Why are we afraid of compliments?


You’ve probably come across a situation where the recipient did not perceive the compliment as planned.

– You look wonderful today!

– What is usually worse?

As a result of such a reaction, the good message inherent in the compliment is at best devalued, and at worst, leads to conflict. But the original idea was not bad. Why do we perceive praise this way?

Compliment as social recognition

Eric Berne, the author of the method of transactional analysis, coined the term “stroking”. In essence, this is the unit of attention we need. After all, unconsciously we are afraid that we will disappear if we do not receive confirmation of our existence from others. The source of this fear is probably to be found in the early childhood of the human race: then, a person left without the support of the tribe died in a few hours or days.

Stroking does not have to be pleasant – according to Berne, it is any act that involves acknowledging the presence of another person. However, it is quite clear that a positive recognition, that is, a compliment, should generate more enthusiasm. Why is it that some of us are so reluctant to accept praise and prefer to “feed on the stale bread of criticism”?

The impact of self-esteem

“The reaction to a compliment – rejection or acceptance – is directly related to such personal characteristics as experience, communication skills, motivation and self-esteem,” says psychologist Vladimir Pavlovsky. – If people who are significant to us often say, for example, “you are stupid”, we gradually accept this characteristic. We pull it over ourselves, like a T-shirt from which we grew up a long time ago, “but mom likes it.” We accept this characteristic.

Suddenly someone says: “You’re smart.” A wave of pleasure, increased self-esteem, endorphins in the blood. Then an inner voice enters: “This is not true, you are stupid” – a kind of stronghold of an established opinion. And we get lost, mumble something like “What are you, I am completely different …” This is an ordinary cognitive conflict when our “I” simply does not know what to do with conflicting information. “

Low self-esteem – and this may be only some part of our self-image (for example, “I’m generally good, but I can’t dance”) – can really cause cognitive dissonance and cause rejection of the compliment. But it’s not always the case. Even people who are quite confident in themselves and their talents may refuse to receive well-deserved praise. What could be the reason?

Willingness to Accept Praise Depends on Upbringing

Claude Steiner, a student of Berne, studied the question of interest to us – the topic of unconscious self-restraint and refusal of positive attention. Being categorical in his assessments, the researcher blames families for everything: “Fewer and fewer families use physical force in raising children, while the majority manipulate stroking. Thus, stroking becomes a means of social control. “

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