Many women have a hard time with compliments. These journaling exercises may help.
When a colleague says something nice, we may automatically contradict her (“Are you hammered? I’ve gained four pounds this month.”) or deflect it (“My team members did the real work.”) or sometimes we get all flustered and awkwardly try to force the compliment back on the giver. (Them: “You’re one of the most enchanting women I’ve ever met.” Me: “No, you are!”)
Even when we respond “correctly” by thanking the person, not arguing or dissing ourselves, or visibly writhing, in our hearts we may still discount the positive words. “He wouldn’t say that if he really knew me,” you may think.
There are reasons for the way we respond to compliments, most of them related to the ways girls are taught to handle power, status, and confidence in social situations.
I’m not going to tell you that you should never argue or deflect. But sometimes the problem comes down to our own self-esteem and the critical voices in our heads. When that happens, it’s worth taking a fresh look at old patterns that may be holding us back.
The following five journalling exercises can help you become more aware of your habitual responses to compliments.
Why journaling? Your first goal is to just notice what’s going on for you: not to critique or correct anything. (You can move on to that later if you decide to.) Journaling is a private way to do that while being kind to yourself.
And as you try the following journaling exercises, keep these things in mind:
- You can do these practices in any order.
- Each one will take at least 15 minutes to complete.
- Claim some quiet time and space to make sure you won’t be interrupted.
- Try to write without editing.
Ready? Here we go:
1. Experiment with acceptance.
Write down a meaningful compliment for yourself. It can be something someone else said to you, or it can come from you. Write it down. Imagine accepting it as authentic truth: what would that feel like? Is there resistance? Write about the feelings that come up, both positive and negative.
Pick someone who admires you and describe yourself from their point of view. If you finding your “voice” in this exercise is difficult, pretend you’re a novelist writing as a character. Keep your pen or cursor moving for the whole time, no matter what. What did you learn by seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes?
3. Use the power of projection.
Write down three things you admire about someone you know. For instance, I wrote about my friend, saying: “I love Pamela’s creative imagination, her elegance, and her authority.” Now set a timer for five minutes, and write about how those same three qualities manifest in you. Be specific. No stopping or editing allowed.
Everything that we see out in the world is a projection of something that exists inside us. If you didn’t have those great characteristics in you, you wouldn’t be able to see them in anyone else.
4. Be mindful of unconscious habits.
Focus your attention on that split second when you’ve just been complemented, and you’re about to react. What automatic thoughts and feelings come up? Is there shame there? Fear? Anxiety? Stay with that moment for a while. Write down your discoveries.
When I did this journaling exercise, I realized that I often contradict compliments because I’m scared of seeming cocky. I’m worried that if I sound too confident, somebody will demand that I prove my worth on the spot or else be judged an arrogant fake.
5. Start a “compliment collection.”
Each time you get a compliment, write it down. You can also keep track of how you responded, especially if you’re working on changing that. This practice is valuable if you’re the kind of person (like me) who instantly forgets compliments. Some demon in my brain believes I have no right to them, so it flings them away. Instead of arguing or deflecting, I just erase.
True story: I recently finished a month-long intensive storytelling workshop. We ended with a lovely exercise where we took turns being showered with genuine praise and appreciation from the group. I was so thrilled and moved and honored by people’s feedback on my work, I actually cried.
Yet a half hour later, I couldn’t have told you what a single one of those comments was.
A compliment is a gift of human connection: one person taking the time to hold the mirror up to another person’s worth.
That’s something that each of us deserves. As you try these journaling exercises, use them as opportunities to remind yourself about that.
For more self-care techniques beyond journaling exercises, check out eight more ways you can spend time appreciating you. And don’t take our word for it — Brie Larson also has some great advice on this!