Olivia Muenter
February 19, 2020 9:04 am

When I was in middle school, I, like most teenagers, couldn’t accept compliments to save my life. Whenever someone would say I was talented or pretty or smart, I would immediately deflect it. I would shake my head or roll my eyes or simply change the subject—both because I was wildly insecure and perpetually embarrassed by almost everything. 

When I got a bit older, many of those same insecurities still remained, but I finally trained myself to accept compliments. I would simply say thank you instead of deflecting or denying, and I was better for it. But there was one particular response to compliments that I just couldn’t (and still can’t) shake, and that’s telling people how cheap my clothes are. But it’s not just me; the habit is common in many women (and humans in general). Just think how many times someone has said “Cute top!” in conversation and the other person has responded with one word: “Target!”

Of course, part of this is because Target clothes are cute as hell (we all know this), but there’s a reason why you don’t hear people responding to compliments on their clothing with, “Neiman Marcus!” or “Barney’s!” That would be bragging, while saying that something is from Target, was 50% off, or was only X-amount of dollars can be a form of deflection—and according to experts, that impulse to deflect might actually say more about your own self-image than you think. 

“People are uncomfortable getting compliments if they rarely compliment themselves,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Mariana Strongin tells HelloGiggles. “[…] the reason that compliments are uncomfortable for some is that perhaps it places attention on them and also highlights things they themselves may not be comfortable with.”

It’s important to recognize that our clothes can be extensions of ourselves in more ways than one.

They’re physical evidence to everyone around us of our taste, style, and preferences. Clothing allows us to quite literally wear our choices on our sleeve for everyone around us to see in a way that not many other things do. So if you aren’t confident in your style choices or yourself, then it can make sense that your knee-jerk reaction to compliments on your clothing would be to deflect them.

Similarly, licensed professional counselor (LPC), board-certified counselor, and founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers, Dr. Mark Mayfield tells HelloGiggles that how we accept (or refuse to accept) compliments ultimately reflects our sense of self (or lack thereof).

In any case, it’s important to consider that, as Dr. Strongin says, women are more likely to deflect these types of compliments than men are. From a young age, women are socialized to underestimate their sense of self-worth, and are taught by society not to brag. The messages women receive later in life also pits them against a perfect, unattainable standard, further deflating how they see themselves. Just consider the research behind confidence in women versus men. According to The Atlantic, research shows that women ask for 30% less money than men do for the same job. In the same article, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write, “In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.” If women, overall, feel less confident in their own abilities and worth, then it only makes sense that they’d be uncomfortable with compliments that don’t align with their sense of  self-worth.

After all, if you don’t believe you’re worthy of wearing an expensive piece of clothing, then why would you ever let someone think you’re wearing an expensive piece of clothing?

It can then be easier for women to deflect, minimize, or “correct” the compliment than simply accept it.

So how do you recover from your case of chronic compliment-downgrading? Dr. Strongin suggests therapy, and says that she often focuses on compliments with her own patients.

“I teach people to give themselves compliments in the way they think so that when others recognize them—it’s a familiar, comfortable, and positive experience. Compliments are meant to boost us and make us feel good, but you have to be willing to allow this,” Dr. Strongin says. 

So ask yourself: When’s the last time you complimented yourself and actually meant it? Maybe start with one compliment a day, or simply fighting the urge to scream “THIS DRESS WAS ONLY $9.99!” the next time someone says they like your outfit. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves with zero caveats, and that applies to compliments, too.

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