July 2015 By Punya Srivatsava Do we glow or squirm with embarrassment when somebody praises us? Our reaction to appreciation is a barometer of our self-worth or lack of it, says Punya Srivastava When I first joined Life Positive, I was a rookie in the print media. Writing for an established and niche magazine was a serious job, and I had no prior experience. I spent a sleepless night thinking about my editor’s response to my first write up, and my writing style. The next day, I found her reply in the inbox. She had, very graciously, appreciated that brief book review. Since then, she has been generous with her appreciation of every writing task Iundertake, and fulfil. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that her constant appreciation has injected my writing with a confidence that I lacked earlier due to low self-worth. But my own response towards this appreciation was wanting. While the other person was appreciating me, I was busy squirming in embarrassment and deflecting the praise with, “Oh, it was nothing… was just doing my job.” At that time, every word of praise for seemingly insignificant tasks would have my insides churn with mortification. It was difficult for me to accept the appreciation. The feeling of not being good enough deflected it all. I also felt that I would be considered conceited if I glowed under it. All along it was only my mother who was steadily appreciative of the person I was, but I never took her words seriously, thinking her to be biased as mothers usually are. Any appreciation for a job well done, or for a quality I possess, brought forth a prosecuting attorney inside me who would counter each sentence of appreciation with an argument. Why we deflect praise “Often, people are unable to receive appreciation from others because they don’t have many positive beliefs about themselves,” says Dr Sadia Raval, clinical psychologist and founder of Inner Space, Mumbai. She further adds, “Receiving appreciation wholeheartedly means letting the incoming warmth be felt in the heart, which in turn can make us feel loved. However, often we don’t believe that we are deserving of that kindness or those good words. It boils down to a lack of essential self-compassion.” Of course it does! Earlier, my ears would go hot whenever someone would praise me for I feared that they would turn around and accuse me of being a fraud later on. These negative self-beliefs may not even be evident, but are deep seated; of feeling unworthy, of not being good enough, of not deserving love. “Of course, past experiences while growing up play a part too. During our early years we may not have felt appreciated enough or worthy enough. Hence, certain ideas about self-worth are already formed and never questioned,” says Dr Raval. Purnima Pandey, Associate Editor with Life Positive Hindi, agrees, “I lacked self-worth, hence believed that I didn’t deserve appreciation. On reflecting further, I could trace its roots to the atmosphere in which I was raised. In my family, accepting a compliment is viewed as self-indulgence and self-disclosure; and expressing true feelings is considered disrespectful of the elders. This led to a situation where I became less and less aware of my own contribution. Even now, I grade them quite low. This forces me to brush off appreciation,” she says. Such deep-rooted beliefs compel us to either deny or deflect the appreciation coming our way. We downplay our strengths, and dismiss the giver’s judgement, without thinking about the effect this has on us. Every time we brush off the praise, we reinforce the notion that “we are not worth it” which further downgrades our self-compassion. According to Mumbai-based energy healer, Anupama Joshi, one’s ability to receive compliments is a benchmark for checking if one is open to receiving. “A person might feel uneasy in accepting appreciation because of the notion that receiving is a vice as compared to giving. I find it easier to appreciate and compliment people than to receive the same appreciation and compliments from others,” she adds. Those who easily ‘give’ compliments are the ones who usually find it difficult to ‘receive’ them. Another reason could be the fear of being seen as conceited. People worry that by agreeing with someone else’s praise of them, they are essentially praising themselves. “I am every now and then haunted by the thought of what people think about me. I do not want them to think that I am proud of my achievements. Praise leaves me with mixed emotions – deep down I am happy but also embarrassed,” says Dr Yusuf Ansari, Professor of English Literature, Aligarh Muslim University. Another apprehension people have is that accepting praise obliges them to reciprocate. This generally stems from the need to restore ‘balance’. Since a compliment is a positive act, one might feel a psychological need to balance things out by either negating the praise through deflection, or by quickly returning the compliment. This mostly happens when someone is praised for his or her looks, style or demeanour. “Beliefs created by phrases like ‘fishing for compliments’ made me wonder about the genuineness of peoples’ appreciation. Another belief was that people expect something if they praise you, and that receiving a compliment may mean doing something for someone against my wishes,” says Anupama. “Appreciation, like anything else in this life, is subjective. I have learnt to take it as a positive sign and to not feel arrogant about it. At the end of the day no one can make me feel better apart from my own self,” says Siddharth Shiv Khanna, a Delhi-based healer and writer. Initially, only his parents were appreciative of him, but as he grew up, Siddharth, who is blessed with good looks, started receiving compliments, especially from females. “I had always been the same person with the same compassionate heart since 12. However, when someone gives you a gift you take it with a smile even if you don’t need it, so I just keep thanking everyone who compliments me,” he says. How to receive Dr Sadia Raval: Developing self-compassion is a good strategy to develop capacity to receive appreciation In order to accept appreciation better, one needs to develop self-compassion almost as a daily practice. Allow yourself to make mistakes, learn to forgive yourself, check yourself when you are pushing too hard or being too harsh on yourself. “A good way to judge is to ask yourself if you would behave the same way with a close friend or someone you loved. Treat yourself as you would treat a loved one. Developing self-compassion is a good long-term strategy for developing the capacity to accept appreciation and allow it to nourish you,” says Dr Raval. “When I began to value myself, I became open to receiving compliments with grace and gratitude,” says Anupama. To discern whether it’s appreciation or flattery, to receive with grace and gratitude, to not get carried away, or allow your gullibility to be taken advantage of – all these are important aspects of receiving compliments. “Any appreciation of my work, be it trivial or enormous, thrills me. I don’t stint in receiving it because it enhances my worth, be it for my cooking skills, or any other tiny effort,” says Pavni Ratnaker, a CA intern from Lucknow. I once complimented my editor on her dressing sense to which she confidently yet sweetly replied, “I too love my sense of style, dear. Thanks a lot!” I was left speechless by her breezy acceptance of appreciation. How simply and candidly she had embraced that praise without feeling the need to deflect it. To receive appreciation you need to surrender your ego and let yourself be touched. If one discounts an appreciation, it effectively discounts the person giving it. Being dismissive of the compliment nullifies the joy and pleasure the giver gets. When you receive an appreciation the giver is given your receiving. Thus, both the parties ‘receive’. We all might not be lucky enough to have paeans sung in our praise by a yodelling Shammi Kapoor in a shikara, but we do have people in our lives who value us enough to make us feel warm and respected with their words. Let’s not disrespect their gifts by deflecting the praise. Let’s go ahead and bask in the warmth of genuine appreciation that not only boosts us but puts a smile on our well-wisher’s face too.’
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