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Being "Nice" Damages Your Relationships
You may be more controlled than you know. You may think your choices are free and not at all influenced by others, but that may not be true. In my counseling and coaching practice, I routinely work with people whose decisions are shaped, sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly, by their desire to prevent someone else from being upset, angry, concerned or hurt. Many are torn between, on one hand, wanting to act on desires that are right and good or to take the action wisdom dictates and, on the other, a terrible fear of someone else’s reaction. They want to be nice. They rack their brains trying to find a way to do what they know they must while continuing to please someone who has no business being so invested in the first place. They can’t see that a people pleasing approach to life hurts them, the other person and the relationship between the two.
Chronic people pleasing, living a life devoted to making sure no one significant is angry, disappointed or even flustered by our choices, leads to all sorts of problems. Most significantly, people pleasers have trouble knowing themselves. Just like my property is defined, identified and separated from my neighbor’s by a fence, so we are defined by our emotional and psychological boundaries. People afraid to set boundaries for fear of how others will respond fail to define themselves to the point they often cannot differentiate themselves from others. They feel lost and are possessed of an indefinite sense that something isn’t right. Tolerating a sense that he exists only as an extension of another leads to resentment which makes the people pleaser cynical and even more self-protective, inauthentic and reluctant to share his true self.
When we don’t set boundaries with people who are pushy, controlling or intrusive, we harm them. People need to experience reality to grow. That means experiencing the natural and reasonable consequences of our behavior. If we put our hand on a hot stove, the natural consequence of a burn teaches us to be more cautious next time. Chronic people pleasers interfere with this process. When someone significant to the people pleaser puts his hand on the stove, the pleaser’s hand burns. Consequently, the overbearing person learns nothing. His damaging behavior continues. People pleasers tell themselves their habits are for the good of the other, but if they really wanted others’ good, they would cease shielding them from reality’s lessons.
Contrary to the people pleaser’s assumption, real closeness requires boundaries. Without boundaries, relationships turn into a tangled mess where one of the partners disappears emotionally and psychologically. People pleasers become overwhelmed by the dominance of the other, cease to know themselves and therefore become unable to offer that self to another. People pleasers, in this way, damage their relationships without even being aware they’re doing it. They hide their desires, values and preferences and wonder why there’s no intimacy in their relationships. Intimacy requires that we allow ourselves to be seen and people pleasers are notorious hiders and therefore chronically lonely.
The solution requires finding the courage to come out of hiding. First, people with chronic people pleasing tendencies have to quit hiding from themselves. They must be willing to admit to themselves what they really want, to own their values and goals. Sharing those with someone you fear, standing up under pressure may be the scariest thing people pleasers ever do, but it is the only way. Only by being willing to know themselves can they connect with others. Only by being willing to say what is true for them can they ever be heard. Only by finding the courage to separate can they ever be truly connected.
If this description rings true for you, let’s talk. I invite you to click here to schedule a time for us to chat for free about how we can work together to help you make progress.
Also, don’t forget my new workshop for men is launching soon. If you’re a man who want to be better next year than you were last, click here.