I wrote about self-love a lot in the past. One of the key questions that always comes up when I talk about being better at taking compliments and not putting yourself down is whether doing so makes you egotistical. Humility is a virtue, after all, so surely allowing for lots of praise about you would just be bad social graces, right?
That’s taking things a bit too far. Having humility is not the same as talking down every nice thing about you, or speaking poorly about yourself. People get so afraid of being labeled egotistical that they overdo it on the humility side and end up just disallowing any good about them to exist in the world.
That’s the part I’ve written about a lot. What I have not focused on as much is the flip side of the coin. Being egotistical. To understand where the line between self-love and egotism really lies, it is worth exploring and understanding egotism more.
What is Egotism?
According to dictionary.com, it is:
“excessive and objectionable reference to oneself in conversation or writing; conceit; boastfulness.”
I think this definition sums it up so beautifully as it hits on the key reasons why practicing self-love is so far from being an egotist.
We should say, “Thank you.” However, we often follow that up with something to take away from the praise in the name of humility and the fear of being seen as conceited. We dismiss it with a phrase that starts with, “But…” Such as, “Thanks, but my professor is really easy, so I’m sure lots of people got As.” Or, “Thanks, but I got a gift receipt in case you don’t like it or if I messed up and bought the wrong size.”
Why would just saying, “Thanks,” be egotistical? Let’s look at the definition of egotism to test it.
Is it excessive? No, surely it isn’t. No matter how many times someone appreciates something about us, saying “Thank you,” is the appropriate response.
It certainly isn’t objectionable since we are accepting or agreeing with their view. That is the definition of not objectionable. We are, in essence, validating their feeling about us. People inherently want to feel their views or emotions validated, saying, “Thank you,” is an appreciated behavior.
Is it conceited or boastful? We are not the one thanking ourselves or telling someone else our hair looks good today, so how is it conceited or boastful to say, “Thank you,”? It isn’t.
Actually, we are being polite.
So It’s OK to Praise Yourself 24/7?
Now I am not advocating for walking around singing your praises all the time. What I am advocating for as a first step is to stop raining on other people when they praise you. As a second step, feel a bit of pride in yourself when you do something good, do something well, or make someone else happy.
I love to use the word “allow” in this context. You are simply allowing for the idea that you are good.
When is The Line Crossed?
To me, a clear sign of egotism is when people take credit (and usually excessive credit) for something they did not do or earn, and they make a point of informing others of that undeserved greatness.
For example, in a business situation someone I coach was in, an employee was harassing others on the team, and was let go as a result. The head of the team actually fought the termination or really any form of discipline for the offender, even as the evidence became clear and irrefutable. It got to a point where the decision was taken out of that manager’s hands and the problem employee was terminated.
The manager called the team together to be tell them the news, and the manager said how he was sickened to hear about how so many of the others on the team were being treated, and as soon as he found out, he took decisive action.
He was, as he saw it, their protector and hero. He stood up for injustice and saved the team.
In reality, he did the exact opposite, yet was standing there taking all the credit for the outcome despite the very hard work of HR and the courage of the individuals who came forward despite the headwinds they met from the manager.
You might just call it lying, but he went so far past that to name the great qualities he possess and how lucky the team is that he is their leader so they can all feel safe under his protection.
It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but unfortunately, I’m not.
You Can Feel The Difference
I’m sure you can tell how different this last example is from situations where you push back on a compliment. The fact is, taking a compliment does not make you egotistical or counter the idea that you are a humble, kind person. It may feel uncomfortable, but that does not make the compliment unwarranted or mean the person who gave it deserves to have their feelings invalidated. The discomfort is completely within you rather than anyone else involved, and that is something you can work on bit by bit through the simple practice of allowing this good about you to be without needing to talk it down. The more you allow it, the less discomfort you will feel about it, and the more you will feel good about yourself.
As I tell my clients, stop the but. The moment the word “But” forms in your mind as you respond to a compliment, stop there. Just say, “Thank you.”