The Compliment That Has Shaken My Identity

For the first time in my life, I need to accept the toughest compliment of all.

  • Jennifer M. Wilson

Written on Jul 20, 2023

woman with flower metamorworks/ Shutterstock

I wonder what it’s like to be raised by loving parents who didn’t traumatize the heck out of you.

What is it like to not feel like an unwanted failure by the people who raised you?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having Imposter Syndrome when it comes to love.

Anyone with low self-esteem knows the battle when receiving a compliment.


The default is to list all the reasons the complimenter is wrong. It seems insincere to let others believe anything good since they’re wrong.

Receiving a compliment feels like we’re taking credit for work that isn’t ours. It feels icky.

It feels like the right thing to do is to correct their statement with our core beliefs.

This can be a physical compliment ("Oh, my eyes only look good because of the eyeliner") or an emotional one ("I’m not actually funny, I just play a funny person on TV").

RELATED: The Most Meaningful Compliment You Can Say To The Person You Love

In the past, I deflected 99% of compliments.


It seems inauthentic and selfish to accept praise of any kind. The audacity I would have to accept — which means I agree with — any praise, that I most certainly do not deserve.

For the person giving the compliment, it sucks.

It’s much better to hear, "That’s so kind of you, you made my day!" than "Ugh trust me, I’m totally not like that."

Despite my numerous slip-ups, I actively try to accept compliments now that I’m in my Post-Divorce-New-Me era.

Sometimes I jokingly accept it. A compliment on my eyes yields a "Why thank you, I’ve become an eyeliner pro since watching endless TikToks during the lockdown" response.

There are days when a joke acceptance is all my mental state can handle.


Dating after divorce is an eye-opener because you’re exposed to strangers who are getting to know you.

They have the perspective of only knowing the post-divorce version of you.

I’ve heard compliments about my sexiness, which I shrug off because a guy will say anything when he wants to get laid. I get compliments on my small frame, which I shrug off because I starved for days leading up to that naked encounter.

I get compliments on my wit…well, those I accept easily because it’s a by-product of a traumatic childhood (ask any comedian).

Two weeks ago, I had a Come To Jesus discussion with Jeremy, the guy I’m dating.

I refused to continue with his inconsistencies and decided once and for all that his handsome face doesn’t make up for my anxiety-laden heart attacks.


When I confronted him, his drunk self went down a three-hour path of being too jaded to say the "L-word," comingling of kids, and how amazing I am.

It was overwhelming and it took days for my brain to process it. Bro, I just wanted you to stick to a consistent texting and visit schedule. I didn’t need to plan our lives out.

RELATED: 5 Vital Rules To Follow If You Have A Hard Time Loving Yourself

During his rambling, Jeremy often complimented me with one word that shook me to my core.

He called me "nice."

Yeah. Let’s unpack that — I’m still unraveling the use of the word nice.

The first time Jeremy said it, I silently brushed it off as the rambling of a drunk guy. However, he repeated it several times which leads me to believe that this is his perception of me.


Someone thinks I’m…nice? Have you met my a**hole self? If life were TV, I’d fit right in with the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

My brain immediately thinks of my ex-husband, Joseph. For almost twenty years, he made it clear that I wasn’t a nice person.

My intentions, even when good, were met with hostility and an accusation of underlying maliciousness.

If I asked how his day at work went at a job that he hated, he ranted that I was only asking to rub it in. When I went downstairs to apologize after a fight, he yelled that I only came down to continue arguing.

If someone told Joseph that I’m "nice," he’d die laughing.


In my twenties and thirties, my friends knew me as a bold loudmouth. While they wouldn’t argue against it, the word "nice" would be at the bottom of their compliment selection list.

There are moments from my youth that play in the childhood trailer of my life.

One of them is the time my mother, in a cruel and vitriolic tone, told me my future husband would surely beat me because I’m such a b****. It plays on a loop in my brain.

An act that repeated itself throughout my childhood, was how I’d get in trouble for something I said, my parents would hit me a bunch of times, I’d get away and run upstairs to my room, and I’d prop a chair under the doorknob.


(Pro tip: Turn the chair towards the door and under the doorknob so that it faces at an angle down. It works better than the standard way of facing the chair towards you.)

After my parents’ rage would settle, they’d sit and discuss my bad behavior for hours.

They’d blame "Western society” (aka, North America) and my friends. They were shocked and disgusted by my words and actions.

I’d sit on the floor by the heating vent listening to their voices that carried through it, clutching my stuffed animal (yes, even in my teens), silently crying and mentally screaming that they were the reason for my behavior.

I look at pictures of myself as young as five years old. Placing myself in those photos, I know that I felt like a bad human even then.


RELATED: 7 Things Truly Nice People Do Every Day That Make Us Adore Them

I’ve never known a life where I wasn’t taught that I’m a bad kid, a bad person, and that I’m hard to love.

How am I expected to accept the compliment that I’m nice? Nice? It doesn’t seem like it’s possible, like calling a bicycle a plane. It’s just not possible.

When I divorced, I vowed to be the person I wanted to be in life.

One goal was to prove that I could be a good partner to someone. I wasn’t a nagging b**** and I could offer loving support to someone receptive to it.


My relationship with Jeremy is vastly different but I attributed the change to his personality.

Unlike Joseph, he’s extremely confident. He finds jokes at his expense hilarious because it "keeps [his] ego in check." He walks into a room expecting to become best friends with strangers.

This amazing man thinks I’m nice.

This is a compliment I’m vowing to work on accepting and believing.

I’m always praising him when I’m not teasing him in a light-hearted way (that whole ego thing I mentioned earlier). Jeremy’s love language is Words of Affirmation and being a writer means I have no shortage of unique ways to feed that need.

I bake him cookies, I buy random things I think will make his life easier, and I try to be a positive addition to his life.


I plan dates (that he pays for because I’m broke as h***) and I charm his friends. I ask about his kids’ sports scores or broken limbs. I lent him an extra Christmas tree since he lost his in the divorce and made custom ornaments for his children because he didn’t have any.

My obsession with him is a whole other Attachment Theory bucket requiring therapy. But from Jeremy’s perspective, I’m thoughtful and caring.

I’m genuinely excited to spend time with him and even when we’re lounging around, I play with his hair or caress his arms to constantly show subtle affection.

I try to find solutions to his woes; I’m currently making custom labels for gifts in the swag bags he gives in an annual charity golf tournament because I’m an arts and craft whore.


For the first time in my life, I need to accept the toughest compliment of all: I’m nice.

RELATED: 50 Best Compliment Quotes For The Beautiful, Strong People In Your Life

Jennifer M. Wilson writes about marriage, divorce, relationships, parenting, and working.