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20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem--page 7
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Step 7. Accept Compliments and Stop Apologizing.

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Accepting compliments is difficult for many people with low self-esteem. However, apologizing is too simple for them and often excessive. Even though both of these behaviors come from negative feelings towards the self (undeserving and guilty), changing the behavior helps to change the feeling. Sometimes people believe they have to change the underlying emotion for a behavior to change: “If I felt deserving of compliments, then I would accept them” or “If I didn't feel bad about something, I wouldn't apologize." However, these are interesting examples of how that is not true. By changing the behavior that results from the emotion you begin to carve away the power from that emotion. I think of this as cognitive therapy in reverse: changing the behavior changes the way you think of yourself. Let's examine each of these issues separately.

1) Accept Compliments. Notice how you respond to compliments. Do you tend to dismiss or downplay them? Do you tend to think people “are just being nice”? Well, of course, they are being nice! What is wrong with that? Let yourself, both internally and externally, accept the compliment. Externally, you can respond with a simple “Thank you” or a “Thank you, I really like this outfit, too.” Don't evaluate compliments. Don't try to determine whether they are genuine or accurate. Just accept them. When you don't accept compliments people often stop giving you compliments because it is not very rewarding to them to have their overture denied.

guilty dog

Internally accepting the compliment may be a little more difficult. What this means is to incorporate the compliment into your self-concept by repeating it to yourself, “Yes, that's true, I am attractive” or “I am a very helpful person.” If it is too difficult at first to fully agree, at least tell yourself “That person believes that I am attractive (or helpful).” You can use the compliments you receive to assist with your affirmation work.

2) Stop Apologizing. Many people with low self-esteem apologize for very minor behaviors; often, behaviors that aren't even a mistake or causing problems for others. Such apologizing causes two outcomes. One, it reinforces within you that you are to blame and the cause of problems for other people. Two, it is uncomfortable and annoying for others to have to constantly reassure “That's okay. Don't worry about it.” As such, it causes others to be more likely to think of you in a negative way or even withdraw. This is an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe you are bad or wrong > you apologize excessively > others start responding in a negative manner towards you > you take their response as confirmation of your initial belief.

Stop apologizing is similar to the earlier step of reducing your negative self-labeling. Initially, you need to become more aware of your apologizing. Then, try to reduce it over time. “I'm sorry” should only be for serious infractions against other people. For simple things, such as bumping into someone in a crowded place, just say something like “Excuse me” because it's less likely to have the negative effect on you and others.

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