My coaching and therapy clients often express the desire to lead an honest and authentic life. Many are successful, busy and dynamic go-getters. They are also frequently exhausted, frustrated and suffer regular bouts of self-loathing, depression, anxiety and anger. Many are people pleasers and believe that they are truly engaging in honest and real relationships. But in reality, and we are talking reality here, they are not. They are engaging in acts of self-deception, where their "true self," the part of them that holds their real wishes and desires is held hostage by the "false self" part of them that wants to please -- or in simple language, be NICE.
This pattern is problematic, and you need to know why. Because it makes YOU unhappy, and stressed! Your precious time and energy is spent wishing you could "undo" something, say what you mean, get what you need, say no or speak your mind -- you get the picture. Is that all too familiar "disease to please" and "nice-itis" sabotaging your life?
Your relationships may be suffering because you aren't being honest -- with yourself and others! You've created an identity that you imagine people want, when in reality, the real you would be the the best for everyone. Perhaps you developed this dynamic in your family of origin, this is somewhat helpful to know, but mostly you need to know that it's okay and safe to change. When you say YES, when you really want to say NO, or you don't share your real feelings or disappointment about something, you deprive yourself and others of an honest interaction.
What's behind this behavior? Fear and identity are big drivers. You may fear hurting someone's feelings. But if you withhold honesty, you deprive them of an opportunity to grow and learn, or have a different experience. You've saved yourself some temporary, in-the-moment discomfort, but now you hate yourself! You're tired of your "nice" identity because it's exhausting and it creates unnecessary stress. It likely makes you cranky and creates more conflicts in your relationships especially when you have to spend energy trying to "fix" things. But mostly, it just doesn't get you what you want! The takeaway message is that you're not avoiding conflict and tension, you're actually creating it.
Most people want and need real interactions, healthy boundaries and accountability. They want to interact with you in real and authentic ways. You also may be more transparent to others who can see when you're trying to please or play the "nice" game. Have you ever had someone who struggles with the same problem call you out on this. It's very interesting when that happens. It's real!
When I work with angry clients, we often find that that they tolerate great distress by avoiding, avoiding, avoiding being truthful or acknowledging small amounts of frustration and anger until they explode. This gets ugly fast, and they've created a mess. Expressing anger can be a bit like having a valve on a jar. A little out at a time can avoid massive explosions.
Avoiding conflicts, not expressing your true needs or being "nice" when you'd like to be honest is actually a form of lying and dishonesty.
Honesty often involves a situation where you may have to confront some demons or other uncomfortable interactions, but ultimately, acting "as if" and being "nice" can be viewed as a manipulation. It's an attempt to manage a situation or another's reaction by predicting a response to a behavior that may or may not happen. Mindreading and magical thinking is not reality. It's unfair to the other person. Again, not reality, and this strategy deprives the other of an honest interaction.
Working with a therapist or coach who can help you understand the underlying conflict, issue or dynamic for you can help you in many ways. You can begin to look at the many ways that this shows up in your life and creates unhappiness and misery. You can begin to chart this pattern and make behavioral changes. You can practice scenarios or create scripts for yourself until you become more comfortable and are able to internalize these changes. A skilled coach or licensed therapist can help you with accountability and commitment to keep you on track and make sure that you show up for yourself and others. This is true personal integrity.
Working with a trained coach or therapist can help you create and attain goals for yourself and lead a more authentic life that nurtures your soul and builds strong and connected relationships. You're not being asked to give up nice -- nice is a good thing, but only when it's not at the expense of your "true self" and real needs. When your body begins screaming at you in the language of symptoms, then you've crossed the line. Being real is being kind to yourself and others. Kindness means honest and true, not fake nice.
- Think of the ways this need to please and be nice shows up in your life.
- What are your obstacles to changing this habit?
- How do you imagine people would perceive you if you changed?
- What would it mean to give up this identity?
- What's your motivation to change and how might your life be different?