Why do people fight so hard to be sweet, nice, and accommodating, rather than honest, genuine, and authentic? It is a great question. Cultures are set up and rewards are given if you follow the rules: always say yes, agree to everything, be nice, don’t rock the boat, and tell people things you think will make them feel good and like you. What can possibly go wrong?
Let’s take a look at the cost…
Being Nice — Passive Aggressive
If I am focused on “being nice” which, according to the dictionary means, among other things pleasant and agreeable; I am focused on you and what you want, not me and my thoughts. “Be a nice girl/boy” is what so many of us were taught.
So what happens if I disagree with something, or I am having a “not nice” day? What if I am upset? If nice is “the right way” or “good,” does it mean I am wrong or bad if I am not nice? If I don’t like someone and I have been trained to be nice, where are my real feelings going to go — if I can even access them?
Odds are, I am going to be sweet to the person’s face and speak poorly about them behind their back. Sound familiar? One of the foundations of passive-aggressive behavior has just been taught to me. Now I am not recommending that we need to tell everyone how we feel about them, but we can stop being little cheerleaders around them when we don’t believe their actions should be encouraged.
An aunt of mine would use the comment “how unique” with an interesting tone when she disapproved of something. We all knew what it meant. Some version of that or silence is better than telling someone everything they say or recommend is great…when we don’t think it is great. We need to stop the automatic agreeing and think about how we really feel.
Being Nice — Broken Promises
If we take this one step further, I will also tell you things I don’t mean. Evidenced by one woman’s complaint to me about certain sections of our country where people at a party would say “Let’s get together” and never mean it, so nothing happened. The area of the country where she was from, if people didn’t want to get together in the future, they said nothing.
Why do we feel we have to say “let’s get together” when we don’t mean that? If we say that to everyone, we have no discernment…and we all know how that can get us into trouble. We need to stop the rote response and start thinking about our assessment of this person. Perpetrators on the Internet know how to use this “telling us things they think we want to hear” in order to get us to their websites. “Finally someone understands me” we think. No, someone is brainwashing you for their purposes.
Being Nice — Patronizing
Now let’s take this even further: I am really insulting you if I believe you’re so insecure that you need me to say “Oh, let’s get together” when I have no intention of making that happen. Do I think you are so insecure that you can’t tolerate me saying nothing after we met at an event? Really? That type of thinking may come out of our “looking good” paradigm, where we think we have to look good to everyone we meet, everyone has to like us, we think we have to know everything about everything, and we can’t declare ourselves beginners.
I remember one of my teachers pointing out how insane it was to think that when we stepped out the door, every person we meet is going to like us and like how we look. Why would we even care? And we are afraid to not know how to do something, so we either don’t do it or pretend we do. I won’t accept an invitation to play cards one night because I can’t say, “I didn’t grow up playing cards but I would love to learn.” Whew!
Being Nice — Life Isn’t Always Clean
Can you see how this blanket statement of “be a nice girl/boy” doesn’t teach me how to deal with the messiness of life? Even worse, it makes me start to develop bad habits that give my power away.
The term “agreeable” implies I am going to defer to you. Let’s look at that slippery slope and what is going to happen. If I defer to you, I never ask myself what my opinion is. I lose the opportunity to develop my ideas, thoughts, opinions, and emotions — which is also my voice.
As one client said to me after reading my book: “Not only has being nice kept people from knowing me, but I don’t know me.” Not knowing or being connected to yourself and others is isolating and can lead to depression and anxiety. We need to be taught how to deal with life’s messiness.
Decline Being Nice — Choose Authenticity
As a young adult on my self- awareness journey, I remember walking around the city I was living in late at night, kicking street lamps with frustration because I finally had a blindness revealed to me. I realized being raised to be a “nice girl” led to my not knowing what I believed, what my thoughts and opinions were, and what the thoughts and opinions were of those who tried to control me. That moment was the dark before the light…one door closing before the next one opened.
With that blindness revealed, I could now do life differently. I committed to ending the external journey where I gave my power away and beginning the internal journey of taking my power back. In every situation, I asked myself what my thoughts and opinions were. It was difficult to change the pattern, but I couldn’t fool myself anymore. It felt better to give myself a voice, weak at first, but with every day it grew stronger. I was a conglomeration of all the voices in my past; what was different was that my voice was finally in there as well.
This article was originally published on Recovery.org
© 2019 Dr. Anne Brown; Psychotherapist, Speaker, and Author of Backbone Power The Science of Saying No. Permission needed for any form of reproduction.
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