Are you too nice for your own good?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Sonia Guinnessy, MA, PGDip, Psychotherapist and Supervisor, BABCP Accred
10th September, 20140 Comments
People go to therapy for different reasons. Whilst good therapy works with you on the issues that matter to you, it also helps you understand and change things you may not realise contribute to your main issues.
One common issue therapists encounter in the background is a tendency for people to be ‘too nice’ for their own good. “How can you be ‘too nice’?” you may ask. Here are some examples:
- You take on too much because you can’t say “no”, so you end up exhausted.
- You don’t challenge someone, or get angry to their face if they insult you/ put your down/ or violate your boundaries, because showing direct anger or displeasure ‘isn’t nice’.
- You find that friendships often become one-sided, with you doing all the listening and giving, while your friend seems happy to take. You notice they only contact you when they want something.
- You often help others above and beyond what is expected, only to find that they have a go at you, or let you down later on.
- Family members have you running in circles for them and don’t seem to understand that you have your own life.
- Your partner feels neglected or resentful of others using up your time and energy with their demands.
- You can’t understand why you have been bullied or picked on so often, when you are nice to people.
- You criticise yourself harshly, call yourself names or shame yourself after getting angry or loosing your temper.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be just be ‘too nice for your own good’.
So how can therapy help?
Firstly, it can help you see that there is something to work on. It can help you spot when you say or do things that are ‘too nice’ and likely to cause problems for you.
In Transactional Analysis there is a useful idea called the Drama Triangle that can help you understand how you relate to others and how they respond, when you go into ‘too nice’ mode. In the Drama Triangle this role is called The Rescuer. The other roles on the triangle are The Victim and The Persecutor. The Rescuer role will attract both Victims and Persecutors into our lives. (Don’t worry though-it doesn’t mean you are flawed or ‘wrong’- being on the drama Triangle is part of being human and we all get caught up in it at times).
Therapy can help us be on the Drama Triangle less and less, so that we have more productive and honest relationships with others, with less drama. If you are interested, you can find out more about the Drama Triangle idea, and see if it makes sense to you. Or you can watch EastEnders and work out for yourself which characters are playing which role in any given scene! Soap operas are full of characters being Persecutors, Victims and Rescuers.
Therapy can help you identify the underlying beliefs you have about how you ‘should’ behave. These usually form in childhood, often subconsciously, and tend to be absolute and unbending. You may have a belief that “if I am nice to everyone, then everyone will be nice to me”, for example, or “other people are more important than me”. In therapy, people usually come to understand why they developed these beliefs in the first place.
Finally, therapy can help you make choices about the future and perhaps ‘update’ some beliefs that aren’t working for you in your adult world. In therapy you can plan and practice how to respond to situations where you might habitually be ‘too nice’, in a way that keeps you happy, stable and true to yourself.
What therapy won’t do is turn you into a bad person - someone you don’t want to be, someone you wouldn’t like. Being ‘less nice’ isn’t about being horrible or selfish. It’s about being more real and human, and sometimes making choices to look after yourself rather than always putting others first. You can still be kind and helpful to others, but in a way that leaves you with energy for you and your loved ones, that protects you from being taken advantage of, and frees you from secret resentments.
My clients, who have worked on this issue, have reported less anxiety, better relationships with the people who really care about them, more energy, better overall mood, and a sense of being true to themselves.
Ironically, they usually find that being ‘less nice’ makes them nicer to be around. Not everyone will like it - people who want to stay Victims or Persecutors will find others to be their Rescuer, but the people who genuinely like and love you, will be happy to see you happier and less downtrodden.
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