Did you know that it is possible to be too nice?
But wait! Isn’t it nice to be nice? Don’t we want more nice people in the world? Well of course we do, but some of us have developed a pattern of 'being nice' in ways that no longer work for us.
Do you sometimes think that you are too nice?
In this post I delve a bit deeper into why being ‘nice’ isn’t always as beneficial as it might sound and what to do instead.
This year I've been talking a lot about overwhelm, as an overarching kind of issue that many women face. I'm starting now to explore more deeply the patterns of behaviour that can lead to overwhelm. Of course, there are many external life events that can lead us to feeling overwhelmed, and some of these external life events are things that we cannot change. On the other hand, there are also some behaviours that contribute to our feelings of overwhelm. You know, we actually have far more ability to change our behaviours than change those huge uncontrollable life events, so that’s where we will focus. In my last blog post I talked about people pleasing and learning how to say no. If you haven’t read that one yet you might like to go back and read that one first and then come back to this one. You see, overcoming people pleasing is about much more than learning how to say no, although that is a really great place to start.
There are other people pleasing patterns of behaviour that can lead us to feeling overwhelmed as well. For example;
Do you find yourself being unable to say how you really feel, or think?
Do you find yourself caring for others to your own detriment?
Perhaps you are overly concerned about fitting in with others, but then feel taken advantage of?
If this is ringing any bells for you might be interested to know that there could be a reason that you do these things and feel this way. Noticing that this is going on and then understanding the underlying reason can be the first step in learning how to do things differently.
Most people are aware of the fight, flight or freeze response
Most people are aware of the fight, flight or freeze response. These are the autonomic nervous system responses that keep us safe. I’ve spoken before about how these responses become unconscious patterns of behaviour that have ‘worked’ for us in the past.
There is another response that has been identified more recently which is called ‘fawn’. The ‘fawn’ response or sometimes called the please and appease response, is a nervous system response that keeps us safe in a different way. When we cannot utilise the other responses such as fight, flight or freeze, fawning or pleasing is a way we response to ensure survival.
If, for example, you grew up in a household where a family member was impatient, violent, unpredictable or ‘flew into a rage’ at the drop of a hat, the fawn response can be very helpful.
By keeping things calm (avoiding conflict), meeting their every need while ignoring your own and avoiding saying what you really think or feel, the family member may have been appeased enough to stay calm. If they were to fly into a rage, perhaps you would start analysing what you did to upset them and admonish yourself for not being ‘nice’ enough.
Often these types of family members do not take responsibility for their own behaviours and are only too quick to blame someone else.
So we learn, don’t we, what works to ensure our survival. We learn to ignore our own needs and cater to others, we learn to accommodate and fit in, we learn to hold ourselves to account but not others, we learn to ‘not rock the boat’ for we fear what might happen when we ‘make waves’.
This can present us with some challenges as we enter into adult relationships as we seek out what is familiar to us. Our compliance and willingness to accommodate and suppress our own needs can often lead us to repeating these patterns in all our relationships, whether it be in intimate partner relationships, friendships or in the workplace.
We become people pleasers. We are nice. We say yes. We don’t take up space. We have got so used to not acknowledging or having our own needs met, we don’t even know what they are.
We are incredibly adaptive and our nervous system is always scanning for cues of safety and cues of danger. We develop these patterns as they are protective. These patterns have served us in the past, though you may be finding now that they don’t serve you as well.
If you are often feeling resentment, fatigued, or taken for granted it may be time to reevaluate things.
The good news is that we humans are adaptive and can make changes to our behaviours.
Developing the ability to observe your internal experience is something that can be developed over time. In ACT, we call this the ‘observing; self. You see, before we become aware of the observing self, most of us are just going about life believing and acting upon anything our mind conjures up, whether it be a thought, feeling, sensation or urge. We spend a lot of time in our ‘thinking’ self, all the while, thinking that is all there is.
There is this other part of us that can observe. It is the one that becomes the watcher of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges. It is the one that can notice all of this going on without necessarily feeling like it has to ‘do’ anything, other than observe.
This goes nicely together with coming back to the present moment.
When we begin to choose our responses based on the wisdom of the observing self, things begin to change.
We can also learn to open up to the discomfort of setting limits or asserting ourselves, noticing when the discomfort shows up and not rushing in to please, appease and smooth things over.
We can become more mindful of the difference between being ‘nice’ as a learnt response to adverse childhood experiences and ‘kindness’ as a value that you would like to bring into particular situations.
When we ask ourselves, what value will I bring to my response at this moment? We may choose to be kind to ourselves, rather than habitually ‘nice’ to others while being unkind to ourselves.
These can be complex issues to work through and untangle and often best done with the support of a therapist experienced with cPTSD and relational trauma.
If you’d like support to work through anything I’ve talked about in this article, you can book a discovery call here.
In 2022 I’ll be launching some online courses about overcoming people pleasing, perfectionism and procrastination. Join my waitlist here if you’d like to be the first to hear about these courses in the new year.
Until next time