By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Some people are afflicted with the ‘niceness disease’. They are so involved with pleasing others that they don’t consider what would please them. Too often, they don’t even realize that this is a problem. Even just thinking about doing what would make them happy feels selfish. Unfortunately, these same people often find that others take advantage of them, or that they are just unhappy in their relationships.
I recently came across a book entitled Anxious To Please, which addressed just this group of people. The authors, James Rapson and Craig English, explain how these people can identify themselves:
- Anxious to please others, especially people central in their lives
- Tend to cling, ingratiate themselves, and overly adapt in relationships
- Overly concerned with what others think of them
- Poor judgment about when and to whom to disclose personal thoughts and feelings
- Minimize faults and flaws of those they like
- Minimize their unhappiness
- Out of touch with their anger
The book also describes seven basic ways in which nice people can help themselves. I briefly describe these below, along with some of my thoughts about them:
Awareness Practice: To work through any problem, you must really understand it. To this end, it is essential that nice people pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors – noting how these relate to and support their niceness.
Desert Practice: Through the practice of solitude, nice people can learn to focus more on themselves, discovering their strengths. By recognizing and feeling good about your own strengths, you are more likely to see yourself as an equal partner in a relationship.
Warrior Practice: Take action based on what you believe is right (ethical) and what you feel you want to do. To act in this way, you need to learn to hold intense emotions while not being driven by them. You must also consciously think through your own ethical beliefs so that you will know how you want to act.
Brotherhood and Sisterhood Practice: Build same-gender friendships to support you and your efforts to change. All people are strengthened by the support of friendships. This support is especially important during times when they feel vulnerable, such as when they are making personal changes.
Family Practice: Make sense of how childhood and family experience have led to you being ‘nice’. By understanding how you developed your tendency to be overly nice – to your own detriment – you are more likely to show yourself some of the support and compassion that you naturally give others.
Disillusionment Practice: Recognize that your hope to find a perfect partner who will meet all your needs and help you heal from any emotional pains is no more than a fantasy. This will free you to find a real person with whom you can develop an emotionally intimate relationship.
Integration Practice: Use your daily experiences to practice making the change that you seek.
Do you relate to the idea of being an overly nice person? What do you think of the suggestions for change made by the authors, Rapson and English? Do they make sense to you? Do you see problems in them? Have you tried to achieve any of them in a way that found have helped or failed to help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Relationships and Coping Community.