Non-Physical Compliments: How to Make Someone Feel Good Without Focusing on Looks

Non-physical complements: how to give the middle finger to a culture that worships thinness & youth

When you first meet up with a friend, what is the first thing you say after hello? (OK – after you say, “How are you?”) If you’re like most people, it isn’t a non-physical compliment. Rather, it’s just the opposite — we rattle off a series of, “Oh, I love what you did to your hair! Oh, your skin is glowing today.”

Or we make the mistake of commenting on someone’s weight: “Did you lose weight? You look great!”

While these compliments are nice, they aren’t the best knee-jerk reactions to have. Why? Because they train us to look for “positive” physical traits to compliment. This then trains us to associate certain physical traits as “positive” and, as a result, we feel bad when we don’t possess these traits.

In other words, physical compliments contribute to a shame cycle. And since this is a blog about stopping compulsive eating, I’m mostly referring to the awful cycle of of weight gain, compulsive eating, compulsive dieting and restricting, and more compulsive eating. Let’s break the cycle!

Why We Could All Use More Non-Physical Compliments

Complimenting someone’s skin is a biggie for me because I used to have really bad acne — all the way through my early twenties. I would have died for someone to compliment my skin.

Fast forward to today where I miraculously have pretty darn good skin on most days. Now, when someone compliments my skin, it feels great! But it feeds the link I have in my brain where good skin equals worthiness. I consciously know that good skin doesn’t define my worthiness, but just like our issues with weight, it’s not an easy one to “just get over.”

Unless we do really hardcore inner work to unwind our beliefs around our looks and our worthiness, we will never untie the two. In other words, physical compliments are a manifestation of our hyper-focus on looks, and if we can train ourselves to look for non-physical compliments instead, it will help our brains to brains slowly (slowly…) stop linking looks and worthiness together.

Of course, compliments that aren’t about physical appearance alone won’t fix our self-esteem. Rather, the case I’m trying to make is that it’s one way that we can give ourselves a little boost, while we work on the other things (like therapy, Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, and more).

So let’s dig more into non-physical compliments, why we should care about them, and how you can start using them!

How to Start Offering Non-Physical Compliments

Non-physical compliments are compliments that focus on a person’s qualities, skills, achievements, or personality, rather than their appearance. They are a way of showing appreciation and admiration for someone’s internal qualities, rather than external ones.

While physical compliments can be nice, they might end up highlighting the source of someone’s compulsion, such as body shape, and contributes to a cultural obsession with thinness.

This is why we need to focus on non-physical compliments, to help to build deeper, more meaningful connections and make a more lasting impact on someone’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

There are countless examples of non-physical compliments that you can give to someone. Here are a few ideas:

  • “You have such a great sense of humor. You always know how to make me laugh.”
  • “I really admire your determination and work ethic. You always put in 110% and it shows.”
  • “You have such a kind and generous heart. It’s inspiring to see how much you care about others.”
  • “You’re a great listener. I always feel heard and understood when I talk to you.”
  • “Your creativity and originality are amazing. I love seeing the unique ideas you come up with.”

These compliments focus on someone’s character, skills, and personality traits, rather than their appearance or physical attributes. These compliments that aren’t about physical appearance can help to build someone’s confidence and self-esteem, and show that you appreciate them for who they are, not just how they look.

More Examples of Non-Physical Compliments

Let’s be real, though. You can’t exactly say, “You’re such a great listener” right when you meet up with someone, which is usually the moment when most of us have that knee-jerk desire to give someone a compliment.

I accidentally get swept into this myself! In fact, I just hopped onto a coaching call last week where the very first thing I said to my client was, “Woah your hair is so fabulous.” (In my defense, she had really voluptuous hair!)

It takes time to unwind the knee-jerk inclination to give someone a physical compliment when you first see or meet them. So first, offer some patience and compassion for yourself. Then, try these non-physical compliments:

Non-Physical Compliments When You First See/Meet Someone

Here are some more examples of compliments that aren’t about physical appearance that you can give someone when you first meet them:

  • “I love your energy. I already feel better just being in your presence.”
  • “Your positivity is beaming today, and I can’t wait to be around it!”
  • “I can’t wait to hang out together. You’re always such a good person to lean on, and I really appreciate that about you.”
  • “Oh man, your magnetic personality is really shining today, and you’re already making me feel better!”

See?! These are much better compliments than, “Woah, your hair is so fabulous.” Because a physical compliment like that can contribute to a bigger problem of training both yourself and the other person that physicality is what makes a person worthy.

But hair comes and goes (ain’t that the truth). But a magnetic personality? Amazing energy? A supportive friend? With the right amount of inner work, that can last a lifetime.

Non-Physical Compliments in Parenting

Physical compliments are often a knee-jerk reaction that we have when first seeing/meeting someone because we’ve been doing this and hearing these things since we were little!

Parents and all people who interact with children have a unique opportunity to give the little humans of this world the gift of not being so inclined to focus on looks! Wouldn’t it be amazing to train kids at a young age to give non-physical compliments?!

It starts with breaking the habit of saying, “Oh my goodness, look at how big you are! Look at how much you’ve grown! Look at your hair!” and instead, shaking things up with some compliments that aren’t about physical appearance.

Here are some examples of non-physical compliments that you can use either with your children or around any children that you interact with:

  • “I’m so impressed by how curious you are about the world around you. Your curiosity will take you far in life.”
  • “You have a natural talent for problem-solving. I can see that you’re always thinking about how to fix things and make them better.”
  • “You’re so creative and imaginative. I love seeing all of the amazing things you come up with.”
  • “You have a really strong work ethic. You always put in your best effort and never give up, even when things get tough.”

Do these seem… elaborate? While I am not parent and am certainly not an expert by any means, I believe that kids enjoy being talked to like they’re adults. It makes them feel good, and that’s what compliments are all about!

Non-Physical Compliments in Friendship & Workplace

When complimenting friends, you can use non-physical compliments that focus on their personality, character, or achievements. Here are some examples:

  • “I’m so impressed by how curious you are about the world around you. Your curiosity will take you far in life.”
  • “You have a natural talent for problem-solving. I can see that you’re always thinking about how to fix things and make them better.”
  • “You’re so creative and imaginative. I love seeing all of the amazing things you come up with.”
  • “You have a really strong work ethic. You always put in your best effort and never give up, even when things get tough.”

In the workplace, non-physical compliments can be a powerful tool for boosting morale, increasing productivity, and fostering a positive work environment. Here are some examples of non-physical compliments that you can give your colleagues or employees:

  • “You have great problem-solving skills, I always appreciate your input.”
  • “You’re always so diligent with your work, and I can tell that you really care about what you do.”
  • “You’re very organized and efficient, it really helps the team run smoothly.”
  • “Your attention to detail is impressive, it shows in the quality of your work.”

The Ripple Effect of Non-Physical Compliments

Non-physical compliments have the power to break the cycle of associating one’s looks with their worthiness. They shift the focus away from physical appearance and towards a person’s inner qualities and characteristics.

Over time, receiving compliments that aren’t about physical appearance can train individuals to value themselves for who they are, rather than for how they look. It can lead to a virtuous cycle. 

When someone receives a non-physical compliment, they feel validated, appreciated, and valued for something that goes beyond their physical appearance. This boosts self-esteem (at least a little) and contributes to a more positive self-image down the road.

Robust self-esteem helps us engage in positive behaviors because we are more confident in our abilities, more willing to take risks, and more likely to pursue our dreams. I know I’m attributing an awful lot to non-physical compliments, and compliments alone won’t get us all the way through the cycle, but it’s a great step, and it’s easy!

Creating a Habit of Giving Compliments That Aren’t Physical

Non-physical compliments have the power to shift our focus from our physical appearance to our inner qualities and characteristics. This can create a virtuous cycle of positive feedback that can help us build a stronger sense of self-worth, greater confidence in our abilities, and a more positive outlook on life.

I know how tempting and even auto-pilot it can be to give someone a physical compliment as soon as you see or meet them, but try to break the habit. Not only will it help the other person feel valued for something other than their appearance, but it will train your brain to stop associating looks with worthiness, too.

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