Why do women routinely reject compliments?

When someone gives you a compliment, what is your reaction?

Recently a friend posed this question on Instagram: “Does anyone else have a kneejerk reaction to deflect compliments?” she asked. “Where do we learn this?”

When I read those words, it was like a bomb of knowledge went off for me.


Because it is so very accurate.

Think about it: when a woman is complimented on, say, doing a good job, getting a promotion or nailing a project, more often than not, don’t they deflect?

“Oh, I had a lot of support, trust me.”
“I couldn’t have done it without my team!”
“Thanks but it was so stressful, I honestly wish I never started.”
“Well, it takes a village…”

It’s so universally known that Amy Schumer even created this entertaining (but very much Not Suitable For Work) parody about it.

Deflecting praise and rejecting compliments is such an intrinsically female reaction, and it’s something we’re subconsciously taught from a very young age.

Girls are taught to be submissive and humble and subtle because if you’re not, you’re “stuck up” or “up yourself”. Boys, on the other hand, are taught not just to accept praise, but to actively chase it (on the sports field in particular).

This manifests in subtle and powerful ways and goes some way towards explaining why we have such a pronounced gender pay gap… because as women, we’re often the first to downplay our own achievements.

Psychologist Guy Winch says that more often than not, our receptivity to compliments is “a reflection of our self-esteem and deep feelings of self-worth”.

“Specifically, compliments can make people with low self-esteem feel uncomfortable because they contradict their own self-views,” he says. “But while people with low self-esteem are often uncomfortable receiving compliments, not everyone who is uncomfortable receiving compliments necessarily has low self-esteem,” Winch adds.

If you find yourself nodding along to this, I have a test for you. Next time someone offers a compliment, in real life or online, pause and do your very best to accept it – without adding any disclaimers.

The first time I did this a couple of weeks ago, it felt unnatural. A person I don’t know on Instagram told me I looked flawless in a selfie. Gag! I instantly began typing a reply about the many benefits of good lighting and great filters… then I deleted it.

And I simply wrote: “Thank you!”

Guess what… I didn’t explode! Are you willing to try it for yourself?