A good many people have a habit of deflecting compliments - just letting them richochet off themselves to disappear somewhere out in the far reaches of oblivion.

Women particularly are notorious for coming up with creative ways of bouncing off compliments. For example:The furniture is beautiful!...(But it's the wrong color.) (It needs to be cleaned.) (The chairs need to be recovered.)

You remind me of my favorite aunt...Oh, that poor thing.

I like the way you wear your hair...(It realy needs to be cut.) (I really need a perm.)

You look so beautiful this morning!...Yes, like a truck, Terry. Like a truck.

You did a GREAT job!...(It's a living!) (It's nothing.) (Anyone could have done it.) (Samantha did most of the work.)

Doesn't this house look NICE!!!...(I haven't mopped the floor yet.) (You should have seen it yesterday.) (I couldn't stand it any more.)

If you'd like to accept - rather than reject - compliments, start by accepting a compliment graciously with a simple thank you, a smile and, if possible, sincere response. Let in that compliment - feel it - savor it and experience the warmth of it. Invite it into your very core with responses like - "I appreciate hearing that. You've made my day" or "How nice of you to say that. A compliment from you means a lot."

If you agree with the compliment, comment briefly on it: "I'm glad you like this dress. It's my favorite" or "I'm pleased with the way the dinner turned out."

If you disagree with the compliment, after a brief "Thank you", keep you mouth shut and your mind open. Say firmly to yourself: "Think about this, Self. You're about to deflect this compliment - knock it right out of the ballpark! How are you ever goint to create a positive self-portrait if you don't change your ways? Is there any truth to this compliment - anything you can possibly salvage and put in your self-portrait? It will be a lonely old life if you just end up with an empty sketch."

Remember - there are three reasons to accept compliments graciously - even if you don't entirely agree with them.

First, rejecting a compliment is to suggest that the person giving the compliment has poor judgement, is uninformed, has ulterior motives, just isn't honest or is distrubed! View a compliment for what it is - the subjective opinion of another person - so leave the other person tohis or her opinion and don't argue with it. But do try to see that person's point of view.

Second, if you're like many people, you use a double standard. You let nay negative lurking about go clear to your core (which makes you feel bad!), and yet you systematically reject any positive trying to find a warm home (while accepting the positive could make you feel good!).

Fair play demands that you start absorbing compliments and give yourself a chance to raise you self-esteem. Fair play also demands that you quit absorbifng most of the negatives that come your way.

If you constantly take in the negatives and shun the positives, it's a sure bet you have shaky self-esteem and that it's bound to stay that way until you become more open to good hearty cheers from others. Besides that, the negatives have monopolized your thinking your whole life and now it's time for the positives to have their day in the sun! So just say to yourself: "Move over, Negatives. Come in, Positives!"

Third, you need compliments. Start giving yourself the credit you deserve and accept those positive aspects of yourself you've denied. you need information about yourself that will help you fill in a positive self-portrait. And you need the good feeling that springs from being validated by others who recognize your strengths and possibilities.

As you learn to absorb the positives, keep in mind the story of one woman who reported that she was now pleased that she had finally learned to accept compliments. She says: "The turning point was the day I served my husband's favorite lasagna and he said, as usual, `This is SO good.' This time I just said, `Yes, I KNOW !.

"Startled, he looked at me and asked, `What is the MATTER with you? Ordinarily you respond by saying that the lasagna is too dry, or that it is too spicy, or that it needs more cheese.'"

"Yes, I know THAT, too," responded this wise woman. "But I've decided I'm no longer going to cheat myself out of compliments. Besides that, I've got a positive self portrait to fill in."

Dr. Larsen is a therapist practicing in Salt Lake City.