When I give my elevator pitch about who I am as a therapist and what my style is like, I often will comment on the importance of giving feedback in therapy. I make sure to stress how talking about things that aren’t working is just as important as talking about things that are working. This goes both ways - it is helpful to have a dialogue throughout the course of therapy about what the therapist is doing and what the client is doing that is going well. You want to balance focusing on barriers and struggles with reinforcing strengths and progress. Therefore, I will often find opportunities to give positive feedback and compliments when deserved. However, something that has stood out to me over the years is how many times feedback and compliments are met with a pause from clients. It’s hard to take a compliment, but why?
When someone positively comments on something about you, you might be quick to dismiss it. Taking a compliment requires two things: you believe the person is being genuine and you believe the feedback to be true for yourself. Much of this can come down to your self-esteem and your ability to give yourself credit when it’s due. Barriers that can block us from doing this are perfectionistic thinking, low confidence, and trust in others. Often times, clients will describe how compliments will make them think how they could have done something even better and, therefore, they don’t deserve the positive feedback. Others describe feeling embarrassed by the attention. The cycle of devaluing whatever the feedback is about continues and plays into feeling less confident about the compliment.
It’s important to give yourself credit when it’s due. If you know you work hard at something, allow yourself to feel good about it and allow others to recognize it. To change the way you respond to a compliment both internally and externally, hear what the person is telling you and minimize your automatic thought. Say the compliment by paraphrasing what they said in your own words to yourself. Then, own the effort you put into something by identifying the skills you used and validating yourself. Review the example below and try this for yourself:
1. Hear it.
Compliment: You did a great job with the presentation. It helped me understand how to better use the new system at work.
Internal Thought: It could have been better.
2. Say it.
Paraphrase: They are telling me they liked it because they improved their understanding and can be more efficient at work now.
3. Own it.
Skill & Validation: My explanations were organized and clear and my presentation was engaging. I spent time making sure my presentation was helpful for my co-workers. I put a lot of effort into this.
Finally, sum up these steps by responding with a genuine “thank you.” Even better, acknowledge that you heard them and share your appreciation for having your skills acknowledged. Follow the steps above and turn them into an external process. For example, say “Thank you. I’m happy to hear you found the presentation to be helpful. I spent a lot of time trying to make sure it was clear and concise.” Keep practicing these steps and soon you’ll be stopping the cycle of downplaying your positive attributes. Let yourself feel good about positive things!