Shying Away From The Spotlight – New Study Hints at Why Some People Can’t Accept Compliments

While modesty may play a role, a recent study by reveals that a tendency to shirk praise is associated with low self-esteem, pessimism, and a general dissatisfaction with life.

Although many people thrive on praise, not everyone welcomes it. Modesty aside, a study conducted by reveals that some people who dismiss compliments struggle with their sense of self-worth, are more pessimistic, and are less happy.

Analyzing data from 9,568 who took the Emotional Intelligence Test, Queendom researchers focused on two distinct groups: People who receive compliments graciously (compliment-acceptors), and those who tend to turn them aside (compliment-deflectors). Here’s how they differ on different EQ competencies:

(Note: Competency scores can range on a scale from 0 to 100)


  • Score for compliment-acceptors: 83
  • Score for compliment-deflectors: 42

People are more inclined to rebuff compliments if they have a poor sense of self-worth. This is likely because they are unable to recognize their value and the qualities that make them special. As a result, they feel undeserving of adulation. Compliments create cognitive dissonance, which makes compliment-deflectors uncomfortable. They may also doubt the sincerity of the compliment and fear that it’s a form of covert mockery, so in their mind, the safest response is to deflect. They may also struggle with Impostor Syndrome and self-doubt, even if there is abundant evidence of their competence.


  • Score for compliment-acceptors: 73
  • Score for compliment-deflectors: 54

Along the same lines as self-esteem, people who lack self-awareness often fail to recognize their assets, which may in turn make them more dismissive of compliments in which their strengths and accomplishments are praised.



  • Score for compliment-acceptors: 36
  • Score for compliment-deflectors: 66

People who dismiss praise have a greater tendency to ruminate than those who don’t. Ruminators tend to replay situations, interactions or problems over and over in their mind, and wallow in negative thinking and emotions. Consequently, they may pick compliments apart in an attempt to uncover the “hidden agenda” (to get on their good side, to “butter them up,” or to secretly mock them). Their propensity to ruminate may also induce selective attention, in which they focus almost exclusively on perceived insults, and completely overlook compliments.


  • Score for compliment-acceptors: 72
  • Score for compliment-deflectors: 45

Although the dismissive group’s general dissatisfaction with life is likely a result of a number of factors, their inability to see their value – and tendency to reject compliments a result – also plays a role.


  • Score for compliment-acceptors: 74
  • Score for compliment-deflectors: 49

People who dismiss compliments are more likely to be pessimists. They are unable to see the good in others, in the world, and, most importantly, in themselves.


  • Score for compliment-acceptors: 28
  • Score for compliment-deflectors: 45

In spite of their tendency to renounce praise, people who find it difficult to accept compliments still crave some degree of acknowledgement and appreciation, even if the boost it gives to their fragile self-esteem is short-lived.

“In one corner, you have the arrogant person who fishes for compliments and laps up praise in order to feed his or her insatiable ego. In another corner you have the humble-bragger, who willfully debases himself/herself in an effort to induce others to jump in and fervently disagree. Then you have the modest person who will acknowledge a compliment, but won’t let it get to his or her head. These are the ‘personalities’ we are most familiar with,” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests, the parent company of Queendom. “There’s a fourth personality type, however: The people who think so very little of themselves, that they rebuff any form of admiration, sometimes vehemently so, because they feel entirely undeserving. Low self-esteem is a major contributing factor, but as our study has revealed, there are other issues at play. People who find it difficult to accept compliments not only fail to see their worth, they also seem to cast aside any form of joy and happiness. This is why, as a mental health professional, I am such strong a proponent of practicing self-love and empowerment – because a lack of it can do so much emotional, psychological, social, and even physical damage. Love yourself first – then everything else will fall into place.”

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About PsychTests AIM Inc. 
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see The company’s research division, Plumeus Inc., is supported in part by Research and Development Tax Credit awarded by Industry Canada.

Some people respond to compliments with modesty, others with complete diffidence.

An inability to accept compliments is first and foremost a lack of self-acceptance.

[Some] people think so very little of themselves, that they rebuff any form of admiration, sometimes vehemently so, because they feel entirely undeserving.