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Why We Deflect Compliments

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Do you have a problem accepting compliments with grace and ease? Have you noticed that when someone gives you a compliment, it makes you uncomfortable and you kind of shrug it off or awkwardly say thank you, play it down and then quickly change the subject? It may be that you want to seem humble, but often it’s because you have a hard time hearing praise or something good things about yourself. This is something that I have noticed about myself and for years whenever I received a compliment, it was very difficult for me to accept it and I would contribute it to an external source, like when someone told me I delivered a great presentation, I would say “well, I had a great audience and it was an easy topic” or if someone complimented my hair that day, I would say “thanks, I have a great hairdresser”.

So why do we do this? Although I was happy to have received a compliment or get recognition, it just didn’t align with the way I thought about myself. I did not believe that I had good presentation skills, so no matter how great of a presentation I delivered, I was never going to accept that it was due to my own skill or talent. It’s called cognitive dissonance and usually is the reason we are so uncomfortable accepting praise or compliments easily. The definition of cognitive dissonance is ‘the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decision and attitude change’ and is a theory developed by Leon Festinger. So what does this really mean? It means that your underlying belief clashes with the information you take in or the actions you take. For example, if you sign up to free training, but hold a belief that you will only get valuable information if you have paid for it, then you will not value the information that you receive in the free training as highly as something you have paid for. The outcome of that typically would be not putting the advice or tips into practice and ultimately you won’t get any real change by attending that free training. Often if our actions do not meet our beliefs, we start trying to justify them, for example you might care about the environment, but you keep forgetting to recycle, so you may say ‘that’s okay, they will sort through the garbage at the plant’ or ‘my one or two milk jugs won’t make a big difference’. We have a psychological need to harmonize our behavior and attitudes to eliminate the dissonance.

Now that we know the issue, we can start actively re-training our brains to develop a higher level of self-esteem and start accepting compliments with grace because we will actually believe them. Now this will take some work and needs purposeful effort because its likely your low self-esteem has developed over many years, so unfortunately it isn’t as easy as just deciding you want to have higher self-esteem. However, the effort and the journey to get there is worth it! You are worth it! Here are some things you can do to increase your self-esteem.

Change your self-talk

You may have negative self-talk or have an Inner Critic that is constantly criticizing what you do or say or how you act. Start taking notice of how many times in a day you talk down to yourself or say something negative about yourself, like ‘I’m such an idiot’ or ‘why did you just do that?’ or ‘If I say that, everyone will think I am dumb’. You will likely be surprised that you speak negatively about yourself a lot more than you even realize. Once you build awareness of every time you do this, try to catch yourself in the act and stop the thought. Practice giving yourself some empathy, like you would if you were talking to a friend, and reframe your thought, for example if you make a mistake and start to say ‘I’m such an idiot’, stop yourself and say ‘it’s okay, everyone makes mistakes, no-one is perfect’. Do this every single time, every day and over time, you will start speaking more empathetically to yourself and stop the negative self-talk. If you need more tips on managing a loud Inner Critic, download my free guide on 5 Steps to Mastering Your Inner Critic.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness has so many benefits, including learning to live in the present moment. According to Eckhart Tolle’s the Power of Now, every minute that you spend worrying about the future or regretting the past is a minute lost because all we really have is the present and the now. Mindfulness helps us stop feeling like we are rushing or waiting to get to a destination and helps us start enjoying the journey. Overall becoming more mindful will help you catch the negative thoughts in the moment so you become more aware, then you can start changing your self-talk in the moment. A good way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. You might be someone that has tried meditation and feels like you can’t do it right or it isn’t for you. If this is the case, check out my blog on Meditation Made Easy, which gives you some simple tips for how to practice meditation and mindfulness without feeling like you fail at it. However, some simple exercises to practice mindfulness are ‘start observing what you are doing in the moment you are doing it. For example, whenever you eat, focus intently on picking up your food and placing it in your mouth. How does the food taste? How does it feel? How many times are you chewing before you swallow? When you swallow it, feel it going down your throat and into your stomach. Notice how you are breathing when you eat. Usually we are either rushing when we eat and have a million thoughts going through our mind and we don’t even notice or observe the process of eating. Another opportunity to practice mindfulness is when you first wake up in the morning. Instead of reaching immediately for your phone, lay there for just a minute or two and listen for any sounds you might hear, notice what you are feeling against your skin, how you are breathing etc. Some other opportunities are while you are brushing your teeth or going for a walk or doing chores around the house.


Journaling can help us to notice our thoughts and behavior changes over time, especially if we are working on improving any habits. It also allows us to uncover inner thoughts and feelings and can make them easier to release and let go of them. Journaling has also been found to boost your mood, decrease stress and enhance your overall well-being. I would recommend that you buy yourself a nice notebook that you really love and put aside just 5-10 minutes a day where you can find some quiet, uninterrupted time to get your thoughts out on paper. This could even be after you wake up in the morning or before you go to sleep at night. Here are some journaling prompts to help build your self-esteem:

  • What are some of my strengths or inner qualities? Write down anything you feel you do well, no matter how minor you think it might be. Do you express kindness or empathy to others when they need it? Do you give others compliments? Do you do something well in your job or at a hobby you have? Sometimes you might not immediately have anything jump to mind, but think about any past positive feedback or compliments you were given and write it down. If you don’t believe it, write the same thing down every day and start finding ways to believe this is true.

  • What went well in your day? Write down all of the positive things that happened that day.

  • What are you grateful for? Find 2 – 3 things that you are grateful for every day, even if it’s just seeing a beautiful sunset or a pretty flower or maybe something someone you love did that made you laugh etc. By practicing gratitude every day, our mindset starts shifting in a significant way.

  • List any dreams or goals that you have and any small ways you might be able to start working towards them. Having hope about the future and a purpose is so important and defining actions, even small ones, to start working towards them is a way to give us confidence about creating the future we want.

Other Tips

Other ways to help build self-esteem can be using hypnosis and subliminal messages. These can be really effective at working on a deeper, subconscious level by target our unconscious automatic negative thoughts through the power of suggestion help us to let go of them and replace them with more empowering beliefs. If you plan to try either of these methods, make sure you find someone reputable that has the right intentions.

If you need additional support or are ready to go deeper, schedule your free breakthrough coaching session where we will explore your vision and goals and uncover your hidden challenges. You can book this free session at

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