I was working on a magazine piece about self-criticism not too long ago and, in the process, interviewed a therapist who practices in Manhattan. He said self-criticism is an epidemic in this country and then further theorized it was because people have a hard time “receiving their own goodness.” This really resonated with me.

Think of it like this. When you receive a compliment on the sweater you’re wearing, what is your reaction?

A. “Oh, this old thing?”

B. “Really? I don’t think this color does anything for me.”

C. “Thank you. That’s nice to hear.”

Now pretend you’re the giver of the compliment. Which of those responses would you prefer to get? Answers A and B, at their base, insult the giver. In essence, it’s like telling someone they have bad taste in sweaters. Is that really what you want to convey to someone who says a nice thing? Is your self-esteem so battered that a compliment is too much to accept graciously? Think about it.

I recently facilitated a community discussion on “The Art of Receiving” and couldn’t help but marvel at how the conversation consistently turned to the topic of giving instead. People were clearly – and yet subtly – uncomfortable with the idea of receiving. It was illuminating, if also a little disturbing.

The bottom line is only we can do the work to change our self-esteem. It can be an arduous yet rewarding journey. It’s a safe bet that learning to receive a compliment or a gift with a confident smile, letting the positive words sink in and mean something, is a pretty good place to start.