomous person by appropriating my right to be responsible for my own actions. And this is what you’re doing to your friend: you’re saying that her opinions are invalid and incorrect. Even if you think she’s just being kind, at least accept that she regards you highly enough to want you to think better of yourself.

      You ask if accepting compliments could give you a swelled head. I think this is not likely in North American cultures. In fact, I think people don’t give out deserved compliments enough!

      Case in point: I enjoy giving out compliments to strangers (I’m always careful to pay genuine compliments and it probably helps that I’m female), and it’s very seldom that I don’t receive a positive reaction. A few months ago I was in the grocery store and I noticed a middle-aged woman wearing an absolutely lovely caftan. I stopped and told her how pretty I thought her outfit was and how nice she looked, and to my surprise, she stared at me for a moment and asked me if I was serious. I assured her that I was absolutely serious, and she burst into tears! She told me that no one – not one person in her entire life – had ever paid her a compliment on her appearance, and that she would remember me, and how kind I was, for the rest of her life.

      I can’t even think about this without getting a little teary. The lady was at least 40-45 years old, and no one had ever told her she looked nice.

      Okay, sorry for the rant. But I’ve been friends with a number of lovely people who had the same mindset as you, and it’s been agonizing to watch them tear themselves down without one real shred of objective evidence. Not one of them was ugly or stupid or undeserving of compliments, and neither are you.

      • Well, they are exes because they dumped me for hotter women. (Not opinion, they said it themselves; they were dating me not because I was attractive, but because they were desperate, and ya know, beggars can’t be choosers.)

        I mentioned this…. somewhere else, but maybe it comes down to categorizing what a person believes is an opinion, and fact. Yes, cultures differ somewhat in their beauty standards , but there are multiple standards that are universal (for females: long hair, clear skin, large eyes, whiter teeth, hourglass figure, etc.) From the studies I’ve read, physical attractiveness seems to be rather set in stone.

        Does that mean ALL ugly people die alone? No. Luck and personality certainly play a part in it. But when my friend compliments my looks, I feel lied to, because overall, it ISN’T an opinion. I feel like she is invalidating my experiences and difficulties.

        It is so, so, SO easy for people to hand-wave away the difficulties unattractive people face. I can’t get a single sentence out about the difficulties of dating without people rushing in with antidotes about how they totally know this ugly person who just got married. Imagine if someone was complaining that they couldn’t find a job because employers kept focusing on the color of their skin, and someone said,” Oh but I totally know someone with your skin color who just got hired at this one place!”

        Compliments just feel like adding insult to injury, and for me personally, makes me confront feelings I might have finally gotten away from. Let’s say I’m walking down the street, FINALLY not obsessing about my looks, and someone says,” Hey, nice dress!” I have to suddenly think about my looks again. I have to think about, was the compliment sincere? Was it sarcastic? Is this dress nice? Wait, does it make me look fat? And now I’m right back into an awful head space.

        It’s not culturally accepted to insult someone, because the assumption is you don’t know enough about the person to make an accurate judgement. (Going beyond the simplistic “It’s mean!” Well, WHY is it mean.) So why is it okay for the other side of the coin?

        • Roman said:

          It sort of sounds to me like you are conflating or confusing two separate instances, here. On the one hand there are such things as spontaneous compliments where one person feels the urge to tell someone else something good about themselves, usually simply because they happened to notice. Several of the instances you site, however, seem more complicated. There’s a huge difference between a spontaneous compliment and the response a friend automatically tries to give after hearing someone they care about say someone detrimental about themselves.

          The first instance, the spontaneous compliment, is not something you have a lot of control over and I think everyone here has been giving really good advice: acknowledge the other person’s opinion of you by saying thank you, even if you have to add something negating it in your head, and then move on. The person who complimented you is really not looking for a feelings dump. I also wonder how you respond to compliments that have nothing to do with your appearance? Like, does hearing “I thought your speech was very eloquent,” engender the same response?

          In the second instance, when you say something bad about yourself, your friend feels like they just got shoved into the deep end of a pool. They don’t know what to say so they try to say something that they think will make you feel better. IF THAT’S NOT THE CONVERSATION YOU WANT TO HAVE YOU NEED TO TELL THEM. With friends, it’s perfectly acceptable to preface your negative comments with something like, “I am not looking for compliments here, I am simply hoping to have a constructive conversation about accepting how I look.” This helps frame the discussion for your friend so that they can actually be helpful and also back out gracefully if this is not something they feel comfortable partaking in. When you don’t explain all of the parameters of the discussion, that’s not fair to them. You are making them guess at your true meanings and feelings.

          Lastly, and this has been mentioned in other replies, it really seems to me that you would benefit from talking to a professional about these issues. Maybe everything is being blown out of proportion because this is an internet comments section discussion, but so far your replies to this debate have been very entrenched in negativity. As awesome as the Captain and her Army are, there are better places/people to have this conversation with.

          I apologise for the long post and also if this comes off as rather harsh.

          • TheJackdaw said:

            I just spent about 20 minutes trying to write basically this but nowhere near as coherently or gently – thank you Roman!

        • Ellex said:

          As everyone else here has left you excellent suggestions and opinions, I don’t want to re-hash all of again, because I can see from your replies that you’re really stuck in this awful headspace.

          So I want to home in on just a few things here: NO. Attractiveness is not factual. It is objective. Gravity is a fact: it works 100% of the time. Attractiveness is subjective: the outliers and exceptions to the “standard” are so common as to almost invalidate the standard. Someone upthread explained that quite wonderfully, and this is a notion that you really need to reject.

          Does the fact that in her entire life, some middle-aged woman I saw in a grocery store had NEVER received a compliment about her appearance invalidate my opinion that she looked really nice? No. Absolutely not. Neither you, nor she, nor anyone else has the right to tell me what I can and can’t find attractive.

          Your exes are lying to you. How do I know that? Because they told you that you were ugly, and that they were desperate. Only assholes tell people stuff like that. Only assholes date someone because they’re “desperate”. Your exes opinions are already suspect through their display of asshole-ish behavior. Assholes lie to people to get what they want.

          You are, by your own admission, “obsessed” with you appearance. You say that you “complain” about your looks often. You’re trying to “accept that I’m ugly”. This is not healthy thinking by any standard. This indicates to me that you have a real problem with this and you need help with it. You don’t have to live with those thoughts for the rest of your life. No one should ever have to live with thoughts like that for the rest of their lives.

          How many people – both your friends and total strangers – need to tell you that these are not good or healthy thoughts before you start wondering if maybe we’re not wrong? What makes the opinion of your asshole exes and the drunk assholes in bars more valid than the opinion of your friends and the wonderful people here who don’t even know you, but still want you to live a life in which you can actually be happy with and proud of yourself, instead of just “accepting” this sad notion that you are completely average, ordinary, and ugly?

          For the record, in 38 years I have never met anyone who was average, ordinary, or ugly.

          • I really don’t get the whole “you’re so negative” talk, though I’ve heard it lots of times. It’s like…. we’re not supposed to acknowledge our flaws or lack-of-awesome, and yet are constantly trying to change those flaws. It’s a weird double standard I really don’t get. We’re not supposed to think we’re ugly, but we’re supposed to do all of these things to make ourselves more attractive. If we’re not ugly, then why change to make ourselves attractive?

            Another comment somewhere mentioned this, but there is this crushing pressure to think of ourselves as pretty. We HAVE to be pretty, and we HAVE to think of ourselves as pretty. Thinking of yourself as average or ugly IMMEDIATELY gets you labeled as negative or having low self-esteem. But why? People CAN be ugly, just like people can be stupid, or silly, or any other negative adjective. Why is it a bad thing to acknowledge that?

            I focus on it a lot because so much of my life has been controlled by my looks. For example, for decades I have ended up in friendships with females where compliments were actually poison (example: “Well, if they liked YOUR body, they’re really going to love mine!”) Girls became friends with me, because my looks made them feel better about themselves.

            As to why these opinions matter than you guys here at Captain Awkward…. well, you nailed it. It’s because the drunks, the exes, the friends-they know me in real life. You guys are very nice and well-meaning, but I fear without knowing me, it’s hard to reach a compromise between our two perspectives.

            You say I don’t have to go around my entire life feeling this way. But why shouldn’t I, if this is what I really am? If I’m ugly/stupid/silly/insert-negative-trait, why shouldn’t I make myself aware of it, and strive to either accept it or battle it?

            Eh, maybe I’m just derailing this whole thread. But it’s deeply frustrating to have people insist they should get to drop compliments, without reflecting how it might effect the other person. Don’t our feelings matter too?

          • JenniferP said:

            You can acknowledge flaws/lack of awesome and work on things, but if you are making your interpersonal relationships all about those things you are making people do a lot of work to be your friend. It’s like you are testing them in all these little ways to make them prove that they like you, or making them prove that their perception of you matches up with your own. EXHAUSTING.

            So a person saying “Hey, friend, I think you’re neat-o” and you replying “What, I am not neat-o because exes said so!” now the whole interaction changes from your friend trying to let you know they like you to your friend having to engage with your entire history of feelings about yourself. You’ve taken them out of the territory of their opinions/observations mattering and into territory where they have to engage with your own self-image, where only you get to decide what’s true.

            RUDE.
            EXHAUSTING.

          • Yes, your feelings matter, too. And folks have said “by all means, communicate explicitly with your friends that you would rather they kept any and all compliments to themselves because compliments wake your dozing Jerkbrain and make it go into hypercritical mode.”

            It has also been said that compliments on appearance are not always welcome — such as in a public space, when someone is thereby drawing attention to your femaleness or your physical appearance when that has nothing to do with the occasion that brings you together, except perhaps to make you feel self-conscious and vulnerable. (E.g., conferences and public transit). And that even when a compliment might be appropriate, compliments on a choice you made (article of clothing, hairstyle, musical taste) are better than ones on features like eyes or lips or boobs that you had no control over.

            And I’m sorry you have had people in your life who disguisesd nasty remarks as compliments, making you distrust the entire genre.

            Still, an awful lot of compliments are sincere. People are thinking something positive about you, and they are thinking “what a waste for me to think this nice thing about her, and her not to know. I think I’ll say it out loud, and then she will!” And even if you can pick apart their compliment on technical grounds, why would you want to? When Jerkbrain starts bombarding you with negatives, say “Enough outa you, Jerkbrain. I’d rather listen to kind people who believe in me and want me to be happy.”

        • Duck said:

          “Let’s say I’m walking down the street, FINALLY not obsessing about my looks, and someone says,” Hey, nice dress!” I have to suddenly think about my looks again. I have to think about, was the compliment sincere? Was it sarcastic? Is this dress nice? Wait, does it make me look fat? And now I’m right back into an awful head space.”

          I’d like to raise the possibility that no, you don’t HAVE to “suddenly think about [your] looks again”, at least not in that depth. The person paying you the compliment is not forcing you to overanalyze it like that. You’re doing that. Why?

          • JenniferP said:

            Street compliments can be very different, and depending on who is giving the compliment, it can be interrupty/harassing/intrusive. Not necessarily the COMPLIMENT-y part of it, but the “Why are you talking to me” part of it? So, yeah, you don’t have to react with joy over a stranger’s opinion. But the spiral of thinking that happens is not the stranger’s fault.

          • Ellex said:

            I generally find that by taking all compliments at face value, with a smile and a “thanks!” works well in many situations. If the compliment is genuine, the complimenter feels acknowledged and is happy. If the complimenter is not genuine, your refusal to recognize it as not genuine derails the intent, which can only be to make you feel bad. If they don’t see you feeling bad, they get no reward for being an asshole. They are caught feeling dumb; you move on.

            In the rare case that they follow up with something like “I didn’t really mean that/I was lying”, give them as blank or confused a face as you can muster up and move away. If you must say something, I’ve used “You need to make up your mind what you actually mean to say, then.” And then move away.

        • metaphortunate said:

          Noooo – actually, the reason you don’t insult people really is because of the mean thing. I know my husband very very well, but if I used that knowledge to insult him accurately, it would not be okay!

        • Bittybird said:

          I can understand where you’re coming from in a certain sense, about wanting the conversation with your friends to NOT be about trying to cheer you up, but about commiserating. I’m unemployed and sometimes feel just claustrophobic with despair over how I’ll never achieve my career dreams, I’m so far from them, and when I say this to someone what I don’t want to hear is “No way, you’re great, you’re sure to get that job!” because for me this feels so far from the truth that it’s not helpful, it doesn’t address the (internal) situation I’m in at all (i.e., I’m trying to deal with “Maybe I’ll never get that job”, so “Sure you will!” doesn’t help me deal with the reality of maybe really never getting that job). But that’s a conversation I had to have with my close friends, about what I need at the moment (not about whether their opinions are right are wrong, because I know they believe I’ll get a dream job, and I think they’re wrong, but they get to believe it). I say, “Hey, I’m feeling really down about X, and I know you want to cheer me up about it, but right now I don’t want to cheer up, I just want to feel mopey and sad and cry a little–it’s how I get feeling bad out of my system, and I feel way better afterwards. What I could really use is someone to listen and commiserate, but I’ll totally understand if that makes you uncomfortable and won’t do it in front of you. I know the way I work through things is not the way most people work through things.”

          On the subject of your dress example…I’m not sure why that’s so upsetting, because to be honest, they’re not complementing YOUR appearance. I feel like that should be a complement you can accept and feel good about, because they’re not saying you look good at all, they’re saying they like the dress–the implied compliment to YOU is that they think you have good taste, because you chose the dress. All they’re saying is they have similar aesthetic tastes to you, and the sight of your dress pleased those aesthetic receptors enough that they wanted you go know what great taste they have. Sure, you may not think you have great taste, but they obviously have similar tastes, so if you go on saying what terrible taste you have you’re basically ALSO saying that they have terrible taste. Maybe if you try to take these kinds of compliments as a critique of your internal landscape, not your external one, you’d feel less attacked by them?

          The thing is, though, I know “pretty” is an objective thing for YOU, but for many people it really is fluid and subjective. What I find to be “pretty” has changed over the past ten years, and for me, being gray asexual, it is EXTREMELY influenced by who they are as a person. All people start out as completely neutral in appearance to me, but if their personality “catches” mine in the right way, their personality casts their physical appearance in a positive new light. The more I like a person on the inside, the more I like how they look on the outside, no matter how unconventional their appearance may be. It’s not that “I’m attracted to them because they’re nice even though they look awful,” their physical features actually become more pleasing to me. I may not be typical, but I’m surely not the only person who feels this way.

          • Ethyl said:

            ::unemployed jedi hugs:: I hear ya.

    • Briznecko said:

      Your jerkybrain sounds like an asshole. I hope you talk to someone qualified to help you.

      • I wholeheartedly agree. I actually had to stop reading this, because it was making me really sad and reminding me of how I used to feel before 2 and a half years of therapy. I really, really urge you to at least try out some counselling/therapy/a decent self-help book.

        • Ha, you should see my library. I’ve done therapy for a total of 4 years with 3 different counselors, and it never made any difference. I think I’ve read nearly every self-help book in existence. Lately I’ve just been trying to accept being a not-good, socially-unliked person and just DEALING with it. I get along okay, but social situations like the one in the letter really trigger me, so I thought I’d share my experience.

        • Darn it, hit Post too soon, anyway, sorry it made you feel bad.

        • bluecandles said:

          Yes, me too. I had that experience and reading the thread only brought deja vu on how I would’ve reacted a few years ago. I would not believe anything nice people said about me to me. There must always be some other reason, even if it was only – “they’re trying to cheer me up, they don’t mean it”.

          It took a long time to learn to say ‘thanks’ to compliments, and even longer to believe any of them (still have trouble sometimes). To me, admitting my many flaws was only ‘realistic’ of me, and I wouldn’t be budged from that viewpoint until a therapist showed me how that was all I was doing, concentrating on my flaws.

          And then I had to admit that being all negative about myself was as ‘realistic’ as being all positive (i.e. not at all, and calling myself average didn’t count as a positive), and that it said something really troubling about my self-esteem the amount of focus (all of it) I put on my self-declared flaws.

  6. Catherine said:

    I find an sometimes easy way to turn the conversation is to then thank the person thanking you for something they’ve also done for you. For instance, “Thank you for washing the dishes,” turns to “Well thank you for washing them yesterday.” This way, it becomes an endless cycle of good turns and you acknowledge that the other person is also kind.

    For me, at least, this can make compliments easier to accept.

    • Duck said:

      This! My roommate and I thank each other for everything. “Thanks for doing the dishes.” “You’re welcome. Thank you for drying them.” (Note: I wash the dishes every morning while she dries; this is not a special occurrence!) I like it! It makes our household feel mutually appreciative. And when it does get less symmetrical (say I’m sick and she makes me tea, or she’s swamped with grading and I make dinner three nights in a row) it helps the person doing more work at the moment feel like they’re not being taken for granted, and the other person feel better about benefiting from their work.

      I’ve started expanding it to other contexts too, like thanking friends and partners for their company even when I know they enjoyed our time together just as much, because I want to be intentional about showing my appreciation for them.

  7. When I was in third grade (and a teacher’s pet, into creative writing and drawing, did some competitions, etc.), a boy came up to me and taunted me with, “You LIKE compliments, DON’T YOU?” And just THE TONE made me feel like I had to swear up and down, no no nooooo, of course I don’t! Compliments are so EMBARRASSING!

    (I swear to God, that is a thing that happened.)

    I don’t know if it’s a Southern thing generally (we are, in fact, weird about compliments), or just a “my elementary school was full of jackass kids who did shit like this to me all the time.” But I worked through it! Seriously, it feels really good to just say “Thank you” as a full sentence, the way that “No” is a full sentence, and not flail around denying things! And one of the things that really helped was to think of a compliment not as something you have to correct (“Oh, this? No, no…”) but as an expression of feeling. It doesn’t matter if it’s hyperbole or “wrong.” You’re thanking them for the kindness and the appreciation in the compliment, not the factual accuracy.

    • Rocketpants said:

      It’s just a Southern thing, I think. It’s the same where I’m from [though most of the kids didn't quite do that. ^^;; Instead they went a slightly more subtle route with 'Teacher! She said a bad word!' and sticking tape in your hair.]

    • Ellex said:

      This reminds me of the number of times someone has said something to me along the lines of “You LIKE being different/strange/weird, don’t you?!”

      And my answer was, invariably, “Well, yes!”

      Which completely derailed the other person very effectively.

      • Em said:

        This reminds me of a guy in high school who cornered me (I was the Hermione of my class, especially in the annoying ways) and said, “You LIKE working hard, don’t you?”

        He sounded so confused and vaguely accusatory. As though, maybe, if I didn’t like working hard the world would be a better place.

        What could I say but yes?

        • Ellex said:

          LOL.

          “You just want to be different from everybody else!”

          Well, duh. You really think I’d put myself through the unpleasantness of having to deal with you (you meaning the idiot asking me that idiotic question) and your expectations that I conform to your concept of normal, otherwise?

          Hence the number of times asking my parents as a teenager…no, actually, I still ask it sometimes…why people couldn’t just accept me as I am? It’s not even like I go out of my way to be all “in your face” about being myself and not a carbon copy of everyone else…

    • “You LIKE compliments, DON’T YOU?”

      “YEUP.” *blink blink*

      Also, what the actual fuck? What a fucking awful way to try and shame someone. I’m so sorry you went to school with kids like that. It’s hard enough to be a confident person when you’re than age anyway, and… just wow. What bullshit.

  8. General Expression said:

    This topic makes me grin. As a professional musician and also a teacher, I had to both learn this myself, and now I make my students practice it! (Both kids AND adults!) I will say, “Now, just so we’re clear, after your performance, no matter how you feel about how you did, people will tell you it was wonderful and meant a lot to them. Let’s practice how you’re going to respond. You are NOT allowed to tell them it was bad, or detail your mistakes in any way. You say ‘Thank you.’ Full stop!” And then I will get up in their face in a super-gushy way and say, “That was SOOOOOO wonderful you are SOOOOOO amazing!” and after they are done cracking up they say “Thank you!” and I say “Good! Now do that in real life!” And I am pretty sure that most of them do.

    But take it from a musician, practice makes perfect. Even in something like accepting compliments!

    • Ranaleu said:

      This! So much!

      I’m also a musician, and one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is accepting praise, (especially when I’m being super self-flagellating after a performance). My voice prof has helped me a lot with this because we’re very much alike in personality and thought process. Her thing is always: You’ve started and finished a performance. That in itself is worthy of praise. It doesn’t matter what happened during, it’s how you handle it afterwards.

    • JenniferP said:

      I also don’t let students apologize for their film pitches or the cuts they screen. Let people feel how they are going to feel about your work, don’t tell them how to feel!

      Because: RUDE

    • Hee! In high school, I felt like I didn’t deserve a lot of the compliments I received on my piano playing. If the praise was more effusive than “Hey, nice job,” I’d try to deflect. “No no, really, I’m not that good!”

      And then, one day, it hit me:

      1. I was comparing myself to accomplished musicians; the complimenters were comparing me to kids who took two years of lessons and then begged their parents to let them quit. Who was I to talk them out of that? Why would I want to?

      2. As CA pointed out, the more I deflected, the more they’d try to convince me I was awesome. Simply accepting the compliment meant less complimenting. Mission accomplished.

      Something that helped me with the compliment-accepting was to do it awkwardly. “Oh … thanks! (*look down at the ground*, *scuffle feet*) Thanks + nonverbal awkwardness = I value your opinion and am happy you think highly of me even though I don’t know if I deserve that. The sentiment and awkwardness were sincere, so it was pretty easy.

      Granted, this works better with creative endeavors than dishwashing. :D I second “No problem!” or “Well, thanks for that thing YOU did” to thank yous for household chores.

    • Britt said:

      I remember vividly in college my voice teacher having a strict rule that, during our weekly workshops, we were to accept compliments given with at the very least a gracious “thank you”, because otherwise we were indirectly insulting her and her ability to select and train students (and she was an incredibly talented and accomplished singer in her own right as well as an amazing teacher, so none of us would have DREAMED to do that). The end result was that by the time senior year rolled around, we could all stand in the donor meet and greet after one of our big concerts and thank people when they complimented us and smile graciously and not look like we wanted to crawl out of our skins. It was a CRITICAL professional skill for me to learn, but it really just served me in good stead in life in general and I’m grateful she taught us that.

    • Blue said:

      I wish someone had taught me that! I used to make and sell jewelry and it took me far too long to learn that nobody but me saw or cared about minor imperfections and when somebody says they love it, smile and say thank you, I’m so glad. It is HARD to learn these lessons on your own!

    • If people haven’t noticed your sliips and fumbles, why tell them?

      It can also come out not humble, but as if you’re putting down the poor ignoramus who doesn’t realize what the piece was supposed to sound like… when all they meant was “That was really pretty to listen to! It made me feel joy that there is beauty in the world, and that regular people can make it!” And they aren’t wrong to feel that way, even if you fumbled in the second movement or whatever. Something can be beautiful and bring joy even if it is not technically flawless.

    • This! When I was in high school, I was part of the Thespian Society, and as part of the oath (we were pretty serious), we swore “I will accept praise and criticism with equal grace”. I still sometimes have to remind myself of that, but it’s just the professional thing to do.

      • Roman said:

        I was just going to add something about accepting compliments in theatre! At the end of a performance, everyone is clapping and cheering and you go out for curtain call. It is the HEIGHT of arrogance to make any face during curtain call other than a smile. Your smile is your thank you in that instance. If you scowl at the audience you are effectively telling them that they are so stupid and ignorant for wasting their time and money on your performance and telling them that they are wrong, wrong, wrong for enjoying you and the rest of the production.

  9. Ranaleu said:

    The only way I’ve found to graciously accept thanks and compliments is to just do it. The person thanking/complimenting you is doing it for a reason. It might not be a reason you feel is important, but it’s a reason all the same.

    The good news is, the more you say “you’re welcome” or “thanks for noticing” etc. when someone thanks/compliments you, the easier it gets. Even if you don’t feel like you’re worthy of it right that moment, later on (that evening, or sometime the next day) you might find that the compliment or thanks doesn’t make you as uncomfortable as it did when it was first spoken.

  10. Bittybird said:

    I find a great response to a thank you for small things you did is “No problem!”, delivered with a smile and in the same tone of voice you’d say “My pleasure!” Same thing, to me, but a little more casual, a “No big deal, I was happy to do it.” Especially with the household chores, the “thank yous” may be a casual thing, so “no problem” is a casual response.

    And honestly, not all housemates live in cleanliness and household harmony! Maybe she hasn’t always had someone who does their share around, and it really is that meaningful to her. Maybe she spent her life doing hundreds upon hundreds of small tasks for others, and wished that once, just once, someone thought the small things she did were important enough for someone to thank her. Or maybe she was just raised up super polite and its automatic and saying thank you for her isn’t a big deal. The reason doesn’t really matter.

  11. Nina said:

    Regarding the “How do I accept thanks for doing something that is basically my job?”

    I have found that an effective answer is a very smiley “Of course!” It gets across the idea of “I am glad to do this thing for you” and “I appreciate your appreciation.” The tone is what matters here – people want you to know that they are helping you feel good and nice.

    As far as compliments go, I often respond to “I like your hair!” with “Thanks, I like it too!” Depending on your comfort with light sarcasm, this may work for you as well.

    • I like saying “thanks, I like it too!” when somebody compliments my clothing. (I dunno, I know that really what they’re complimenting is my taste in clothing, but somehow a small part of my subconscious feels bad for taking credit for work that wasn’t mine. I didn’t make the clothes! I just turned some of my money into them.) Anyway, it is a bit situation-dependent, but in a friendly tone of voice and with a smile I usually find it goes over pretty well.

      • Muse142 said:

        I like that! I might add it to my repertoire. It’s in line with how I respond to non-creepy compliments on my body (things like “I love your hair!”): “Thanks; I grew it myself.”

    • Private Business said:

      Sometimes, people will tell a specific acquaintance of mine that sie has a really nice name and they are kind of taken aback when sie says “Thanks! That’s why I picked it!”

      Best response evar to the most awkward compliment topic ever. It’s not like most of us had any say in our names or our genes but damn there’s so much meaning tied up in the names part.

    • A lot of professionals gloss right past it, actually. I have developed a habit of “Thank you so much” for talking to customer service folks, and I do mean it because I appreciate their jobs and that they’re taking care of me. But it also rolls off the tongue pretty quickly. Sometimes, people give me a cheery “you’re welcome” or something, but most of the time they just go on to do the thing.

      So in some professional contexts, you can just pass right over it and go on with the script or whatever. In others, of course, that’s not appropriate.

      • FlyBy said:

        As former customer service folk, thank you for saying thanks! Solving problems for people who are friendly and appreciative was always a real pleasure.

        (If you want to go for bonus points, write down the person’s name at the start of the call and then thank them by name at the end. OMG I’m an actual human being to you!)

  12. zandperl said:

    I agree with some comments above that this is very cultural. Sure giving and accepting compliments is the norm in white professional class America, but not in say, Chinese or Jewish America (as are my extended families). You’re expected to do your best, and more than your best, and that’s the norm. You don’t praise someone for doing what they’re expected to do. According to the culture I was raised in, if someone compliments or thanks another person for just doing what’s required of them, what they’re really saying is “I’m too lazy to work as hard as you.”

    • zandperl said:

      Also, I’m confused as to why CA and the commenters here feel it’s acceptable for society to force people to fake acceptance of a compliment, but it’s not acceptable for society to force people to fake acceptance of a hug. My words are no less a part of who I am than is my body. It is not acceptable to me that I pretend to be someone I’m not, whether this be by pretending to be glad of compliments when I am not, or of accepting a hug I don’t want.

      • Pack Rat said:

        I think they are different for some people though, though! While this policy works for you, I don’t think it would necessarily work for everybody. For example, I find it a lot easier to say “thanks” and move on to a less uncomfortable topic than it is to belatedly extricate myself from an unwanted hug. Hugs often threaten my feelings of bodily autonomy and physical safety, whereas compliments––usually!––don’t. And you are more likely to receive a compliment from someone you don’t know very well, who may be from any variety of background with any variety of unspoken compliment rules, than a hug. I also find that in my own life refusing a hug usually makes people feel less uncomfortable than forcing them to listen to me detail my faults.

        I am a bit curious about how this works for you. Do you refuse to accept compliments no matter who they come from? Or do you accept compliments from some people who may not be from a similar background and refuse those from people who are? Or some other permutation of these possibilities?

        • zandperl said:

          Thanks, I really appreciate your comment acknowledging my social context, as opposed to so many others’ comments which seem to be either saying I’m wrong, or saying I have low self-esteem.

          In most situations I don’t actually refuse compliments or gratitude. If it’s a small inconsequential social lubricant (“thanks for holding the door for me”) then I reply with the appropriate social lubricant in response. If it’s a compliment on some inconsequential decision I made (“I like your new haircut” or “that’s a pretty dress!”) then I can appreciate it and reply with a thanks. These are by far the most common situations where gratitude and compliments come up. I’m also okay with receiving them if I really have gone above and beyond what is expected of me, or if from a friend who I know well and who I know has a similar work ethic to mine.

          It’s when it’s effusive thanks or compliments over routine duties (student: “thanks so much for helping me with this HW”, colleague: “your work on this committee has been so amazing! how’d you ever find the time to do this? I can’t believe you put so much effort into it!”) that I feel the thanks/compliments are inappropriate in the first place and therefore I don’t know how to respond correctly. I try to pass it off and change the topic – accepting the compliment/thanks only acknowledges the complimenter’s disgrace, and you just can’t tell the other person that they’ve done wrong unless you know them really well. Accepting the compliment is also like accepting their entirely unknowing loss of face, so that’s not a good option. And the only thing worse than someone losing face is to point out to them that they have done so if they don’t already know.

          I’ve explained to some people who I felt close to what I felt the issue was, and I’m realizing that rather than thanks or compliments I’d be okay with someone telling me the results of what they see as my going above and beyond (student: “I really understand this now”, colleague: “your ideas on the committee will help us to do X”) rather than explicitly telling me that they think I’m going above and beyond. Explicitly telling me that I’ve gone above and beyond means that they are acknowledging they have set a much lower bar for themselves than I have for myself, which takes value away from them (and thus loses face).

          • Wow. Accepting a compliment that you think is a little excessive is “acknowledging the complimenter’s disgrace?” What, for not being as awesome as you in this one particular area? Or not taking for granted that they would get your best efforts?

            That kid who is grateful you helped with their homework was struggling with it! And has maybe encountered other teachers who didn’t have the knack of explaining it in a way that clicked with them, or who were disrespectvul/impatient, or not willing to take time with them. The person on the committee? Has probably dealt with dozens of other colleagues who do a totally half-assed job, and is expressing appreciation that you did it right — wanting to let you know he/she noticed. There is nothing pathetic or unhealthy about expressing appreciation for a job well done.

            How to respond correctly is just to say “it was no trouble,” “happy to help.” I promise, by so doing you are not secretly insulting them.

          • shuu_iam said:

            Something also worth keeping in mind is that it’s not about how much effort the task is for you, but about how much effort the task would have been for the other person without you. So for instance, the student who could have struggled with that homework for hours without you doesn’t necessarily mean “Oh wow! It’s amazing that you did something really easy for yourself by helping me!”, but probably means something more like, “Oh wow! I would never have understood that problem without you! I am so frigging grateful you exist right now!”

            Also, the personality of the complimenter will affect this too. For instance, I’m an extreme introvert who’s pretty impatient and bad at following up on stuff, so if someone spends extended time/social energy helping me and following up on stuff, even if they’re an extrovert for whom that all is easy, my baseline of comparison is “I would’ve felt really inconvenienced and annoyed if I had to help someone else like this”, so I’ll give the level of gratitude I’d find appropriate for how hard it would be for me to help someone else in that way, and not how hard it was for them to help me.

          • Jinian said:

            It’s a bit ironic that in the same comment where you thank Pack Rat for acknowledging your social context, you work hard to invalidate your complimenters’ social contexts.

      • JenniferP said:

        Well, I’m sure that arguing people into mirroring your exact view of yourself will be very rewarding. I hope it works out!

      • JenniferP said:

        Okay, let me try saying this differently.

        When someone says something abusive or cruel to you, and you’re not in a position to immediately leave or fight back (like with a parent and a child) it often helps to mentally add a “you think” as a response. Them: “You are worthless and terrible” You (silently): “You think I am worthless and terrible.”

        Maybe try doing that with compliments if you have trouble accepting them. They are just opinions. You don’t have to agree with them. They don’t have to be true or line up with anything you believe about yourself. “You look very nice today” or “You did a good job today, I appreciate it” can be (silent) “You think I look nice today.”

        An unwanted hug invades your personal space. A compliment you don’t agree with is in no way the same thing. In most cases (creepy or inappropriate people aside) it’s an opinion and an attempt to be kind delivered from a respectful distance. You can acknowledge the kindness gracefully without it affecting your inner life. If you say “No, I don’t look nice today, are you kidding?” that is your right. In certain cultures that might be the more correct response. I would find it extremely rude and strange. That would be my opinion, which does not affect who you actually are in the least.

        • I tend to agree with you here, except… there are definitely some muddy situations wherein people expressing their opinions/compliments/curiosity about you are being rude (as per the creepy exception noted earlier in the comments). And there are cases where the same person saying the same thing to a different person would not be rude (depending on the relationship between the people) – and while I know that no one can be expected to be aware of everyone’s particular mental quirks, if a person like zandperl is made to feel intensely uncomfortable by compliments, can’t they at the least expect their friends or people close to them to respect that as a hard boundary if they articulate it as such?

          I also wonder if there’s some analog to asking someone if they want a hug that could apply here, but I’m drawing a blank. Maybe someone here who does have a problem taking compliments has a suggestion for how someone who wants to be nice can navigate that with you?

      • metaphortunate said:

        Why should you politely accept unwanted compliments but not unwanted hugs? For the same reason we eat pizza but not toothbrushes, really. They are different things that should be treated differently.

    • You don’t praise someone for doing what they’re expected to do.

      So…. If a firefighter hauls me from a burning building, or a doctor takes care of me or my child, I can’t appreciate that they were there and willing to do it? If someone in front of me holds the door open for me when my hands are full so I don’t drop stuff struggling with the door, I can’t be a little effusive in recognition of the fact that if they hadn’t it would have sucked?

      People don’t always do what they’re supposed to. (Haven’t you ever had someone act put out when you asked them to do their darned job?) Nor do they always show what most folks consider basic courtesy. (Haven’t you ever had someone NOT hold the door when you were right behind, with full hands?)

      So I don’t care whether the kind/helpful thing someone did for me was just “what they were supposed to do,” or what they think of as the bare minimum of decency/competence. I can still be really glad they were there to do it for me, and say so.

      Plus, I worked at a firm once that followed your rule: we were all expected to be really bright and hardworking and good at what we did. So NOTHING was ever praiseworthy. It was literally impossible to “exceed expectations!” They were also afraid that if we were praised — ever — we’d feel entitled to promotion. So no kudos were EVER given. What a miserable, soul-destroying job THAT was. I do not recommend it as a model for human interaction.

      • Ethyl said:

        Interesting comment about the job you had. I once had a kind of miserable food-service job that had long hours and messy food-service aspects and where customers were impolite a lot, but where the employees and the manager were polite to each other and said “please” and “thank you” even during the lunch rush when things were hectic. That made the job a lot nicer and made me feel less like a cog in a machine. Contrast that with a well-paying “professional” job with a supervisor who bullied everyone and acted like we were all lucky to be working there and where promotions were functionally impossible. Guess which one I quit after less than a year?

        • I’m thinking you’ll relate to this all too well: performance evaluations where you get rated on a scale of 1-5, with 3 being “meeets expectations,” 4 being “exceeds expectations,” and 5 being “outstanding.” Only a friend of mine who actually made partner told me that they were not ALLOWED to give 5, ever. And if they wanted to give someone a 4, they literally had to write a separate memo justifying the 4. Because the idea that they could ever be impressed with your work was unthinkable (even if your clients were over the moon, to the point that one specifically requested you travel to another state to oversee local counsel over a course of many months because they thought you were so awesome).

          • unlurking said:

            God, I do this to my/self/ by tending to want to be perfect. Think of all the /extra/ issues I’d have if it were actually coming externally! Eek. I’m sorry you went through this, and glad that you are so awesome and can know it!

          • Which is not to say I am unscathed. It was truly damaging.

          • miss_chevious said:

            God, the false promise of evaluations in the legal profession, where you’re always graded on a curve and no one ever gets an A.

          • Ethyl said:

            Ugh. Toxic work situations definitely can be scarring and awful. Jedi hugs.

          • miss_chevious said:

            It sounds like you and I have worked at similar places (or maybe they’re all like this). In my fourth year at Law Firm (the year they were trying to get rid of me), a partner flat-out lied in his evaluation saying that I had missed several deadlines. I called him, thinking it was just a misunderstanding, and pointed out he was wrong. His direct quote response: “what difference does it make?”

            O_o!?!

            Gee, none, I guess, you asshole. Leaving worked out for me, in the end, but I share your dismay at the whole “taking the criticism to heart” thing. I thought they were providing valid critcism and giving me an opportunity to grow, and maybe some of them actually were, but looking back, most of their evaluations were just about creating a narrative of “Miss_Chevious ain’t going to make partner here, so provide some reasons why.”

            /end law firm derail

          • It was good to commiserate with someone who’s been through it, though! It’s a kind of gaslighting, so having someone say “oh yeah, been there!” helps.

          • Ellex said:

            My question in situations like this is, if it’s never possible to get a 5 out of 5, or an A, or whatever the top mark is, what’s the point of having it in the first place?

      • Agreed. I always thank people who do things for me (bus drivers, waiters, cashiers, whoever), even if they are being paid to do so. just because something is your job doesn’t mean that they didn’t choose to serve me, or to be nice about it, or to be efficient. They could have chosen not to help me (although of course the reasons they have chosen to do so likely have little to do with me, and more to do with the paycheque, I can be pretty sure their boss won’t thank them so I like to).

        This “expectation” talk kind of irks me, too, though. Just because the dishes need to be done all the time doesn’t mean that the person who does them hasn’t chosen to save the other people in the house that effort this time around. My husband and I thank each other for doing the dishes every single time one of us does them. Because we do appreciate each others’ effort, which has improved both of our quality of life and rendered our home more live-able. The idea that x is “just what people do” and not worthy of acknowledgement makes me kind of sad, especially when the sentiment is coming from commenters who seem not just to have internalized their own undeserving-ness of compliments (which is sad in itself) but isa ctually extended to the idea that they shouldn’t have to thank people who make their lives easier, because that’s just what’s expected. That thing the person did to fulfill your expectations? That thing still involves effort and the decision to do it, and honestly, I that the idea of that being devalued or taken for granted.

        • Bleh. *”I hate the idea of that being devalued or taken for granted.”

        • ‘The idea that x is “just what people do” and not worthy of acknowledgement makes me kind of sad, especially when the sentiment is coming from commenters who seem not just to have internalized their own undeserving-ness of compliments (which is sad in itself) but isa ctually extended to the idea that they shouldn’t have to thank people who make their lives easier, because that’s just what’s expected.’

          This. Beautifully written. Thanks.

          • zandperl said:

            It’s not that I feel I’m unworthy or have low self-esteem. It’s that when people praise me for doing routine things, what I hear them saying is that they have set the bar so much lower for themselves than I feel they are deserving of. They are devaluing themselves. I’ve had people say to me “I can’t believe you did X, I could never do it,” when X was in our mutual job description. This is *not* a compliment, it’s the person saying “I’m not capable of doing my own job.”

            If someone else does something within their job description for me and does it well or in a way that I like, then sure I’ll compliment or thank them. But if they do their job in a way that I don’t like, then I won’t and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to compliment them for doing a bad job. If for example, a cabbie drives me to the airport and scares the shit out of me while doing so, I’m not going to thank them for it. But he did do his job so I’ll tip, just not high.

          • Listen, I DO know what you mean. I had a friend who was always over-complimenting, and it did come across as running herself down, putting me on a very unwarranted pedestal. And it was annoying, and ultimately detrimental to the friendship. Because there WAS a genuine imbalance of esteem going on: I thought we were peers, she exalted me. It was uncomfortable.

            But in the case of most people giving most compliments, even ones you think are excessive, they are not saying “you are a better human being than I!” They’re just saying “Wow, you have a real knack for that, (that I totally don’t)!” And that’s ok — it just means you made something look easy, and they know for them it would be hard. They are probably well aware that there are things they can do well/easily that you would struggle with. If you feel a need to deflect, do it with something like “I’m sure you could, if you put your mind to it. You should have seen the first time I tried it!”

            No one’s sugegsting you should thank or compliment people who did theier jobs badly, either. Just that the fact that they did it no better than expected is no reason not to say thanks… “Thanks” is free, and it makes people feel like they are seen, and their efforts are appreciated rather than being tossed into the great unnoticing void.

          • Ellex said:

            @zandperl

            I understand that what you are hearing is that the person giving you a compliment for doing what you’re supposed to do in the first place is devaluing themselves or setting the bar lower for themselves.

            But what they may actually mean is “I have been unfortunate enough to have to deal with people who don’t do what’s expected of them, so I appreciate that you take this seriously enough to fulfill expectations, that you care enough to fulfill expectations, and that you think highly enough of me not to leave your work for me to do.” Which really, basically, boils down to a flat “thank you”, as in “I appreciate you”.

            I’m seeing this concept over and over again in these comments: your interpretation of someone else’s statement might not be what they mean.

        • Thank you so much for this comment! My Chinese mother uses the ‘expectations’ rationale with me all the time, and it’s caused friction at times, especially when she complains that nobody else helps in the house. When I point out that I help with the laundry/cooking/dishes, she only goes, ‘well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. do you want a medal?’

          And no, I don’t, but some acknowledgement that she’s not the only one doing chores in the house would be nice. (I’ve tried to practice what I preach a bit and thank her whenever she does something, expected or not. Yes, we should be helping out, but it is that much nicer when we’re appreciating and being appreciated!)

          • Jennie Baldrin said:

            My mom is like that. I always feel so… unappreciated. When I’m depressed it kind of contributes to the “No one would miss me at all” jerky thought-trains.

            Fistbump?

          • Yeah, it really does activate your jerkbrain. I tend to get angry and then feel bad because then I wonder, ‘isn’t that being a bit entitled?’

            ::fistbump!::

        • lol it’s a Thing that is regularly commented on that in New Zealand people thank bus drivers. It didn’t occur to me for ages that that was weird even though that’s pretty much the definition of a job that’s “I was doing it anyway” – the only extra effort they do is pulling over and opening the doors. It sure does make the atmosphere friendly though.

          • Mary said:

            It’s a Northern/Southern English thing too – it’s totally normal to thank bus drivers here in the North, but it’s weird enough in London that bus drivers give you a suspicious look when you say thank you.

            I was behind two students on the bus the other day who had just moved up here from London and they were talking about how weird it was that everyone thanked the bus drivers, and were all like, “I mean, it’s their JOB! Do you go around saying thanks to, like, everyone who’s doing their job?” Well yes, yes I do. That’s not weird!

          • solecism said:

            It’s pretty common in the Midwest of the US too. I used to verbalize it, nowadays mostly I just smile and wave. I usually greet the driver when I board too.

    • Manatee said:

      Just want to say that while this may well be the norm for your particular family, and that while there are certainly different general trends and traditions which apply to different cultures which it is polite to be aware of where relevant, these aren’t strict rules. Half of my family is Chinese too but to them saying thank you or praising achievements is part of being polite and the idea of not praising or thanking someone for something expected of them would be considered incredibly rude. Obviously you are right to do what is appropriate for your own family setting, but I just wanted to point out the difference in my experience as it can be very easy for expressions of cultural variation to turn into cultural or racial essentialism, and I flinch when I see blanket statements such as ‘Chinese people don’t hug’ (from an article linked in the recent thread about hugging) and it feels like this comment is veering into that territory.

      • zandperl said:

        My apologies. I have found that my friends and coworkers of Chinese and Jewish descent are more likely to understand my point of view on this than my friends and coworkers of European or Christan descent and that was what motivated my putting it that way. However that does not excuse my generalizing that this is universally true for all people of similar ethnic/cultural backgrounds to mine.

  13. Eek! New to this site and I’m not sure if my comment was submitted. In any case, there’s some interesting studies out about how different cultures and men/ women receive and offer compliments differently. I have some social anxiety issues, so the nerd in me loves things like this because then I can slot daily interactions into “sociology! aren’t people interesting!” rather than “OH GOD WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM ME”. Hope this isn’t derailing, but there seems to be a lot of comments talking about these assumptions and how they can vary.

    first article is about differences in compliment assumptions between English-speaking countries; second is about the differences between men and women. (It’s in two parts, so two links for that one.)

    http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2008/06/compliments-nice-and-lovely.html
    http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/the-beheld/no-youre-so-pretty-compliments-part-i/
    http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/the-beheld/values-stereotypes-and-big-feelings-compliments-part-ii/

    • Pizkies said:

      Interesting reading. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Ooh I love this stuff too, I’ll have to read it when it’s not bedtime. :P

    • Comments are often eaten by the spamcatcher, especially if they include links. The Captain is pretty good about getting the good comments out of the spamcatcher but sometimes there’s a delay.

      So if you comment again and it doesn’t appear, fear not! Your comment will probably appear the by the next day!

  14. Kim said:

    Has your mum lived with or had much dealing with someone who *did* need lots of thanks? Some people do need lots of thanks either to keep them happy or to keep them motivated (do you have any needy or lazy siblings?). Your mum might not even realise she’s doing it and that you don’t need it. You don’t say whether you’ve spoken to her about it, but she might actually appreciate being told she can relax and eventually recalibrate herself to you.

    • Awkward Turtle said:

      Mum has six kids, and I was the needy one for years. Reading the excellent replies from The Captain and awkwardeers has helped me realise it’s not just the constant thanking but also what shes saying. She always says “Oh, good boy, thank you” – it feels way more parent-child than two-adults-living-together. I’m in my mid twenties and finally mentally stable, I’m not a child anymore. I will have to have a gentle word.

      • griffykate said:

        I am 28 and if anyone called me a good girl at this stage in my life, my jaw would seriously drop. Sometimes parents do need a little gentle guidance, don’t they? Good luck, Awkward Turtle!

      • Ellex said:

        It’s not just you and your mom. My brother and I are both highly responsible and independent people. My mother’s a great person, and the vast majority of the time, she treats me as an adult.

        But every so often, she still pours out some “mommy-feels” on me.

        If it’s chronic, then it’s definitely time for a gentle word: “Your compliments are appreciated, but it would really help my efforts to be an adult if you were careful about not treating me like a child. I’m sure it’s unintentional, but you’d be helping me a lot if you could think about what you say/how you say it.”

        Or something like that…I’ve had similar conversations with my mom.

  15. Learning the “Thank you” response to awkward compliments is a life-saver. It’s also really great for accepting those back-handed, passive-aggressive compliments that bitchy coworkers/schoolmates/whatever like to dish out. Nothing stops them dead faster than a big smile and a sincere-sounding, “Thank you!” It’s not like they’re going to say, “No, actually, I meant that to sound mean.” And they usually get a soured expression that makes it all worthwhile.

    I’ve become a pro at accepting the awkward compliment. Such as, for example, when visiting BF’s extremely-religious grandmother (who does not know I’m an atheist). “You have the light of Jesus shining within you!” “Thank you, Grandma.”

    My point here: Learning to say “Thank You” even when you don’t feel like it is a valuable life skill in more than one occasion.

    • Oh, and one other thing, about the “Thank you”/”You’re welcome” exchanges. Sometimes they’re more about the other person than about you. For example, my BF has ADHD and can occasionally be a bit frustrating to live with when it comes to sharing chores etc. I always go out of my way to say “Thank you for doing X. I appreciate you.” When he does things. In part, as positive reinforcement. But mostly because stopping to say “I am grateful for this” makes *me* feel better. Since I am naturally prone to be overly critical (thanks, mom), I sometimes have to stop myself from saying unproductive, mean things.

      For example:
      *boyfriend loads the dishwasher*
      Response A: “Gee, I wish you’d done this an hour ago when I asked you to the first time.”
      Response B: “Thank you.”

      Guess which one makes for a more pleasant interaction.

    • adanarama said:

      I’m sharing this because of the amusement value of how incongruous it was, not to contest your point, but once I was at a party and shook hands with someone when we were introduced. He told me I shook hands like a man. As a butch person who takes a bit of pride in having strong, dexterous hads and arms, I smiled widely and said “Thank you!” then continued the conversation in progress. After a moment, I realized he was looking at me in utter puzzlement. When I made inquiring eye contact with him, he said “I meant that as an insult…”
      So it turns out that every so often, someone will straight up tell you that they were trying to be mean, but even if the attempt passed over your head like this one did to me, saying “thanks” is a great way to leave them so confused that they stop being a jerk to you.

      • kristinmh said:

        Wow. That is something else.

  16. nonnymouse said:

    True story: I once trained a housemate into doing communal chores by the power of “Thank you” alone. I got tired of nagging, so I stopped. Instead, I only commented on chores in a positive way: “thank you for mopping the floor!”, “thank you for taking out the trash!”,”thank you for doing the dishes!”.

    He eventually figured out the game, but here’s the kicker: it didn’t stop working, AND he started noticing and thanking me for the things I did around the house. Which made ME feel good about the effort I was putting into our household. And thus our household became cleaner and happier.

    LW, your mom probably isn’t engagaged in a campaign of training you through the power of thank you, but the intent is probably the same: to let you know she notices what you do for your household and appreciates it. Maybe also trying noticing what your mom does for your household and thanking her for it!

    • I find it hard to keep up on chores, and live with someone with much higher tidiness/cleanness expectations than I. I try to ensure that I always meet her floor expectations. But if I make the extra effort to clean an area that she’s not got around to yet, I’m not doing that for my sake or for our third housemate’s (who’s also more relaxed about frequency of vacuuming) – I’m doing it entirely to make R happy. I need to know that she recognised and appreciated that I did something extra for her.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gonna follow her around begging treats, but she notices dirty vs clean, so if I clean the stove I would hope that at some point reasonably soon to get a thank-you – I’ve put time and effort into something that I don’t enjoy doing, which I get no benefit from, entirely to make her feel better – I wanna know that she felt better!

      On the flipside of the equation, I thank people for doing what they “ought” to do all the time – I thank bus drivers when getting off, I thank folk on checkouts for offering me bags, I thank my classes for shutting up when I tell them to. As I recall, in “watching the English” it says that us English folk thank people an awful lot. Is this a big deal? I was taught it as common courtesy. Someone passes you the salt, you thank ‘em.

      • I think it might be a British thing – if you don’t say “thank you” at least three times, your interaction is not complete. E.G.

        Shop assistant: Do you need any bags?
        Me: No, thanks!
        Shop assistant: That’ll be £1.99
        Me: Thank you!
        Shop assistant: And there’s your change.
        Me: Thanks very much!

        (I’m pretty sure that this is not unusual.)

        • Blue Meeple said:

          I am American and my conversation with a cashier would be basically the same. I also thank bus drivers and so on too. I don’t remember being taught it specifically, I assume I picked it up from my parents in the basic courtesy department as well.

        • Aezy said:

          That is definitely a British thing (I’m British, I say thank you in response to thank you’s from staff…)! But then again I have worked in loads of customer service roles and there are enough rude customers that the ones which actually compliment you and say something nice really stand out, even if you are just doing your job. So I try and pay it forward to other people who have to deal with the great mass of The General Public :P

        • Jennie Baldrin said:

          I’m American too, and that sounds like me. Pretty much how I was taught to interact with employees – be polite, which involves thanking them for every little thing and trying to be patient if they’re slow, etc.

          Though for me it’s become more accentuated since that period where I worked as a cashier – suddenly all that is combined with “I’ve been in this position and was treated as a talking machine, I should be nice.”

          …of course, sometimes on phone trees with robots I thank the robot, too. So.

  17. I’m going to say a large “Thank you!” right now to the Captain, because I agree that that type of validation/notice/positive reinforcement is *most* necessary within close relationships. I’ve lived without it, and it almost drove me crazy. Admittedly, some people need verbal affirmation more than others, and I am one of those. But I’ve lived in several different roommate situations and one marriage, and they were all improved by the application of common courtesy.

    • I agree. Admittedly, other people do things differently, but I’ve always been kind of surprised by people who don’t say “please” or “thank you” or “I love you” in close relationships. It’s just a small gesture, but it’s a lovely one.

  18. Naamah said:

    I grew up in a house where we weren’t thanked for doing anything, and nobody ever said “please,” either. Learning to deal with compliments and with gratitude for small things was a challenge.

    Some kinds of compliments still make me seriously uncomfortable. Like, anything about how smart or strong or whatever blahblah beautiful blargity blah “you are somehow BETTER than other people” type stuff. So I’ve learned to just say a sincere “Thank you.” And then maybe move on with the conversation, or change the subject, no big deal. I learned that protesting just makes people do it MORE, which is rather like being poked repeatedly with a stick. Accepting the thanks/compliment doesn’t mean you are agreeing with their assessment of you as “THE MOST HELPFULLEST/AWESOMEST EVER,” it just means you’re acknowledging their feelings and good intentions, which is always the polite thing to do!

    While I don’t like compliments, I NEED reinforcement, LOTS of it, for stuff like cleaning the cat litter, switching the laundry, and so on. I need to know that my efforts are noticed and appreciated, because it’s hard for me to get things done. I’m often not up to making my own food, let alone coping with dishes. When I do manage things, I like to feel like I did something good that is worthy of doing and being acknowledged as a positive thing, instead of emptying out a pointless thimble-full from a whole sea of shit I need to get done. Which is how I feel a lot of the time.

    And even though I NEED to be thanked for doing stuff like cleaning the microwave, it still feels WEIRD to say “You’re welcome.” So I say stuff like “it’s no big deal.” “No problem,” “it’s cool,” “glad to help,” and suchlike. It’s a social lubricant small talk thing that people use to telegraph good intentions and maintain the web of tiny positive interactions that glue our relationships together. Acknowledging with a “happy to” or “no prob” is the verbal equivalent of responding to an email or text with a smiley or happy single-syllable exclamation, to acknowledge that you received the communication. Thinking of it like that helped me to feel less weird about accepting compliments and thanks of all kinds.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, for me, it’s like two separate things. Thanking someone for BEING something, or being thanked; thanking someone for DOING something, or being thanked. The first I don’t like, the second I require.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      Compliments on my intelligence freak me out. I don’t know why exactly. I actually know I’m pretty smart, so you wouldn’t think this would be a problem, but…yeah. Gaah.

      • zandperl said:

        It bothers me because I don’t like compliments on something I don’t actually have any control over, it smacks of elitism to me. For example, Them: “Wow, I love your brown hair.” Me aloud: “Yeah? It’s my natural color.” Me thinking: “does that mean you hate red-heads?” Or your example of complimenting my intelligence.

        If they want to compliment me on something I have done something about, and it’s something that’s above and beyond, then I’ll accept that. For example, compare Them: “Wow, you brushed your hair today.” Me: “um, isn’t that normal?” with Them: “Wow, you did something different to your hair from usual, I like it.” Me: “Yeah, I’m playing around with a flat iron.” Or with your example, a prof saying “it’s awesome that you turned your HW in on time” is wierd b/c that’s how things are supposed to be, while a prof saying “I really like the elegant solution you gave to problem 5″ is targeting a specific action that’s outside the norm.

      • Me too, and I think the don’t-have-control-over-it is part of it. Sometimes “you’re so smart” also carries a weight of expectation, like, “you’re so smart you owe it to the world to use your smartness to become a doctor/professor/something that I personally think is impressive.”

        It turns out that kids praised for being smart (which is a fixed quality they can’t control) don’t want to tackle harder tasks, while kids praised for effort (which they can control) do. The theory is that kids who are told, “you’re so smart” are worried about making mistakes and not being called smart anymore. I feel like this is very true in my case, that I’m worried about failing.

      • zixi said:

        Oh, man, yes. I can take compliments on a lot of things (though I’d much prefer a compliment or thanks on something I did than something I just inherently am) and I make a point to frequently tell people I appreciate things they do. But I hate hate hate hate anyone commenting that I’m smart. There’s something about compliments about intelligence that always feel like the person saying it 1) thinks you’re somehow better than them and 2) finds you intimidating.

        Because of shit that happened during a year from hell, I’ve hit the point where someone stating that I’m smart is an actual trigger. I’ll reactively, mentally, recoil and start instantly insisting that I’m not that smart (even though I know that, by most measures, I am). I’m generally with The Captain on responding to compliments by saying thanks, but when a compliment is actively triggering, there’s only so much I can do about my response.

        • Oh, my God, yes, the implicit “and you’re so intimidating” behind a compliment on being “smart”.

          Sometimes it’s explicit, and then it’s easier to deal with. I’m part of a smallish fandom on Tumblr that puts a high value on historical knowledge — come to the Age of Sail fandom for hot men in uniforms, stick around for obsessive detail about the Napoleonic Wars — and a couple of people have actually said explicitly (though in a complimentary way, as in “look at all the awesome people in our fandom”) that I’m intimidating because of how much I know.

          I was able to jump right on that and say “There is no need to be intimidated! All that it means is that I read a lot. And trust me, I will never jump on you for not knowing something! In fact, if you ask me questions, I will happily go on for HOURS telling you about things! You know how some little kids love dinosaurs, and can tell you every damn thing in the world about them, and if you get them started, they WILL tell you, because they think dinosaurs are awesome and they want you to think so too? Just think of me as a little kid with her dinosaurs.”

  19. Zooey said:

    Just chiming in to agree with the huge value of thanking people for doing routine household tasks. My current partner is really good about this – he habitually thanks me for washing up, or cooking a meal, or whatever. I actually like doing all those things, and obviously I’d be doing them if I was on my own. But in the context of our shared life, doing that work is also an expression of my love, and being thanked makes me feel that the work I put into making our lives nice is valued, and in itself feels like an expression of his love for me and the life we’ve built together.

    Interestingly, my partner is very bad at receiving compliments, especially compliments about things he is rather than things he does. If I tell him he looks nice, or he’s smart, or I’m proud of him because of his work achievements, he’s visibly uncomfortable. This is precisely because of jerkbrain low self-esteem issues. But the fact that he finds it hard to accept compliments doesn’t mean I feel like I should stop giving them, because a. these are my honest opinions and b. expressing them is an expression of my love (and verbal expression of my feelings is important to me). However, in the course of this conversation I’m thinking maybe I should think about switching the form of some of my compliments, so I make them about more specific things he’s done (which are harder for the jerkbrain to pull down). (Also, as a side note, he’s good at accepting the compliments, I just know him well enough to see the jerkbrain thoughts running.)

    • I suggest zeroing in on the things he can attach an “I did that!” feeling of pride to:
      “you look nice” –> “you look really smart today” / “ooh, you shaved! Looks great”
      “you are smart” –> “you said a clever thing earlier…” / “you’ve done a lot of research on x, you’re really well-informed”
      “I’m proud of your work achievements” –> “You’ve been working really hard at work, and it’s paying off. I’m proud of you because of your commitment”

      It’s an internal/external locus of control thing. If you locate the compliment inside of his locus of control – the things he could’ve chosen to do or not – he gets to own that compliment.

      • mintylime said:

        There’s also some research out there on the effects of praise, particularly praise for intrinsic characteristics vs. praise for effort, in children. It turns out that praise for intrinsic characteristics causes them to choose less difficult future tasks so that they won’t fail.

        Practical upshot? Praise for things people do probably works better than praise for things someone is.

        Which is to say: “What SatchelofSparkles said”

      • Zooey said:

        Thanks! This was sort of what I started to think as I was writing he comment, so it’s good to have some pointers. :)

      • serin said:

        Somewhere I read a childrearing book that suggested the same thing for parents of small children — instead of saying, “You’re such a good girl,” you say, “Thank you for waiting so patiently” or “I appreciate your good manners” or “I’m glad you didn’t yell and wake the baby” or “I’m happy to see you” or “I love you.”

        When my kid was small, her go-to compliment was “Good job.” I’ve heard her saying it to the cat.

  20. John said:

    You know, you don’t even /have/ to say “thank you” if it really bugs you so much.

    When somebody compliments you, just say “what a lovely thing for you to say.” You’re acknowledging their compliment gracefully without accepting it.

    • JenniferP said:

      Agreed. You can acknowledge the kind intentions without getting into the truth claim of the compliment.

    • caryatid said:

      very true, sometimes i just say “so nice of you to say so” etc…

  21. Bunny said:

    Oh man, I SO used to have this problem. I was able to at least start fixing my issues with it by using my OTHER issues to contradict it.

    I’ve always been a grateful person. I was the sort of child who, from a very young age, would sincerely and enthusiastically thank someone for a gift of socks because I had gratitude for the kind intent as opposed to the physical gift drilled into me. One time a distant, eccentric semi-relative thought to charm and delight preteen, Captain-Planet watching me by bringing her mother’s old furs – what amounted to a binbag full of mink skins with the eyeless heads still on – and I was so caught between being utterly grossed out and upset by the eyeless dried corpse heads and my own need to show gratitude for their “meaning well” that I spent the entire visit hiding at the top of the stairs, pretending to be more traumatised than I really was and feeling guilty as hell for hurting her feelings, because it was easier than either admitting I hated what she’d brought or pretending to like it.

    It has caused some problems later in life, when trying to find a way to thank someone for a well-meant but really inappropriate boundary violation (thank you for replacing my towels with your hand-me-downs when I asked you to cat sit while I was away! And getting several of our mutual friends to help you “surprise” me by spring cleaning my house! I now secretly feel ashamed of my poverty and reminded of my lifelong status as a charity case! And actually liked my old towels just fine!) but it comes in great for dealing with compliments, if you remind yourself that the person giving them to you is trying to give you something nice.

    “Thank you, it’s kind of you to say so.”

    Eventually I learned to turn this into a simple thank you, and just learning to say that helped me learn to actually accept the compliment itself as valid.

    • M Dubz said:

      aaaah that towel switching situation made me feel really icky. Sorry you had to go through that!

      • Bunny said:

        I know, right?! It isn’t so bad now that it’s well into the past, but that was definitely one of the Big Things that ended up fragmenting my friendship with that entire group at the time. But like I said, the gratitude thing is still really helpful in other ways, so I consider it a trade-off.

        Another thing that helped me learn to accept compliments better, was learning to distinguish between how I see myself, and how others see me.

        I know, for example, that my grandfather isn’t CONVENTIONALLY attractive. But I love him. And I love the very things that society would say are negative.

        I love his nose. I love that he wears his hair like a 50s rocker, and that it’s essentially the same swept-back quiff he’s had SINCE the 50s. I love the wrinkles that line his face and think the way his scar curves into his jowly cheek looks gorgeous, as though it was always meant to be a part of him. I love the shape and size of him. I loved the gap he had for years when he lost a tooth and didn’t bother to get it replaced until several others followed it. I have memories of that face grinning at me from behind glasses and a moustache since I was an infant. I find him beautiful BECAUSE of all those things that might be called “flaws”.

        And if I see the people I love that way, then it’s reasonable to assume they experience similar feelings when looking at me. So when they say I look nice, or when they express a desire to have a photo of me that I think I look terrible, or compliment my hair or face or body, I can accept that all they’re really saying is “looking at you makes me feel [SEE ABOVE]!”. Accepting the compliment then doesn’t mean I think I’m hot shit. It means I’m accepting their expression of love.

        • Your grandfather sounds like a badass. In the best possible way.

  22. Bananana Dackry said:

    Just a thought on the housemates/partners & work angle – I really hate it when I’m expected to thank someone for doing their fair share. Excuse me, but the entirety of the responsibility for housework does not fall on me; it’s a shared responsibility! I won’t thank my partner for doing the dishes after dinner. He’s not “helping me”, that’s how we’ve divided the chores. But what we do is to *appreciate* instead. Like, “nice work on the cleanup there”, “delicious meal” etc. Appreciation is fine, and nice, and very good to do, but thanks seem to carry a bit of an implication. And then you can thank each other for the appreciation, too :)

    • kanel said:

      This, this, THIS!

  23. Stay Excellent said:

    I find some of the assumptions that deflection or explanation as response to a compliment is rude somewhat condescending on part of the complimenteer. As someone who likes analyzing stuff a lot, pointing out f.ex. some aspects I still need to work on in presenting should be the opening for a discussion on said topic instead of being steamrolled under more positive reinforcement because I must have low self-esteem, narcissistic standards or other such reasons.

    Likewise on compliments other than the most basic “thank yous” and “you’re welcomes”, I like to give a reason. “So thoughtful” for gift>insert why I like it, “”>how haircut frames face/new sweater fits bouncy personality, etc. For me, being told an outfit looks good and being told it’s sweet because it’s channeling Prohibition Era mobster, the latter makes me a lot happier because it sounds way more personal.

    • I like analysing stuff too – but if I think something nice about you, and push past my introversion to share it so that you feel a bit of a glow (which is a common response to spontaneous compliments, though not universal which is why me taking that step is a risk) and you turn around and say “well, actually, there’s this and this”, what I hear is “you’re wrong, here’s why, now guess whether I want further reassurance, for you to get in on the self-hating, or to have a deep feedback session on the things that are good and bad about me”.

      In my job, I get observed sometimes. And afterwards I sit with the observers and we do deep analysis of what went well, what could’ve gone better, what might I do differently next time. And I value those sessions. But if I’m in the staffroom and someone comments that while wandering by my class (or if they’re a TA who are often in there) and they noticed that I do X and it’s really working and they like it and are going to steal it, and I turn around and say “ah, but have you noticed I only do it some of the time? And I also do Y, which is disadvantageous. Let’s discuss this”, I think their (internal) reaction would be “whoa! I didn’t sign up to this!”

  24. It’s a non-optional social convention.

    /things I learned from watching The Big Bang Theory

    • THIS.

      I’m going to use that line from now on to briefly explain why ‘thank yous’ are necessary re: compliments.

  25. Emma said:

    There are a lot of comments here so I’m not sure if this has already been said, but just in case:

    When someone tells you that your shoes look nice, they’re frequently not all that interested in your shoes.

    Imagine the following conversation, with subtext switched on:

    Your acquaintance: “I love your shoes!”

    [you seem nice and I would like to talk to you some more.]

    You: “Thanks, I just got them in the sales. Your hair looks great today – did you do something different with it?”

    [I like talking to you too. I don't want to seem stuck up, so I'm being a bit self-deprecating. Let's be friends.]

    Your acquaintance: “Thanks; just a trim. Hey, did you see (insert change of subject here)”

    [Yes. Let's definitely be friends!]

    This is generally a female social dance rather than a male one, and the amount of “thanks”s and self-deprecating comments you put in will vary by culture (I’m English, so there’s a lot of thanking and self-deprecation going on in my version), but I think the point still stands – the compliment does not necessarily mean they like your shoes/hair/piano playing. It means they like YOU.

    • “(I’m English, so there’s a lot of thanking and self-deprecation going on in my version)”

      I’ve been conciously avoiding self-deprecation for the last couple of years and haven’t noted a cultural backlash (I think the self-deprecation “rule” comes in the delightful teen years of “I bet you think WELL of yourself! Let’s change that!”). I think that among adults, in the UK and US, self-deprecation is an optional social convention.

      And I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me I’m more likely to compliment folk I like. So yeah, the compliment means I like YOU… but also that those shoes are way cute.

      • Emma said:

        I think you’re right that it’s an optional convention, but in my experience at least, it’s still the norm rather than the exception.

        There are different sorts of self-deprecation, as well; there’s a gulf between “this skirt was cheap but I’m still pleased you like it” and “no, you’re wrong, I’m hideous.” The former is polite (though still unnecessary), the latter is rude.

        • I always think when you say it’s cheap that’s a brag? Like yes, I found this cool skirt for no money! I win at shopping!

          • Oh, same here. But then, my friends circle is down with thrift store shopping, and I am widely acknowledged to have Thrift-Fu as my superpower. :)

        • Btw, in my personal universe I don’t mind bragging of this sort. A lot of people will tell you how shit you are, it’s good to own that you are not….

    • Emma said:

      Very true! A lot of the time casual compliments happen just because someone wants to be friendly and chat about something because they’re interested in YOU, not necessarily because they’re interested in your shoes or whatever they’re commenting on.

      So, as many people have said above, all that’s really required is that you acknowledge that friendliness somehow, and then 9 times out of 10 the conversation will move on by itself.

      (Though obviously, as has also been said, it’s okay to be less receptive to compliments that are creepy or otherwise inappropriate.)

  26. Mary said:

    >>My mum constantly thanks me for stuff that is a normal part of being a housemate. She really does not need to thank me for hanging the washing or doing the dishes – its what people who want to live in cleanliness and household harmony do. Not something extra. How do I say “you’re welcome” three times in five minutes while sounding sincere?

    Where does the idea that people only get thanked for doing something “extra” come from? That’s weird to me. I think “thank you” is motivated by “oh hurray, a thing has been done that makes my life nicer”, not “oh gosh, you went out out of your way and put loads of EFFORT into it, especially for me!”

    LW, do you not thank waiting staff, or people in shops when they hand you your change, or taxi drivers when they drop you off, or hairdressers when they show you your hair, etc etc? Does it make it easier to accept a thank you if you just think of it as being an acknowledgment that someone has done something nice – even if it is part of their job and a totally normal part of daily life – rather than some GIANT FAVOUR that massively put them out?

    • hebbyn said:

      This. Thanking someone doesn’t have to be reserved for them giving you a kidney. It’s not necessarily saying that you did something above and beyond– just that it was something nice, that’s made the day a little better. I might make umpteen pots of tea if I’m visiting my parents, they still thank me if I’m handling them a cup. Just a “ta” to let you know that you’re actions aren’t disappearing into the void. You mum isn’t necessarily saying that she doesn’t *expect* that level of basic housemateship, but she is saying that she appreciates that it’s being done.

      FWIW, “no problem”, “happy to help”, “welcome” are my default casual “your welcomes”.

    • kanel said:

      One aspect of it may not actually be about the praising/thanking really. The LW writes about having always hated praising, but with the whole housework thing it one aspect of it COULD be more about family roles or perhaps gender roles. And maybe this gets mixed up with the discomfort associated with praise. It could be that the LW’s mother has an expectation from herself, society and perhaps others to take care of the whole household. The LW on the other hand, feels that doing an equal part (or whatever they do), “is a normal part of being a housemate”.

      LW, I don’t know your age and your living situation. But maybe this is where you try to grow up, try to feel and act like an adult, but you feel a bit hindered, like all of those thank you’s read to you as your mom saying “Really, I should have done those things and wow, you’re being such a good kid”. Parent-child dynamic issue. It reminded me of the discussion about a post from a couple of weeks ago: http://captainawkward.com/2013/01/24/437/

      Or it could be a gender role issue, that LW’s mother is a female and the LW is a male and he would like more equal expectations in the household, while she is more traditional. Or some other issue.

      Maybe this is not at all the case, but I might as well toss it out there. IF there is an issue like this behind it, talk to your mother about it. If you two manage to get to a better understanding and work toward something that both feels good to your mother and makes you feel more adult/equal/whatever it’s about, then perhaps the thanking/praising will be less of an issue or at least easier to handle.

      That said, I agree with the Captain’s advice about the short and simple “thank you” or “you’re welcome” being the easiest way to move forward and getting those situations over with without being rude, when they do arise.

  27. Another thing. I’m an extrovert who like making other people happy. I’ve asked a stranger at the bus stop about their awesome lipstick and had a wonderful discussion with a lovely bookstore clerk. The whole thing can take under five minutes and it just brightens their day as well as make me glad. Win – win.

    I’ll put the usual disclaimer here: I don’t crowd people. There’s always plenty of room to move away and/or signal ‘get away, creepy stranger’. And I don’t linger needlessly being all Smeagol.

    • Ellex said:

      I am an introvert who has used the tactic of complimenting both friends, acquaintances and total strangers as a way to practice being social. It’s helped tremendously.

      • I’m glad! I know of some therapists who recommend this for introverts.

  28. Mris said:

    It is possible that your mother would also like to be thanked for the things *she* does for *you*. If you’re thinking that nobody needs thanking for doing ordinary household things, does that include your mom? Do you refrain from thanking her for those things? Because she may not be feeling like you notice and appreciate everything she does. One of the things that makes me *not* keep score on every last thing everybody does in my house is the fact that I regularly hear, “Thanks for making supper,” or, “Thanks for washing the towels,” or, “I appreciate you handling the call to the handyman,” or whatever.

    • LA said:

      So much this. I grew up in a house where thank yous were few and far between, and pretty much never handed out for doing routine things, but by god, if we didn’t do those routine things quickly enough or within my parents’ (non-shared, never-specified) time limits, we got lectured about how ungrateful we were for having a house, food, clothes, etc. to clean, etc. So we’d be shamed into saying thank you for things that we *were* genuinely grateful for (but didn’t know how to express other than doing our myriad chores b/c we had no model for doing so), but on the flipside, we were rarely if ever thanked for doing the things that our parents expected–and sometimes we didn’t even know what those expectations were, because we’d get lectured about not doing things we didn’t know we were supposed to do (and would add those things to our mental pile of things to maintain going forward). It felt awful to never get thanked for that work just because it was “expected,” because it made my brother and I feel like we were indentured servants or something. Only one side getting thanked/appreciated can be toxic to a relationship. My stepdad never thanked my mom for “expected” things either, and they have since divorced (for that and a slew of other reasons).

      Fortunately, now that we no longer live at home, when we do help out at Mom’s house, she’s very good about thanking my brother and I for what we do–I think partly because now that we’re not there most of the time, our mom has finally come to appreciate what we did. Better late than never.

      As for how this plays out in another realm, I cannot tell you how happy I am to have married a man who frequently thanks me and expresses appreciation for things that I do that seem routine to me that I never got thanked for growing up. I happily reciprocate that thanks and appreciation, and we are much happier people than my family was growing up. We don’t keep count of who thanks who how many times, or how many times we get compliments for the things we do for each other. Also, we communicate expectations (and timeframes) rather than leaving the things up in the air as “things you should do when living with other people”. Ex: “Hey, with this extra yardwork I’m doing outside, I’m a little exhausted–I know it’s normally my thing, but can you do the laundry this weekend?” or “I just realized we’re out of milk, but I already started dinner, can you stop by on your way home?” or even “Dinner’s going to be ready in 10 minutes, so you might want to reach a stopping point on your game soon.” All of these are usually met with variations of “Sure, and thanks for what you’re doing.” It is wonderful, and works for us, but of course, YMMV.

      Some people, like my spouse and I, grew up compliment-starved, and really like getting compliments and giving them. Some people grew up compliment-starved and hate getting or giving them. Most people fall more in the middle, and that, along with different cultural expectations, is why navigating it is tricksy. LW might want to have a chat with their mom to figure out if she’s giving compliments in hopes of getting some, because that could be an easy enough fix–deflect the compliment given with a compliment of the LW’s choosing.

      • Bad enough that crap happened to me in a work environment — so, soo, sooo sorry that happened to you at home!

  29. identivity said:

    I’m in costuming at school, and it took me a long time to be able to accept a compliment about my sewing without going, “Oh, well….it’s all right, except for this spot right here where the seam isn’t quite right,” or what have you.

    After a while, I learned that (unlike people) it doesn’t really matter what the costume looks like on the inside, as long as it looks good from the outside, it looks good on the stage. Plus most actors don’t really know any better (unless they do have sewing experience) and think you’re magical for being able to sew this ridiculous thing together and have it look nice, or omg you REALLY hand sewed this trim all along the edge you’re so AMAZING. I just say thank you, and save the “BUT LOOK AT MY MISTAKES” for in my head.

    • VA said:

      This is a great point – sometimes deflecting a compliment by pointing out the flaws in my work/self turns into “mansplaining” (and I’m not even a man! Is there a PC term for “mansplaining”?). The complimenter wasn’t asking for a lecture on all the ways I could do/be better, and it’s not fair to make them sit through one while I work out my own issues about praise.

  30. In the end I think that all this comes down to the most fundamental aspect of parenting that I was given which is to always always say ‘Please’ and to always always say ‘Thank You’. You can be modest, and I think what’s been already said about maybe non-verbal shyness in body language could be a way of showing slight discomfort/modesty while still being appreciative to the sentiment. In England we’re have a mix of ‘humble’ with cynical in the self-effacing way of ‘ah it wasn’t that good/necessary, I can do better, but I appreciate it’ (which is why culturally I think the hyperbolic conception of Americans can be brash, loud and worryingly self assured to the point of delusion), but there is always a sort of appreciation there for the effort made. (Which is why sometimes you make heroes of people who are generally terrible at something but try hard or do so with ‘character’.) So upon receiving a compliment you should be thankful but humble. But, as the good captain says, to throw the compliment back in their faces by launching into an analysis of how you really suck just insults the compliment-giver. Which isn’t healthy for you. Or them. Because they mean the compliment’s sentiment and they are trying to care for you in giving it. (This perhaps applies more than ever in the Yorkshire district, where compliments tend to be fairly gruff and half-joking. ‘Aye, that’ll do I suppose.’ ‘Could’ve been worse.’ etc)
    Anyway. In the end when someone is doing something kind it’s nice, and proper, to say thank you. Doesn’t matter if it’s something domestic you’re expected to do, since plenty of people are douches who won’t do that basic thing. So you say to a shopkeeper ‘can I please have…’ and you say ‘thank you’ when they serve you. Doesn’t matter if it’s their job. It’s a basic human interaction that shows respect from both parties about the other’s autonomy. If you don’t say your Ps and Qs then you are effectively assigning the other person as a faceless sub-human/robot who serves you. Think of it as a kind of verbal tipping I guess, if you have to.
    Compliments, like the Ps and Qs, are an important way of showing one another that we value that person in the world as an individual human. It doesn’t matter even if they’re factually correct or not. Because as a complimenter you are really praising the effort they made, the impact they made, or their simple valued existence in your social group. It’s one person telling another ‘I think that you rock and I want you to be happy’ as much as it is someone telling you ‘well done’.

    • When my kids were little, there was a “creamee” (soft-serve ice cream) stand near us where the owner would give my kids them their ice cream free every now and again, just because they always said “May please have a ____,” and “Thank you,” not “I’ll have a ___” or even “Gimme a ___,” like some of the tourists. He would say “You have such nice manners, I’m not going to charge you for that today” and they would beam. It was great manners-reinforcement for them, even though of course (they never really noticed this part) they weren’t going to be paying for the ice cream anyway, I was… so I guess he was thanking me for raising kids who saw the guy behind the counter at the creamee stand as a real person who deserved his pleases and thank-yous.

      • toniprufrock said:

        Ain’t no better reinforcement than free ice cream!
        I must admit that, working as a barista, nothing gets my back up faster than someone who doesn’t give this basic level of courtesy. It’s like, ‘I know I’m PAID to be serve you, but I don’t HAVE to go to the extra effort of asking you how you like your tea best so it’s perfect, or chatting to you or giving you advice or directions around the shopping centre etc etc etc. If you don’t recognise me as human why don’t you just go to a flipping vending machine?’
        So that’s great, and I really think that good manners are the foundation that everything else is built upon when it comes to social skills (though I do recognise that sometimes we have to make sure not to go over the top when someone harmful is up in our space and we need to assert ourselves).
        But for safe happy manners it works two ways too: our parents always asked please and thank you to us even now my mum scolds my dad if he doesn’t, which is amusing if nothing else) because while the assumption always was ‘this chore (etc) isn’t negotiable’ it was still polite, and gave the kids respect, and acknowledged how much of a help to the household this basic action or chore was. Which is why I think stuff like the mum thanking LW for washing the dishes etc shouldn’t be taken too badly if possible. She is genuinely giving respect as well as making a show that it really is a big help.

    • John said:

      I tried to explain to an American cousin that if a British person says “Well, that wasn’t half bad, was it?” it’s actually quite a serious expression of enjoyment and praise. They didn’t get it.

  31. Aarron Halfmaine said:

    An interesting range of views. How do you kindly remind someone that their “compliment” came out all wrong without going down the “I reject your view, so you’re stupid” route? Case in point; a mate calls me “cuddly”. As a gent who’s a bit touchy about his weight, it does exactly the opposite of what a compliment’s meant to do! When I call him on it, he starts nattering on with some spiel about how “it’s a good thing” and how he didn’t mean to offend, and I feel a tad sheepish.

    Also, don’t know if anyone else does this, but I do try to vary my “thank you”s, say I’d reply with “I owe you one” or “You’re a real lifesaver”. It might just be me, but I kinda feel I ought to let people know I actually care, rather than saying “thanks” like some kinda robot.

    • miss_chevious said:

      It sounds like you’ve already called him out on this and he’s not listening to you. You might try to address it one more time when he hasn’t called you cuddly, and let him know that you appreciate he’s trying to be nice, but it hurts your feelings and he should stop. If he can’t cut it out after that, you’ve got a boundary issue and CA’s website is full of advice on how to handle that.

      One thing I found really interesting about your situation is that this is a dynamic women have to deal with daily, but it’s the first time I can recall seeing an example from a man.

    • Cheers, you big skinnymalink! *insert regional friendly insult* is a good response to these…

      • Manatee said:

        I’d go the whole hog with ‘skinnymalink malogen legs, big banana feet!’ Nothing like adding confusion to mild insults. :D (PS you’ve made my day with skinnymalink!)

      • Aarron Halfmaine said:

        “skinnymalink”. Truly the best mild and frivolous insult.

    • I’m sure CA has addressed this elsewhere, but you can respond to someone who says they didn’t mean to offend you: “I understand you didn’t mean to offend me and meant it as a compliment. However, I’d prefer you not use that word with me in the future.” This way you’re allowing them to save face (it’s embarrassing to offend someone when you didn’t mean to!), but giving them a clear boundary for the future. If they cross that boundary in the future, then it’s much less forgivable.

  32. sm said:

    Goodness, I think I’m on the other side of this issue: I’m a complimenter.

    One of my favorite things to do when I’m having a bad day is to play a small game with myself and see how many strangers I can give compliments to. These compliments are usually just small things in passing and the interaction is simple, friendly, and generally unexpected. (I’m pretty shy, so it takes some effort for me to say to some stranger walking down the street, “Good morning! I really love your earrings!” even though then I just walk on – no response needed! – and never see that other person again.) Getting up the courage to say something nice to someone else takes me out of my comfort zone, and when I’m have a low day, it’s nice to think that maybe I can pick up someone else’s low day.

    If you can’t tell from that story, I like making up games, and more specifically, I like making up games that ecourage people to be nice to each other. While I was reading this post and everyone’s responses and stories, it struck me that sometimes it’s easier to accept compliments when we become more comfortable giving them. (Goodness knows I had problems saying a simple “thank you” until I came up with my own compliment game.) It also struck me that so often we keep ourselves hidden online, or we forget that we can say nice things to other people and accept their compliments to us from the safety of our bedrooms, kitchens, etc. when we use social networking sites and such.

    So, for those of you who are working on the compliment thing (giving or accepting), I’ve come up with a game for you: Let’s all start a compliment war on Facebook (or wherever you connect with your friends and family online).

    Write a status post announcing you’re starting a compliment war, and then go through your friends and family and give as many people as you feel up to a compliment. If/when they resound, say, “Thanks! It’s a compliment war! Go compliment someone you know!” Imagine how great it would be if you opened your newsfeed and it was just filled with people you know and love and care about saying nice things to each other. I know that would make my day :)

    • toniprufrock said:

      That sounds like a really sweet game :)
      Though it’s scare me to bits to do it to strangers – I’m shy as heck.
      (Though strangely context plays a part. I think I can come off as less shy than I am when I’m in a professional capacity but meh).
      I think it’s a really nice thing to do. I blush like hell and get awkward at a compliment but I really appreciate it, usually. Somehow it coming from a stranger is lovely too (as ever, if boundaries are kept etc etc).
      The facebook compliment war seems like a cute idea.

    • Ellex said:

      Hi friend! I know just how you feel!

      I love to give compliments to strangers. In part because it cheers me up, and in part because it’s been a great exercise to help me learn social skills. I’m a huge introvert – I’m not shy, I just really prefer my own company to anyone else’s.

      But giving out compliments has put me in the situation of having some really lovely conversations with people, and now I can be social and actually enjoy it, instead of feeling crowded and uncomfortable. It’s often still exhausting for me, but now I can do things like have lunch with my coworkers and have a great time, instead of desperately wishing for it be over so I can go back to being by myself.

    • adanarama said:

      I love giving people compliments in order to diffuse a bad day. I have some self esteem issues, partially due to being what I would describe as awkwardly gendered – it’s hard to figure out what kind of outfit is going to make me feel comfy and not dysphoric on any given day, especially when there are so many cultural messages about what constitutes appropriate dress bouncing around in my brain, so when other people look really cool and creative in their clothes, I like to let them know because it’s a skill I admire. It helps that I am a pretty physically small person, and I only give compliments in daytime in public spaces, so I don’t have to be super worried that I’m going to scare someone by commenting on their appearance. Also, as a street musician, I run in some circles where people put a ton of effort into outfits and costumes, so it’s also a bit of a message of fellow performer solidarity even if I don’t know them personally. Sending out sincere compliments to strangers also makes it easier for me to trust and appreciate the compliments I receive, because I know from my own actions that some folks really just think other folks look lovely and want to let them know.

  33. Gine said:

    I also often have a hard time accepting compliments–so when I compliment someone else, I tack on a question just in case the compliment itself might make them uncomfortable (for example, if I tell someone I like their outfit, I immediately ask where they got it, or something like that, so they have some options when it comes to responses–they just answer the question if they feel awkward responding to the compliment itself).

    I also work the same idea into my own responses–if someone says something nice about, say, something I’ve written (like a lot of writers, I’m insecure about my work), I’ll say, “Thank you, that chapter was fun to write/a bit of a struggle/etc.” Saying thank you but then moving on quickly to something more concrete, but not too self-deprecating, helps me feel more at ease, and it seems to go over well.

  34. Ellex said:

    If saying just “thank you” really bothers you, you might feel more comfortable with “thank you, it was my pleasure”. “Thank you, it was really no trouble at all”. “Thank you, I was happy to help.” “Thank you, you’re very kind to say something.”

    Jennifer is right – your issues regarding this are your issues. The person thanking you or complimenting you clearly feels that it’s necessary or deserved, or they wouldn’t say anything in the first place. When you dismiss that, you’re insulting them and taking away their right to own their opinion. Accept the thanks or compliment whether you feel it’s deserved or not.

    My mother and I are also housemates. We thank each other all the time for little things. Very occasionally we will say something like “you don’t have to thank me for that, but it was nice of you to say something”. If your mom is like my mom, she may feel that, as mom, all this stuff that you take for granted as something you should be doing anyways should be hers to do, and she’s grateful to you for shouldering your share of the household chores (this is fairly typical of moms). Or she’s thanking you in more of a “look what a great kid I raised, you’re such a thoughtful and responsible person” kind of way. Or it could be more that she’s thinking “I see so many people who don’t do the things they should be doing that I want to let my kid know that I recognize that they are a responsible and thoughtful person and housemate.”

    So take your mom’s compliments at face value, and don’t forget to reciprocate.

  35. Ennue said:

    So, so agreed with your paragraph on housemates. My boyfriend and I thank each other all the time – for making dinner, for doing dishes, for dropping each other off at useful locations, etc. It makes life much sweeter :)

  36. People are trying to be nice to you, let them.

  37. Sil said:

    My favorite substanceless response to being thanked is “sure.” Depending on the tone and following sentences, it can pretty much mean anything from “This small task was no trouble and you can probably count on me to do it in the future” to “That task was awful, but I like you more than I hated it.”

  38. serin said:

    Because I have a “helper” job, I get a lot of thank yous and compliments. (It’s a nice problem to have!) Alternatives to “You’re welcome” that I haven’t seen on this thread yet are “I was happy to do it” and “Any time.” Assuming those are true.

    My father is offended when people say, “No problem,” but my father enjoys being offended. (Other things that offend him: “Sure” instead of “Yes” and responding to “How are you?” with “Not bad” or “Pretty good” or anything other than “Fine.”)

    About compliments: When my college roommate got contacts, she said everybody wanted to compliment her but a lot of people couldn’t quite identify what was different about her, so she got a lot of “Great haircut!” and “You got your braces off! Way to go!” Her favorite compliment of that week was, “You look happy!”

  39. solecism said:

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the comments yet, but I don’t think anyone has brought up the health angle here. Minor courtesies such as saying “thank you” seem trivial, and as social lubricant that doesn’t really mean much, but they are an easy and daily means of expressing gratitude. Such affirming responses to compliments received or statements to acknowledge someone’s effort (however expected and commonplace it may be) may help reduce one’s own stress hormones such as cortisol and generally improve one’s own mental and physical health. Here are a scattering of studies that approach this topic:

    “Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life.” The abstract is here

    “Attrition from self-directed interventions: investigating the relationship between psychological predictors, intervention content and dropout from a body dissatisfaction intervention.” abstract

    “Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood.” abstract

    “Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration.” abstract

    “Positive psychological attributes and cardiac outcomes: associations, mechanisms, and interventions.” abstract

    Now, I do have a certain ambivalence about the whole field of positive psychology and a profound dislike of that whole “you must always be optimistic and think positive or you’re responsible for making yourself sick” mindset. See Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. I mean, I tend to think I am congenitally happy just as my partner struggles with clinical depression, and neither is a reflection on either of our moral characters or personal choices.

    And yet, the prolonged stress of dealing with negative emotions and a hostile environment on a daily basis (whether that is internal–hello jerkbrain!–or internal) does have measurable physiological consequences. Just look at the consistently poorer health outcomes for people of color in the United States, regardless of socioeconomic status etc. when compared to whites. It’s a reflection of living in a white supremacist society. So if there are steps that one can take to try to counteract those negative influences, particularly if they come from inside ourselves, then absolutely, let’s try them. Sincere (and nonthreatening) compliments and gratitude are a way of making the world less hostile and more pleasant for everyone, most especially ourselves.

    • meh said:

      I was about to say the same; the nice thing about people doing nice things for you is getting to enjoy their kindness and be grateful. When you don’t let people thank you for doing something for them, you’re interfering with their ability to enjoy the thing you did.

      I’ve found this to be a useful jerkbrain workaround, so I consider accepting a thank you as a part of the burden of doing dishes or cooking dinner. If I’m doing something to help you, I must also accept your thank you to allow you to enjoy the nice thing I did without awkwardness, as part of the nice thing I’m doing. I’ve found this surprisingly helpful for thank yous related to doing things. Useless for appearance compliments.

  40. Another reason people might have difficulty accepting compliments:

    I had a friend in high school who was (still is) an extremely talented pianist, as well as one of the nicest and humblest people I know. After a school concert in which he’d been given the rare opportunity to perform an entire piece solo, I saw him shrugging off the many compliments he received. When I talked to him about it, he said he felt that his talent was a gift from God, not something he’d earned on his own, and he didn’t feel right “claiming” it, or being prideful, by agreeing with people’s compliments.

    As a fellow Christian, my response was that by saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good,” he was essentially saying, “Hey God — this talent you gave me? It’s crap. Why would I be grateful for something that’s no good?”

    A less awkward, but still honest, response would be, “Thank you — I feel very blessed.”

  41. Jolly said:

    Haha, this reminds me of when I started at my job. People would say “thank you” to me all of the time, and in my brain I am like “I am getting paid to do this. This is a minimum requirement for my job, handing you this thing. Why am I being thanked for this.” But outwardly, I handled it, since I knew they are just saying a thing, and basically just acknowledging that I am there and that Things Are Good Between Us at that moment. At this point I am saying “No problem!” like 6 times every day, still, after being here five years. But it is still nice to be surrounded by people who actually acknowledge your presence and work, even if it isn’t necessary and frankly kind of weird to me sometimes. Much better than the alternatives.

    But, yeah, coming up with what everyone else seems to think are natural responses to things that you aren’t even sure you understand is so weird and tough.

    Right now, I am still figuring out the “nice dress!” compliment. Weird Brain is always like “I like it too! that’s why I bought it! whoever designed it did a really good job, huh?” I mean, at this point I’ve trained myself into immediately saying “thanks!” instead of waffling between that and “YEAH IT’S PRETTY GOOD RIGHT?????? GJ CLOTHING COMPANY.” But it took awhile before I got out of the awkward-pause-before-compliment-acceptance phase.

  42. Jennie Baldrin said:

    My parents practically never praised me for anything when I was a kid, so when I hear anything now I get uncomfortable and suspicious. Because there must be some kind of ulterior motive, right? Or they’re just being polite.

    So it’s interesting to see that can come from another position too. Man, jerkbrains will do all kinds of things to ruin something good.

  43. MusicSheep said:

    I had a friend who had a saying, “The proper thing to say is Thank You,” whenever there was an awkward social interaction about things like who would pay the bar tab (I’ll get it! No, I’ll get it! No, I couldn’t possibly allow you to…) or similar arguments about a compliment. This saying has helped me move through unwanted compliments that I might otherwise try to deflect. It has also made me more comfortable accepting kind gestures from my friends. People who pay you compliments or say thank you to you or try to buy you lunch are not only doing so to make you feel good, they are doing so to make themselves feel good (not selfishly, but in the way that making people you care about feel good makes you feel good). It is kind to allow them to do so. Keeping this in mind may ease your discomfort with these kinds of exchanges.

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