I am not a nice person

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Oscar the Grouch by Mandy Jansen
Image credit: ©2009 Mandy Jansen, from Flickr | used via CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 licensing

I am not a nice person.

It took me a long time to realize this ... and even longer to decide that I'm ok with it. Actually, it's even more than ok; it's something I now embrace as a good thing.

But maybe I should explain what I mean by that for those of you who just gave a horrified gasp at the idea that not being nice could be good.

I grew up thinking that being nice was the ultimate goal in life. I was taught that joy came from prioritizing Jesus first, others second, and yourself last. (J-o-y ... get it? Yeah, go ahead and roll your eyes, but that's what I was taught!)

The idea was that you should always sacrifice yourself to meet others' wants and needs. This refusal to ever say "no" (no matter what someone else demanded of you), to ever have boundaries, to ever expect (much less demand) good treatment from others, to ever insist on appropriate limits ... this was seen as being "nice."

So I did my best to live that out. Until the day that I realized that despite all of my hard work, even my closest friends did not see me as a nice person. I still remember the day when I finally realized that no matter what issue I encountered, these friends automatically assumed that the problem must always be me because I wasn't being nice enough.

I was absolutely devastated. But it made me start paying attention—both to my own interactions and to those of others around me. What I noticed changed my mind forever about being "nice."

What I noticed was that when people (myself included) did things that were wrong for them in order to please others or to appear "nice," it always wound up sooner or later producing some very not-nice behavior. The person focused on being nice would eventually become resentful of the price they were paying and would resort to manipulation or passive-aggressive behavior in the attempt to restore some balance to the relationship or to get their own needs met without having to state them (something that would be seen as not nice by the j-o-y paradigm).

First, I was able to recognize that the people I knew who worked hardest at being "nice" were often some of the most not-nice people I knew because of this dynamic. Then I increasingly recognized that I was among the worst offenders myself.

On the other hand, I also observed people who operated out a different paradigm that seemed to work much better. These people loved others as they loved themselves. They did what they could for others, but they had no hesitation in stating their limits, enforcing their boundaries, and making sure they never gave more than what they had to give. These people were able to be genuinely kind because they made sure to take care of themselves even as they gave. There was no need for manipulation or passive-aggressive behavior.

These people would sometimes have to disappoint people by saying no. They would sometimes have to do things that on the surface appeared mean because they knew that the "mean" thing was ultimately kinder than the "nice" thing would have been because it better honored both people in the situation. But these people were ultimately treated better and respected more than the "nice" people I knew.

It took me a while to process all of this, but as this realization slowly sunk all the way into my marrow, I made the decision to give up being "nice" and try to learn to be kind instead.

Changing this lifelong pattern has been one of the hardest things I've ever done (and I still too easily fall back into old "nice" patterns when I'm not paying attention), but it's been worth the hard work. It has affected every relationship I have—some for the better, others for the worse if they didn't like the new me—and it is still very much a work in progress. It still causes panic attacks when I am seen as not nice, even when I know that I am ultimately being kind (though it may look mean in the short term). It's hard to do this well when I'm still learning how.

But I've also experienced so much more healing of old broken places as I've learned to value myself just as highly as I value others. I am slowly making better choices and integrating lessons I've learned along the way because I am being kind enough to myself to give me the space to grow. My relationships are healthier and cleaner because I say what I want and what I really mean. My depression gets triggered much less often.

I'm still tempted all the time to revert to my old "nice" patterns and have to keep reminding myself that the harder I worked at being "nice," the more "not nice" I became. So even when I tried to be nice, I wasn't a nice person. (Or at least others did not see me as being so.) Now that I've given up being nice and I'm trying to kind instead, I am still not "nice," but I am growing ever so slowly in kindness. That seems like an improvement to me!

What about you? Do you make a distinction between "nice" (as I've described it) and kind? If so, how have you learned to be kinder?


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