Why do I get awkward when someone compliments me?

Here's how I learnt to deal with it.

08 May, 2024
Why do I get awkward when someone compliments me?

I enjoy receiving compliments (who doesn't?), but whenever someone compliments me, I immediately feel awkward and freeze up. The real challenge is not knowing how to respond to the compliment. My mind starts to overthink, and before I know it, the panic sets in. "Did I smile too much? Did I express enough gratitude? Was the compliment sincere or just polite? Should I reciprocate with a compliment?" My racing thoughts send me spiralling into a rollercoaster of emotions. And all of a sudden, the simple act of receiving a compliment feels like a daunting, high-pressure situation.

But it turns out, this reaction is quite normal. You too might have felt this way at least once in your life, if not more. And if you're wondering why it happens, here are some underlying causes that can trigger these emotions. 

Social anxiety

Social anxiety already makes you hyper-aware of others' perceptions. When someone compliments you, this heightened awareness can go into overdrive, forcing you to overthink your response and that you may be judged for your reaction. Unexpected compliments can be particularly tricky. Social anxiety typically craves control and predictability, which can be disrupted by a sudden compliment, leaving you unprepared and unsure how to respond genuinely. This lack of preparation can further exacerbate your anxiety.

Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can make compliments feel like a mismatch, making you feel like you don't deserve it or that it wasn't genuine. It can prevent people from responding to compliments because it gets in the way of processing or even believing that someone said a nice thing about them. When the compliment doesn’t align with one’s self-image, which is caused by poor self-esteem, one might end up feeling disoriented and, at times, even question the sincerity of the compliment in the first place.

The pressure to respond perfectly

We often create an unrealistic image of the ideal response in our heads. It needs to be respectful and humble, yet properly depict your appreciation. This pressure to tick all the boxes can feel overwhelming, making a simple "thank you" feel inadequate.

We understand the struggle of these triggers, but the good news is that you can learn to respond to compliments with grace and build confidence in the process. Here's how. 

Own it, baby!

Don't downplay the compliment! If you poured your heart and soul into something and received praise, accept it with pride. You can say, "Thank you, I put a lot of effort into that" or "I'm glad you like it!" If it is a physical trait that you're being complimented for, don't respond with a derogatory comment. For instance, if someone compliments your outfit, don't say things like, "I had nothing else to wear." Simply accept the compliment and avoid deflecting it. 

Take a deep breath

If you get nervous or awkward when someone compliments you, take a deep breath (or two) to avoid sending your mind into overdrive. This pause gives you a moment to collect your thoughts and avoid blurting out something silly. 

Return the favour and spread happiness

Sharing compliments is a fantastic way to build stronger relationships. But this doesn't mean you immediately throw in a compliment after you get one; that can come across as phoney. Instead, look for genuine opportunities to return the favour. You could highlight the positive attributes of the person complimenting you, or more natural compliments about their efforts and skills. 

Remember, they mean it

People don't dish out compliments on a whim. They likely noticed something they genuinely appreciate about you. And by graciously accepting the compliment, you show confidence and allow yourself to enjoy a splash of positivity. 

Also read: How to deal with imposter syndrome in your 20s

Also read: 5 ways introverts can put themselves out there without feeling overstimulated