At the Producers Guild Awards last month, Shonda Rhimes began her acceptance speech for the Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television by deadpanning, "Iâm going to be totally honest with you, I completely deserve this.â
She was kidding, and she wasnât. That night the mega-talent behind some of prime-timeâs buzziest shows went on to deliver a powerful message about diversity on TV. (âItâs 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 wasnât born with such âbadassery,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 thatâs really necessary is a âthank youâ and a smile.
Here, Healthâs contributing psychology editor, Gail Saltz, MD, explains some of the possible reasons for this ingrained habitâand why itâs so important to startÂ acceptingÂ praise with grace.
Youâre highly attuned to others
Women are the more empathetic sex, says Dr. Saltz. We are more likely to put ourselves in another personâs shoes (be it a sister, friend, classmate or coworker) to imagine that personâs internal reaction to our own successâand 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 youâre afraid of throwing others into your shadow, explains Dr. Saltz. But the bottom line? Itâs never a good idea to make yourself smaller to make somebody else feel better.
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You donât want to come off as conceited
So you downplay your achievements,Â andÂ wave off the praise. You donât want others to think that you think that youâre 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 âknowing 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 Iâm me.
Youâre afraidÂ you don't deserve it
You might be suffering from the âextremely commonâ fear of being a fraud, says Dr. Saltz, which means that âevery time you achieve [something], you are overcome by this feeling of, âThat was a fluke.ââ The underlying anxiety is that you donât 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.
âAccomplishments feed self-esteem,â says Dr. Saltz. Thatâs why acknowledging your achievementsâand accepting the praise that comes your wayâcan be so powerful. âWhatâs 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.