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3 Steps to Accepting a Compliment in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I feel a little silly writing this article, but compliments are an ongoing challenge in my recovery from an eating disorder. While I do try to strive for body neutrality and body acceptance, it still throws me when someone else gives me a compliment because oftentimes, I just don’t feel it. I am my harshest critic and for so long, I have operated from a “hit first, hit hard” standpoint when it comes to self-evaluation; my eating disorder makes me feel like I will never be good enough, and any compliments are disingenuous. My go-to response is to diminish a compliment, explaining why it isn’t valid. As you can imagine, this creates an awkward situation for the average person and doesn’t move me in the confident, healthy direction I want to go.

It also makes me uncomfortable to have the attention on me, so finding the words to accept a compliment and move on in a timely fashion is challenging. I’m working on adjusting my self-standards and believing good things about myself, but in the meantime, I’ve developed a three-step process so I don’t flounder every time someone gives me a seemingly genuine compliment.

1. Say “thank you” (or if they’re thanking you for something, “you’re welcome”).

Even if you don’t feel it, even if you don’t think it’s true, they meant it and we reward kindness in people. Sometimes, this can feel a little awkward — stunted. You can follow up with something like: “I appreciate you saying that;” “You’re sweet to notice;” “That’s good feedback.”

2. Provide an additional detail, unrelated to you.

This can be neutral or positive. If the compliment is about your work ethic, for example, you might explain it was a lengthy but satisfying process. If it’s about your cute new shirt, you can say where you got it from or one thing you like about it (the soft material, the color, the versatility).

Optional: If you’re feeling brave, keep the focus on yourself.

Maybe say the thing you’re worried about — the report was too lengthy, the shirt is too form-fitting — and let them tell you their perspective. Or, you could compliment yourself using a Match +1 process. Match or reiterate their compliment and take it one step further by complimenting it yourself.

3. Direct away from yourself.

Compliment them back or ask a question related to the topic. Again, for work ethic, you could point out someone else who helped or talk about the next step in the project. For your shirt, ask if they’ve been to that store recently. This can even be a stretch! Borrowed the shirt from your sister? Ask if they have siblings. Just like that, the conversation is moving on from you and onto something new.

The beauty of this process is that it’s no-fail and repeatable. The main focus is to accept the compliment no matter what your eating disorder is telling you, and build a conversation with the person. The more you accept compliments, the more natural they’ll feel – both coming from others and yourself.

Photo by Pâmela Lima on Unsplash

Originally published: November 9, 2020
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