Through the readings of Don Miguel Ruiz I’ve come to realize that, as it is often remarked, a compliment “says more about the person giving it than receiving.” While you may disagree, consider that anyone who gives you a sincere compliment felt comfortable enough to do so, confident enough to do so, and had the foresight to deliver it in an appropriate (hopefully!) manner. For “fake” compliments, or those that you feel are sort of a societal expectation (“It was great to see you!”), there’s a way to appreciate those, too.
The solution here is, as agreement number two says, “don’t take anything personally.” Surely you’ve heard this before, usually in the context of some argument or disagreement: “don’t take it personally, they’re just going through a lot” or “don’t take everything he says personally! They have their own issues…” Notice how we always add a modifier to the statement, as if we shouldn’t take what people say personally only because they have something “going on.” Break-ups, anger, depression, job loss…this is used an excuse to “not take personally” whatever that person is saying, as if they’re taking out on you – but not really – because you shouldn’t take it personally.
But what of compliments? If you recount a tale of praise to a friend, saying “and then she said, ‘that was one of the sweetest things you ever did for me'” should your friend retort, “it’s okay – don’t take it personally – they’re a very loving person.” Here the tables are turned, but it’s a logical response to the above modifiers and excuses. If we shouldn’t take things personally because people have anger, then we shouldn’t take things personally because people are loving. This is hard to do, and seems extremely off-putting at first. It feels wonderful when some gives us a genuine compliment; who am I, or anyone, to cast doubt on that? Ruiz writes:
It is not important to me what you think about me, and I don’t take what you think personally. I don’t take it personally when people say, “Miguel, you are the best” and I also don’t take it personally when they say, “Miguel, you are the worst.” I know that when you are happy you will tell me, “Miguel, you are such an angel!” But, when are you mad at me you will say, “Oh, Miguel, you are such a devil! You are so disgusting. How can you say those things?” Either way, it does not affect me, because I know what I am. I don’t have the need to be accepted. I don’t have the need to have someone tell me, “Miguel, you are doing so good!” or “How are you do that!”
Need, validation, acceptance – these are all complex topics that humans explore on a daily basis. But what I want to get across is how to take a compliment, any compliment, simply by not taking it personally. Whether sincere or insincere, the compliment roots from the person giving it, not you. Consider the following: someone tells you that you are pretty, or handsome. Before they say that, you either 1) believe you are pretty, or 2) you do not. If you feel indifferent, pick a different adjective and feel on which side you come down stronger on. When they deliver this compliment, if you already believe you are pretty, the compliment is simply a statement about a reality, something you already know! Be happy, and joyful, that they feel open, loving, confident, comfortable, and determined to state this. If you don’t believe you are pretty (case 2), then there statement is a falsehood, in your mind, about the world. It simply doesn’t matter.
If someone says to you, “you are so ugly” and you believe it, then it’s very easy to take that personally. But while it says something about the person delivering it, it says something about you, too. They didn’t reveal a fact about the world that then hurt your feelings: you already hurt your own feelings by believing that you are ugly. If you don’t believe you’re ugly, then it doesn’t matter! They might as well be speaking gibberish. What they said comes from them, so don’t take it personally.
When someone compliments you, you can feel good. You can feel good because of the love that person is sharing with you – not necessarily romantic love – but joy, pride, confidence, aspiration, and so on. Don’t take it personally, and use their compliments to deflect what you believe, but appreciate their willingness to share, to be open, and to speak honestly with you.
All of this is easier said than done, but it provides a great awareness, or framework, for dealing with others. When my partner says to me, “I love you,” it’s very, very hard for me not to take that personally. In fact I do take that personally, and I often ruminate on what Ruiz would say about that. Use the above framework to take compliments (and ignore insults) from your acquaintances, new colleagues, and anyone to whom you have trouble taking compliments from. A simple “thank you” is still the best reply, but remember what you’re thankful for: you are thankful that they are sharing their feelings with you. You are thankful for their words, their honesty, and their love, however genuine or fleeting it may be. We can take any compliment simply by not taking it personally.
I highly suggest Ruiz’s most popular book, The Four Agreements. While I don’t align with all of the spiritual stuff, the practical wisdom is spot-on!