Why is it so hard for people to accept compliments? Well, surely self-esteem and social anxiety play a role. Research has shown that people with low self-esteem have trouble accepting compliments from their partners1, because the positive comments conflict with their own theories of self-worth. Another study found that some people cringe at compliments as a defense mechanism2; they don’t want to disappoint others in the future, so they shrug off their own accomplishments.
But make no mistake: Everyone needs compliments, especially from our loved ones. “A lot of us think that if we work really hard on ourselves, we’ll reach this point of blissful enlightenment where we need nothing from anyone else,” says Julie on the mindbodygreen podcast. That mindset could not be more false. “We continue to need a little bit of reassurance that we’re lovable, that we’re worthy, that we’re enough for our partners… I’ve never met somebody who actually had surpassed their need for compliments,” she adds.
She even references a study in which researchers observed couples in their homes for an evening and counted the number of positive interactions that happened between them. The results? Couples in unhappy marriages underestimated the number of positive interactions in their marriage by 50%3. “When you pay a compliment to your partner, you’re building this culture of appreciation in the relationship that is such a cushion for dealing with the world’s everyday stresses,” says John. “It’s just very powerful.”
And you’re not immature or superficial for needing that positive reinforcement, which is one of the common criticisms towards people who crave compliments (and another reason why people may subconsciously shun them). “We’re not too needy. Everybody needs a little taste of reassurance,” says Julie.