The Paradox of Giving (Part 2) Why People Who Can’t Take Compliments Don’t Throw Great Parties

December 5, 2018 by Holly Verbeck

The last time you received a compliment, how did you react? With a “no big deal?” A compliment returned? A list of why you don’t actually deserve the praise? Or maybe just a sliver of growing resentment toward those whom you’ve poured out your heart to but wanted even more appreciation? If your default is anything other than ‘thank you”, you may have trouble receiving and may find it easier to pour yourself into giving. This is a classic response by those who fear they aren’t worthy of admiration (psst: you ARE!). And this impacts your ability to receive great service and, in turn, throw great parties for others.

It’d be easy to dismiss this and simply advise you to respond with only a “thank you”, but for some it’s not that simple. Wouldn’t it be lovely to throw a Thanksgiving celebration, for instance, and not feel resentment afterward toward your family because you did more than your share?

In my last blog post The Paradox of Giving Part 1 I shared about the paradox of giving, putting emphasis on what we must give up in order to ‘gracefully receiving’ and noting how few people receive as often and as fully as they give. Are you one of those people? Stop now and go back and read the post. For the rest of you, if I haven’t already touched a nerve, here goes Part 2 of that article.


All of us know a host or hostess like this: they constantly entertain and in the course of giving to others they exhaust themselves. In their efforts to maintain their spot as family star in the no-one-can-do-it-but-me-because-I-love-you-so-much spotlight they turn party throwing into less of a joy than a chore. Oh, am I talking about you? Ouch. (Read on for a solution.)

These are the same people who’ve heard the phrase “Why can’t you just take a compliment?”


Compliments induce one of two reactions in us:

Option A, the more likely option in my mind, is instant humiliation followed by fear that the complimenter will soon see that I am a fraud and he or she is wrong about me. I will be exposed, and everything will unravel from there.

Option B, definitely a viable option, stems from my distrust in the complimenter. He or she wants something from me, so I have to keep my guard up.

Either way, the issue is the same. We’ve stopped seeing ourselves as worthy of admiration. We spend so much time putting ourselves down that when someone suddenly expresses an opinion that differs from our own, we’re vulnerable and suspicious.

This may seem strange in an era where everyone is oversharing, seemingly begging for ‘likes’ and to be liked. But contrary to what social media may show, many people don’t want to be acknowledged in a major way or at all, saying instead that they are humble, or shy. They say they don’t want to be in the spotlight and compliments make them want to run and hide. But often this stems from not seeing others model how to receive compliments and from a cultural norm that says we can only connect with others if we denigrate ourselves. (Just watch any TV sitcom and notice that every punchline is based in sarcasm.) Oscar Wilde called sarcasm ‘the lowest form of wit’!

What does this have to do with throwing a party and entertaining guests? In a nutshell, parties hosted by those who can’t take a compliment are a drag. Because a guest can’t be at ease. But you can solve that by changing your response to a compliment.


Suzann and James Pawelski, authors of “Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts” says there are three distinct types of reactions to compliments.


“We have found this to be a common experience of many people when receiving gratitude. We think part of the reason has to be cultural. We are often taught to be modest and not focus on ourselves. So when we are given compliments we often deflect them, brushing them off like you might a crumb from your shirt or even a pesky fly,” Suzann Pawelski said.


Suzann said that while deflection is a popular response, so is unnecessary reciprocation. “Often, before the compliment even has time to land, the other person immediately launches into his or her own expression of gratitude,” she said. Suzann and James call this the “hot potato” phenomenon.

“This type of response feels very transactional. It’s as though we feel if someone pays us a compliment we have to pay them back for it right away,” they say. “Again, vulnerability comes into play here. It’s natural to feel vulnerable if we find ourselves in someone’s debt. If we aren’t comfortable with it, we may try to repay — or ‘hot potato’ — the debt back as quickly as possible.”


Suzann said the third type of response is discounting — this is where we give all the reasons why the compliment can’t be received.

For example, one time, a new client of ours (we'll call her Sherry) received compliments from her husband on the great party she had planned. Sherry then went into a litany of all the reasons and problems why the party wasn’t as good as it could have been. She gave a laundry list of reasons like running out of alcohol, serving the entrees too late, overcooking the potatoes, etc. You can imagine how her husband felt by the time she was done spewing her negativity! Suzann says this is an unhealthy habit for nearly all of us.

“It’s as if the person receiving the compliment needs to come clean and mention all the problems first before they are pointed out,” she said.

Can you see why your guests find it hard to have fun at your party if you’re unable to receive their compliments? Don’t burst their bubble. Do this instead:


The bottom line is that while compliments should bring joy and serve as a gracious gift, they can often feel heavier to a recipient. Give thought to the recipient when you voice your compliment and consider your reaction next time you receive one. There are reasons it might not feel as good as you think it should, but you’re not alone, and starting with awareness can help you change it.

But perhaps there’s another reason you’re having trouble receiving compliments. Maybe you really are doing more than your share! Maybe a compliment just isn’t going to make up for all you’ve been doing on behalf of others. Perhaps you’re so used to being in the giving-planning-doing mode you’ve forgotten to tend to yourself and include your enjoyment in the party plan. I’m a mom, so I know about this trap.

So stop it. Stop it now. Stop teaching cloaked resentment to the next generation!

You have no excuse. You’ve got us. And we’ve got you covered. Our Lake Tahoe staff of professional bartenders, shoppers, servers, baristas, dishwashers and private chefs are here to help you be a guest at your own party AND get you the compliments from your guests that you deserve!

For more than 20 years we’ve helped you create memories where they matter most – in your home, around your table. Need a Truckee server, Martis Camp bartender, barista, dishwasher or Lake Tahoe private chef for your next event? Call us at 530-582-4882, text us at 530-414-3439, or make a reservation here!

Relax and Enjoy. We are professional, polished, and discreet.