blog, writing process

Given but not taken

Why do we find it so hard to accept compliments?


GLady via pixabay

Last night in my writing group, we critiqued each other’s work as usual. One piece sparkled with wonderful dialogue. It is one of the writer’s signature strengths, and I told her so. Her smile faltered and I could see her thinking no, that’s not me.

But, it really is.

Writers bemoan the lack of decent feedback. If the feedback is negative, we are wounded more or less deeply, but we hear it. If it is positive however, we tend to discount it. This is like turning your back on a gift. Worse still is when we immediately deny the truth of the compliment. This is like slapping the gift to the ground and stamping on it.

Who has not felt disappointed after giving a compliment that was rejected?

The Johari Window


Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 11.33.49

(from )

The Johari window model was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 at UCLA. Designed as a tool for self awareness and analysing group dynamics, it is, like any good theory, applicable to many activities. (you can find more information here )

If we want to improve, we need to hear what others know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. Thus we seek feedback and act on it, to reduce the blind spot.

It’s like having someone tell me what the back of my head looks like.

Denial is a common response when faced with conflict between how we see the world and how the world sees us. When we internalise the observations of others (given in good faith) and adjust our behaviour accordingly, we move forward with greater self awareness. Our blind spot is smaller.

We are hardwired to notice threats in our environment, a legacy of the lizard brain that reacts quicker than thought to keep us safe. Hidden behind polite self-deprecation is fear.

Oh sh*t they’ve seen through me and now they know I’m an impostor. They want something, they don’t mean it, they’re trying to trick me.

Receive with grace

But, we’re better than our lizard brain and we can engage our big, beautiful cortex. You know, the bit of your brain that does the actual writing. We can feel the fear and defeat it.

Think of a compliment as a gift. Be polite, smile and say thank you like you were taught. The more you practise, the easier this becomes.

Doesn’t matter if you like it or not, that comes later. Give your cortex time to catch up to the instinctual response.

When you unwrap it later, in private, you might see that you’ve been given something precious after all.

3 thoughts on “Given but not taken”

  1. Thank you Pat. This is so beautifully outlines and written. Short, sweet, easy to swallow, but uncompromising in its positive, yet realistic perspective.
    You do a great service to us all whenyou write and post.
    Thank you!

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