The actress wants her daughters to learn to accept a compliment, which can be hard for many women to do.
Melissa McCarthy has an important message for women: You need to learn to take a compliment. McCarthy, star of the upcoming comedy The Boss, says she’s working hard to make sure her daughters learn the skill.
“A biggie for me is take the compliment,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday at a press conference, per People. “I’m hard on people for that. When you say like, ‘Oh, you look great,’ so many women for the next 20 minutes are like, ‘I got it on sale. It’s actually terrible—if I turn around you’d hate it… .’” As a rule, the actress says she calls people out for it: “I’m always like, ‘You just basically shoved the compliment back in my face.’”
She has a point: Many women have difficulty accepting a compliment. But why?
Miami-area licensed clinical psychologist Erika Martinez, Psy.D., says this often comes up in her sessions with women—and she blames impossible beauty standards for the habit. “When someone says ‘Oh, you look great!’ they reject the compliment because it doesn’t align with how they misperceive themselves,” she tells SELF. “They start to explain all the reasons they think they don’t look great because that’s in line with their truth.”
But there can be more to it. Psychologist Karin Anderson, Ph.D., tells SELF that some women sidestep compliments because, on some level, they don’t want to come across as seeming “superior” to a friend or acquaintance. In their minds, “that seemingly benign compliment, if accepted without hesitation or caveat, could derail the equity in a friendship,” she says. “Many women would prefer to dismiss the compliment and preserve the friendship.”
Brushing off compliments might sounds like a harmless habit, but Martinez says it can actually impact your self-esteem over time. Not only that, this reaction to compliments is infectious, meaning friends and relatives can pick it up, too—creating a vicious cycle.
The message it projects to others isn’t so great, either. Not only does it downplay your own self-worth, it’s also inadvertently dismissive of the person who was trying to say something nice to you, Martinez says—a point McCarthy boldly underscored in her interview.
So, what can you do if you find it hard to take a compliment? Anderson admits it takes time and practice to beat the automatic urge to brush it off. “Start by forcing yourself to respond to compliments with an unqualified, ‘Thank you,’ and then shut up,” she says. “Sit with the dead air, let the crickets chirp, and resist the urge to fill the silence with a comment that undermines the accolade.” If you know you can’t keep quiet, she recommends returning the compliment—provided it doesn’t in any way negate the compliment you initially received (for example “But your hair looks so much better!” isn’t helping anything), or come off as insincere.
Which harkens back to McCarthy’s important point: “Don’t negate it,” she says. “Don’t tell them they’re crazy. Just say, ‘Thank you. I love it too. That’s why I put it on.’ It’s a little building block, but I hope it’s one of many ways that I show my girls that it’s okay to like who you are.”