Thinking about thinking

How do you respond to a compliment? This can show more than you might think.

Written by Melissa Gilmore (updated April 2023)

3 min read

a woman in a dress standing in a field. pleased flattered shy
a woman in a dress standing in a field. pleased flattered shy

How many of us find it difficult to accept a compliment?

‘I haven’t seen you for a while. You’re looking great!’

‘Do I? No, I don’t.’

There are many reasons why we might find it hard to believe or accept a positive comment like this. For example, our cultural beliefs may encourage humility or discourage arrogance; or maybe, we might not be used to receiving compliments and struggle to believe it. Perhaps we might jump to conclusions – oh, so I wasn’t looking great the last time you saw me then?! The reasons behind how we respond and what we think and say, can be found in our minds.

Those of you familiar with the psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud (1856 to 1939), may recognise this commonly-used iceberg metaphor - which is a good visual to show the difference between the conscious and the subconscious mind.

a picture of a iceberg with a caption of a mind metaphor
a picture of a iceberg with a caption of a mind metaphor

Above the surface is our receptive Conscious Mind that deals with our senses, the here and now, our willpower, short-term memory, decision-making. This is the part of you that decides to buy that new outfit – you to see it, maybe try it on, look in the mirror, check if it feels comfortable and/looks good before making your final decision.

Just below the surface, slightly out of reach of our awareness, is our Subconscious Mind. This is where we store our learned behaviours, habits, feelings, beliefs and values that have been solidified or reinforced over many years. Such thoughts and behaviours can be helpful or unhelpful. This is where we find the less-obvious reasons for not being able to accept a compliment or rejecting an outfit. It is also where we find the reasons behind other more serious concerns and issues that can impact our lives.

I can recall a similar situation with an acquaintance, where I told her how well she was looking. Her body language changed and I could tell that she was uncomfortable. After a deep conversation, she told me that she had an eating disorder. With help from her counsellor, she realised that ‘being well’ was a trigger for her because she associated it with ‘not being skinny enough’. Further exploration revealed that there was a deeper meaning in her subconscious mind – one of not being in control. Therefore, hearing me say that she looked well, had a very different meaning and subsequent reaction for her than it could do for other people. We all have our own interpretations, beliefs and values that contributes to how we behave as individuals. Moreover, if you have a shared belief system with someone or a group or even a nation, then you’re more likely to follow similar patterns - for example, how our culture may influence how we respond to a positive comment.

How can Hypnotherapy help change those thoughts and behaviours that are unhelpful? It uses a range of tools and techniques (such as guided relaxation) to fade out the role of the conscious mind, break through the surface and move our awareness into the subconscious mind. If, for example, growing up - you’re led to believe that your physical characteristics or personality traits are not of the expected standard in your home/community/country etc, then you may have a deep-seated belief that you’re ‘not good enough’, thus affecting how you live your life. Through methods, such as therapeutic suggestions and affirmations, hypnotherapy can alter or eliminate those thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that don’t have, or no longer serve, a purpose.

As far as the Unconscious mind is concerned (repressed feelings/desires, for example), hypnotherapists do not go that deep into the mind. That said, this part of the mind can still have an influence on thoughts and behaviour, particularly in resistant clients.

So, if you have an unhelpful or negative thought or response pattern, perhaps have a think about your thinking.