Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Does "Too Nice" Mean?

Is it possible to be nice to a fault? When asked directly, most people will say niceness is a strength; however, if being "too nice" has ever been someone's reason for rejecting you, niceness can feel more like a curse than a blessing.

Are you really “too nice” or are you striking up relationships with the wrong people? For a nice person, the "wrong people" tend to be those who are selfish, controlling, aggressive, cruel, need drama, or feel a relationship should involve struggle to be exciting. If you are "too nice" and you get involved with the "wrong person", you may find yourself staying with someone who cannot fully appreciate your strengths until you are ultimately rejected.

When people tell you that you are “too nice”, they are really saying something else. It's sometimes easier for others to label the problem as being “too nice”, rather than to bluntly tell you that you are coming off as:
  • Insecure, dependent, needy, clingy, or desperate
  • Conflict avoidant, passive, timid, weak, or a pushover
  • Fake, false, inauthentic, ingenuous, insincere or passive aggressive
  • Smothering, parental, condescending, or making them feel trapped
  • Inferior, sub-par, less than, unimportant, or boring

If you have been called "too nice", chances are you probably tend to take the lion's share of the responsibility in your relationships. Striving to please others at the expense of your own needs often leads to feeling under-appreciated, hinders personal growth, and devalues you in the eyes of others making your relationships unequal (see equity theory and social exchange theory). In addition, it keeps others from experiencing the consequences of their own actions, and subsequently from growing and learning.

Taking most of the responsibility in a relationship can actually come off as selfish and even condescending. Everyone likes to give and if you are "too nice", you may not be sharing that opportunity with others. You may be inadvertently sending a message that you feel others are incompetent, can’t do their share or take care of themselves, or should not/cannot function as an individual without your help.

Taking too much responsibility in a relationship can also make you appear less appealing to others. When you appear to work too hard in relationships, you may be perceived as less powerful and as a result, you may be undervalued. In addition, the less powerful you feel, the more attracted you are to people you see as very powerful, which perpetuates the cycle. The Principle of Least Interest says that the person who appears the most emotionally involved in a relationship generally has the least power.

Being "too nice" can set up a problematic pattern in a relationship. It may send a message that its okay for others to let you do all the work and that maybe you even prefer it that way. Some researchers have found that imbalances in power in relationships are related to greater dissatisfaction, psychological distress, instability, and conflict.

My practice in psychology has shown me again and again how important balance is. Instead of being "too nice", why not strive to be "just right"? Being "just right" in a relationship involves being:

  • Honest and assertive
  • Authentic, genuine, real
  • Respectful, kind and nurturing
  • Empowering - valuing the freedom and autonomy of yourself and others
  • Balanced and equal; letting others take responsibility when appropriate
  • Confident and trusting (but not gullible or foolish)

When you believe you are capable of and deserve balanced and equitable relationships, you are less likely to put up with people who do not appreciate you. Not everyone appreciates niceness as much as you think they should. It may take some additional patience and effort to find a partner that appreciates your unique strengths, but experience tells me there is more than one someone out there for everyone.

If you suspect you are "too nice" and you want to learn ways to create greater balance in your relationships, it may be time to consult a mental health professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy. You can also call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.

For more resources relating to relationships and other mental health concerns, please visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/.