Do you find it hard to imagine how someone would not like appreciation or compliments?

Or are you one of the many people who find it difficult to be on the receiving end of a compliment? You are not alone. Some people have trouble thinking they deserve it. In fact learning to accept compliments is listed in the skills of assertiveness.

So many people actually distrust the person giving a compliment. "Oh, they just feel sorry for me", or "They are just ‘being nice''" are two common reactions. Others may worry that if they have done well, that it will be hard to live up to expectations that they continue to do at least as well. Some can sense a desire to manipulate to greater productivity. Some think that if they accept a compliment it may obligate them

Many compliments are judgments; positive judgments, but judgments. And for many people when they are told that something was good, they then worry that if someone says nothing, it's because the work was not good. Sometimes people receiving the compliment feel manipulated.

I work with many people who are what I call "Adult children of Narcissists.' A common problem they have is that they don't feel good about themselves and don't understand why they don't feel good about them selves. It doesn't make sense at first, because they were always told they were "a regular genius", the "prettiest girl in the world," or even "the most talent musician in grade school."

I'll use a joke that I hope you haven't heard to illustrate. A horse owner, Joe, turns to his friend, bragging that he's learned how to use motivational psychology to get more productivity from his horse. Joe leads his friend over near his horses stall, so that the horse can overhear. Joe begins, "I have the fastest, most courageous horse in all the United States." The horse drops his head in sadness and says to himself, "Oh my God. I can't believe it. He's gone and bought himself another horse." Obviously the horse didn't recognize himself in the statement.

I know I made the mistake of too much non specific praise for my own children, thinking I was building esteem for them. "I love this poem!" "What a beautiful drawing" were typical things I would say in my ignorance. I was hoping to give to them the opposite of the criticism I thought I had received as a child. The problem with these non-specific spoutings was that there is no information imparted-other than establishing that I was sitting in judgment of their productions- that would be useful to them.

To express appreciation as a friend or family member, there are three elements that need to be included to facilitate the other person's receiving our appreciation fully. I overheard the following conversation after a workshop, as the last stragglers were leaving along with the presenter.

The conversation below shows what is needed to give a useful compliment.

Workshop Participant: You were awesome!
Workshop Leader: I'd like to enjoy your compliment but I'd need more information.
Participant: What kind of information?
Leader: What did I say or do that made things better for you
Participant: You're so smart.
Leader: Well, you've just given me another judgment that still leaves me wondering what I did that pleased you.
Participant: (stopping and thinking) He points to a note he took and says "it was this."
Leader: Oh, so you appreciate my saying that.
Participant: Yes
Leader: Okay. Next I'd like to know how you feel in relation to my saying that.
Participant: Hopeful and relieved.
Leader: I'd like to know what needs of yours are fulfilled by my saying that.
Participant: I have a teenager at home and I've wanted to learn to communicate with her so we don't get into as many fights. What you said gave me a new idea to try.
Leader: Oh! Now I understand. Thank you. We are both happy about that.

So when giving appreciation:
1) Say what the person did
2) Say how you felt
3) State what needs of yours were fulfilled

When listening to appreciation for you
1) State what you guess you did that they might be appreciating
2) State how you think they may have felt about what you did
3) State how what you did may have meet their needs
4) And ask them if this is right

And enjoy your thanksgiving!

About the Author

Jane Bolton

Jane Bolton, Psy.D., M.F.T., is a supervising and training analyst and adjunct professor at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.

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