Many autistic people find accepting compliments and being kind to ourselves difficult, especially if our experience has been that other people lambast us if we dare to exist openly while autistic.

Struggling with self-acceptance is a vulnerability we autistics would often prefer to hide. Personally, I used to dismiss any and all compliments. If someone praised me, I would close up emotionally and not express acknowledgment or thanks. It’s only more recently—following some social struggles and a subsequent period of self-reflection—that I can recognize how many of the compliments I received throughout my life were indeed genuine.

I didn’t really know the difference between someone simply going through the motions of being nice, versus someone going out of their way to tell me that they appreciated me. To me, unless the compliment was unique to me rather than a common phrase, it didn’t count. And even if the compliment was tailored to me, I didn’t feel anything due to years of external criticism for being autistic undermining my self-confidence. I’ve been at jobs where I’ve been described as a “popular member of the team” yet failed to recognize that people looked at me that way. I thought they had to be talking about someone else.

I now realize how bad it can make a person feel if I reject a compliment to their face. It may make them feel like being kind to me is not going to be appreciated. At the same time, I remain cautious about relying too much on others’ opinions, as requiring that kind of validation is not healthy.

Learning to be kind to yourself is one of the hardest things an autistic person can do, because you may not feel deserving of it. Plus you’re being very vulnerable. However, the people you want around you in your life will appreciate it if you acknowledge a compliment. Ask yourself: How would you feel if someone close to you opened up to you about things in their life, and was a confident self-assured person? I think it’s fair to say that you would really appreciate it and think highly of them. It’s difficult to resent someone like that.

There’s an adage that “no one will love you if you don’t love yourself.” For a while I was very resistant to this saying, because I interpreted it as meaning that I’m unable to love someone else and am unworthy of love. However, I now understand what people who say this probably mean. I’m well aware that if I’m in a depressive state or have lots of emotional baggage that has not been dealt with, I would not be particularly fun to be around. I also do not wish to go too far in the other direction and become arrogant and self-centered, or develop a massive ego.

Being able to finally accept compliments without letting them go to my head remains a delicate balance.

Photo of a red human-like toy with a square head and googly eyes. Its mouth is downturned as though sad, and its limbs are raised toward its head.
Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay