How Do You Accept a Compliment With Social Anxiety Disorder?

Accepting compliments helps to boost self-esteem.
People with social anxiety have trouble accepting compliments. Floresco Productions / Getty Images

If you have social anxiety disorder (SAD), you might have a hard time gracefully accepting and giving compliments.

For example, when someone positively comments on something about you, your tendency might be to dismiss and downplay the compliment. For instance, when a coworker tells you that you did a good job on a project, you might respond by saying something like, "Well, anyone could have done what I did."

You might think you're being humble, or perhaps you genuinely don't feel that you deserve the praise. When you negatively respond to compliments, it implies that you don't value your work, your appearance, your home—or whatever it is that you have been complimented on. Over time, this negativity will erode your confidence.

Learning how to graciously take a compliment is an important social skill, but particularly if you are dealing with social anxiety.

How to Respond to Compliments

There are four steps to properly receiving and responding to a compliment.

  1. Say thank you. Even if you can't think of anything else to say, at the very least try to remember to be gracious when someone compliments you. Try not to pause too long before saying "Thank you" or your sincerity might be questioned.
  2. Add a positive comment. When someone says something nice about you or something that you've achieved, keep the positivity going rather than negating it. Respond affirmatively with something like, "I put a lot of effort into this project," or, "I spent a long time choosing the color scheme for this room."
  3. Return the compliment. As long as it's genuine, returning a compliment can also be a positive response. For example, when you receive praise from a mentor you might respond by saying, "Thank you! I appreciate that coming from you because I really respect your opinion."
  4. Use a conversation opener. A compliment can be a great way to start a conversation. To keep a pleasant chat going, follow up on a nice comment with something like, "I've been meaning to ask..." or "I wanted to ask your opinion about..."

Example Scenario

Sarah is preparing to attend a holiday party at her new office. She goes to the hair salon and is convinced to try a new style. She loves the result and is feeling pretty good about how she looks, though she's still anxious about the party.

However, when she arrives at the function, a coworker greets her and immediately says, "I love your new hairstyle!" Embarrassed by the attention, Sarah hesitates.

After an awkward pause, she replies, "You think so? I am not sure if I will keep it this way..."

Scenarios like Sarah's can be common for people with SAD. Here's an example of how she could have gracefully accepted her coworker's compliment and given her self-esteem a boost.

"Thank you, I just had it done! I really like the style too. And I really appreciate the compliment coming from you—your hair always looks amazing!"

Compliments can also be great ways to start conversations. If someone offers you a compliment, it's often a sign that they would like to get to know you better and would be receptive to conversation openers.

To keep the conversation with her coworker going, Sarah could have added:

"I went to the new hair salon downtown. What salon do you go to?"

If you tend to respond negatively to compliments, it will take practice to learn how to respond in a positive way.

Compliments and Social Anxiety Disorder

If social anxiety is getting in the way of giving or receiving compliments, a mental health professional can help you determine if underlying anxiety is preventing you from participating in these valuable social exchanges.

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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."