“Nice” is probably the most ubiquitous compliment out there; it’s used for everything from a pleasant lunch to a LeBron James 3-point layup. So what could possibly be wrong with being called “nice” by people who know you? It turns out that for some people, being nice is making them sick and miserable, even though they’re too nice to admit it.
James Rapson and Craig English are the authors of “Anxious to Please: 7 Revolutionary Practices for the Chronically Nice.” The book focuses on how people who are trapped in their niceness can become more assertive and authentic with the people that matter to them. According to the authors, some of us learn as very young children that love and affection (from parents, usually, but later, teachers and other authority figures) is unconditional; “they love me no matter how I behave. I can be myself.” Psychologists call this kind of confidence “secure attachment,” and its important, even essential, to growing up to be a confident adult.
Other children, however, perceive adults’ affection as being dependent on how “nice” they are. Children who think this way don’t develop the same secure attachment. If I comply with everything people ask of me, the child reasons, and don’t complain or act “naughty,” my parents, friends, or teacher will like me. When I act “wrong,” they don’t like me as much. They develop “anxious attachment” instead of secure attachment. This anxiety to please becomes a deeply ingrained part of their personalities; they believe that they are worthy of love only as long as they are “nice.”
You know someone like this at the office; she’s the “go along to get along” person who never demands her own way. She gives in rather than create conflict; she’d rather keep the peace than win. He’s the guy who insists it doesn’t bother him that someone else got credit for his work – it’s the team that matters, really. They apologize even when they have done nothing wrong. They may be self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to numb the pain.
These chronically nice people may even have convinced themselves that they don’t actually feel anger, aggression or impatience; they have suppressed those feelings for most of their lives. But that suppression can create constant anxiety, depression, even physical pain and illness. “Anxious to Please” delivers steps to more authentic interaction and relationships, which start with understanding that you are entitled to negative emotions once in a while. Learning how to tolerate intense emotions (like anger) requires strength and courage. The authors write: “[You need]the proper internal space. Imagine designing a container for a headstrong colt. You probably want a good-sized corral so the colt is free to run and kick up his legs. But you have to have a solid fence or the colt is liable to break out.”
We’d all like to think of ourselves as nice. So how do you know if yours is the healthy version, or the anxious to please version? Here are six warning signs:
- Are you nice even when someone is ignoring you or you’ve been insulted?
- Do you find yourself acting nice in order to get people to like you? Are you overly concerned about whether people like you or not?
- Do you over-accommodate, or over-apologize? Do people say, “What are you apologizing for? You didn’t do anything wrong.”?
- Do you minimize the faults of people who are important to you (like a spouse, parent or friend?)
- Do you minimize your own unhappiness in a relationship? (“I don’t mind that my husband never acknowledges our anniversary; it’s just a day.”)
- Are you able to feel legitimate anger without being horrified or ashamed of yourself – feeling like you’ve ruined everything?
If you recognize yourself in any of the above, how comfortable would you be in making a change? Would it make a difference in your career? Leave a comment and let me know.