At the Producers Guild Awards last month, Shonda Rhimes began her acceptance speech for the Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television by deadpanning, "Iâ€™m going to be totally honest with you, I completely deserve this.â€
She was kidding, and she wasnâ€™t. That night the mega-talent behind some of prime-timeâ€™s buzziest shows went on to deliver a powerful message about diversity on TV. (â€œItâ€™s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is," she told the room full of industry influencers.) ButÂ she managed to do it while simultaneously owning her success in a way that we rarely get to see.
From her memoir,Â Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own PersonÂ ($25;Â amazon.com), we know that Rhimes wasnâ€™t born with such â€œbadassery,â€ as she would call it. She has worked hard to learn to appreciate praise without negating it, or laughing it off, as if it were a big, fat joke.Â That struggle, Rhimes points out, is oneÂ that a lot ofÂ women share. When faced with a compliment, many of us duck our heads, embarrassed, when all thatâ€™s really necessary is a â€œthank youâ€ and a smile.
Here, Healthâ€™s contributing psychology editor, Gail Saltz, MD, explains some of the possible reasons for this ingrained habitâ€”and why itâ€™s so important to startÂ acceptingÂ praise with grace.
Youâ€™re highly attuned to others
Women are the more empathetic sex, says Dr. Saltz. We are more likely to put ourselves in another personâ€™s shoes (be it a sister, friend, classmate or coworker) to imagine that personâ€™s internal reaction to our own successâ€”and whatever insecurity or jealousy or frustration it may bring up for them. It might be hard for you to bask in our own glory because youâ€™re afraid of throwing others into your shadow, explains Dr. Saltz. But the bottom line? Itâ€™s never a good idea to make yourself smaller to make somebody else feel better.
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You donâ€™t want to come off as conceited
So you downplay your achievements,Â andÂ wave off the praise. You donâ€™t want others to think that you think that youâ€™re better than them. As a result, you're quick to second guess your confidence, says Dr. Saltz. You wonder, Am I acting confident or am I acting arrogant? But â€œknowing the difference for yourself, as a woman, is really important,â€ she says. Because there is a big difference between the healthy recognition, I accomplished this fantastic thing; and the egotistical fantasy, Everything I do is amazing because Iâ€™m me.
Youâ€™re afraidÂ you don’t deserve it
You might be suffering from the â€œextremely commonâ€ fear of being a fraud, says Dr. Saltz, which means that â€œevery time you achieve [something], you are overcome by this feeling of, â€˜That was a fluke.â€™â€ The underlying anxiety is that you donâ€™t belong where you are, among your peers; and when you fall into that kind of negative thought trap, you brush off every victory as a lucky breakÂ before you allow yourself a moment enjoy it.
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â€œAccomplishments feed self-esteem,â€ says Dr. Saltz. Thatâ€™s why acknowledging your achievementsâ€”and accepting the praise that comes your wayâ€”can be so powerful. â€œWhatâ€™s important is not necessarily what [others think of you], but what you know yourself,â€ she explains. So the next time someone tries to compliment you, go on and let them. Take the praise, and appreciate it for what it is: a reminder of that great thing you did that you really deserve to celebrate.