How to Undo Self-Sabotage

By , Fitness Magazine, Nora Zelevansky

Somewhere between the olive bar and the cheese counter at Whole Foods recently, I ran into an acquaintance whom I've always admired. Following a friendly greeting, she raved, "I loved that article you wrote about struggling to get into shape for your wedding! It was hilarious."

I waved off the compliment with my hand. "Oh, that? That was just kind of silly." I inflated my cheeks until they were round. "Apparently, it didn't stick."

She tried again. "But you always look great."

My brain told me to accept the compliment gracefully and move on, but I couldn't control myself. I smiled, leaning in conspiratorially. "That's what a lot of makeup, a professional photographer, and a little airbrushing can do for you. If they can make someone like Larry King look alive, they can do anything, right?"

She laughed awkwardly. There was a brief but tangible silence. The exchange culminated in a promise of lunch plans that felt unlikely at best.


As I continued on my search for the perfect goat brie, I was distracted by the sense that I'd somehow disappointed her and maybe myself. Instead of accepting her praise, I'd felt the need to make self-deprecating jokes. Why?

Read more about why self-deprecation damages self-esteem.


More great stories:
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I am starting to understand that it's good to feel special because I deserve the first place for myself. One form to accept compliments is saying a very honest "thank you". Report
@PAULINLIM That's a GREAT tactic....I'm going to start using it immediately! Thanks!! Report
Most poeple do have a hard time accepting compliments. 1 way to overcome this is by thinking about what you are really doing to the other person. They give you a compliment, then we say something negative about ourselves. But in return to the person giving the compliment you are saying their compliment doesn't mean anything to you, when inside it really does. Same with a gift, when we say oh you shouldn't have, the giver could be insulted thinking you don't want it. Report
I read somewhere recently that to shrug off a compliment is like saying "no" to a gift. If it was sincerely given, then it should be received graciously. But... I have such a HARD time with this!! Why is it so hard for us (especially women, I think) to accept heartfelt compliments?? Report
I have a tendency to do this, too, but I'm working on getting out of that habit. And it is a habit. I'm learning how to feel good enough about myself that I can accept a compliment gracefully...and it feels pretty good. :-) Report
I just take the compliment and say thank you.
i don't have a hard time taking a compliment. Report
I do this too when complimented .. I think I'm worried about sounding vain if I agree with the compliment. Lately I've been working on just saying thank you and telling the person that was a nice thing to say. Then we both feel good. So far it's working :D Report
I have the hardest time accepting compliments! I think I'm always worried that I will come off as cocky or vain if I actually admit that I did something right. Definitely something I need to work on. Report
You could stop yourself mid-stream and say, jokingly, "Wait! I'm trying to learn to 'own' my fabulousness. So thank you! I AM fabulous!" Then you're being honest, and she'll get the gratification of knowing she boosted your self-esteem. Report
"You're half the man you were the last time I saw you!"
Two-thirds, anyway. (that is a truthful answer.)
"You look so great." It's hard to stop and not say, "Yeah, but ... I gained back 15 with marathon training." The "Yeah, but ..." sound s kind of silly when coupled with "marathon training." To me, the 15 gained back is a problem. To them, "marathon training?!" is as impossibly out of reach losing the 25 pounds that they think they need to do (in most cases 25 is a modest goal, 50 + would be more like it).
I usually simply say thanks, because losing the weight seems impossible without the structure of a good lifestyle program. Report
I can so relate to this! I have been trying to take and appreciate compliments when they happen. I enjoy giving them, so I figure I should be able to accept them too! Report
Self sabotage we all do it. It's good to be reminded that it is not a positive thing to do. We have to love ourselves first! Report
This is a great blog with excellent comments!! I was in the same situation, to the point where when a compliment was given, I turned three shades of red with embarrassment. And I ALWAYS made negative comments in return.

Here's what I did one day. I stood looking at myself in a full-length mirror, and I said right out loud, "You know, Jocelyn, I think you look beautiful!" At first, I didn't know what to think. Then I just guffawed. But the longer I stood there and actually LOOKED at myself, the more I realized that in spite of all the blubber in more places than I care to admit, I really DID look beautiful TO ME.

And once I started on SparkPeople and some of the weight really started coming off, I suddenly realized that I appreciated those compliments, because they were another little measurement besides the scales of the success I was having here at Spark!! So my comment is always this: "Yes, I have lost some weight, and it's thanks to a great website, - thanks for noticing!"

Hope you all get to the point where compliments are a necessary part of your journey!!! It's a great feeling!

~~Jocelyn Report
There's a difference between being humble, and actually lying. Maybe if you tried not to lie, this would make more sense to you. And I'm not trying to judge you, because I lied myself just yesterday. I saw a friend, she asked me how I've been, and I said I'm doing fine. But I've actually been sick. I didn't want to burden her with my problems. That's a little different though. Similar, I suppose, but different. Try not to lie, because when someone is standing right in front of you saying you look great, and you say you've just been airbrushed... That's pretty weird. And talking about Larry King like that isn't right. I really happen to like him, and he's quite alive. I think you should call up your friend and apologize. Because you essentially said to her that she's too stupid or crazy to notice anything. Why would she want to be your friend? Try to be her friend, a real friend. Report
I recently went to my 30th high school class reunion, and SO many people said "You look exactly the same!" My answer? "Wow...I must have looked AWFUL in high school!" I don't know why I couldn't just accept the compliment, but that's one thing that has never come easy to me. Report
It's not always easy to accept a compliment. I know. I was the same way. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful job with two great women mentors. They hounded me about accepting these nice compliments. They said "all you have to do is smile and say "Thank You". It was hard at first, even now when your brain is saying "are you crazy do you need glasses?" But I put on my smile and say thank you. Good luck to you. Report
I, too, used to slough off compliments...but I've learned to say Thank You and to mean it. I was brought up not to boast so when I'd get a compliment...if I accepted felt like I was agreeing that I'd done something to boast about. One day I rather deflated a compliment giver and realized I had made her feel bad about saying something nice to me. I resolved then and there to stop it. It took lots of practice and I still occasionally slip up, but I believe it's one of the best changes I've made in myself. Since then I've talked to people about this and nearly every one told me they feel awkward (at the least) to angry when someone puts down a compliment they give. Report
I read a similar article in cosmo (of all places) a couple months ago. It said that guys absolutely hate it when they give their girl a complement and you return it with some self-depricating nonsense. I started noticing that I did this often after my bf gave me complements. So, I started switching to a simple "thanks" rather than downplaying my accomplishments.
They make a good point in this article, that compliments are like a gift (in word form) and we should appreciate them instead of turning them into self-hate word vomit. Report
I've done the same thing since I was little. I never wanted to seem arrogant and always thought of everyone else as way better than me. What I ended up doing was portraying a complete lack of self confidence. I never even questioned my reaction until my boyfriend started pointing it out and asking why I responded that way. Now I find myself trying very hard not to respond in a negative manner and just say thanks. It's a hard habit to change, but it is definitely one to work on. Just remember you are your own worst critic and if someone says something nice accept it as the kind offering it is. Then try to convince yourself it is true, because odds are good that it is. Report
When complimented, I usually just say, "Thanks." and smile. They mean well, even if the compliment does not hit your sweet spot. Report
Sometimes it's negative self-talk, but sometimes it's just a cultural thing. Like when you give somebody a present and they say "you shouldn't have". I've learned to say "thank you" to compliments and to presents and move on. If you find it difficult, fake it til you make it. Report
Sometimes I do the same thing but since being a WW member then leader then retired leader, I have learned to accept a compliment. Report
I am not very good at handling compliments. I make jokes or shrug them off. Report
This article really resonated with me. I have never been a gracious acceptor of compliments and can see how that can erode self-esteem & even achievement possibilities. I will definitely be using the helpful tips! Report
The sad thing is she gave you a genuine compliment and you never said "Thank You". She tried again and again you never said the words. She went out of her way to make you feel good about your accomplishments and she probably wind up feeling self defeated.
I know because I was on both ends of this type of situation more then once. In fact, when I realize what I was doing I made a slight change. Start with the insult to myself out loud then added BUT thanks or thank you for thinking otherwise. However, I am getting better at accepting the compliments and just keeping the self ridicule to myself. I just hope one day I will accept the compliments and not even think of a mean nasty thing to say to myself. I hope the same for you too!

hugs, Anne Report
It takes a lot of patience and commitment to change our negative self talk but well worth the effort. Another part of this lifetime journey. Working on this myself and wish you the best with it. Report
There are so many ways we sabotage ourselves...I think for me, I try to come off more confide t than I am outtwardly so it appears as though I can take the compliment when in all realitymy self talk is still very negative... Report
Excellent blog! Weight loss is influenced by so many factors. I just try to remember to say, "Thank you" and accept the compliment even if it feels uncomfortable. Hopefully, with practice, it will become natural. Report
I struggle with this too and have made every effort, no matter how hard it is, to just say thank you and then stop talking because if I don't, I'm likely to follow up with something stupid.
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