The Underbelly of Being Nice

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

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

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

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

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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