Growing up, girls are taught to always ‘be nice’, use ‘nice manners’, and ‘play nice’.
Heck, we’re even told that we’re made of nice things – sugar and spice etc…
So in the name of being ‘nice’, doing what we’re told, and never upsetting anyone, it’s no wonder we’re constantly putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own.
We grow up fearing other people’s disapproval and worrying that if we’re not ‘nice’ people won’t like us. As we get older, this type of thinking turns into the need to constantly please others, to make others happy, to gain other’s approval.
Unfortunately, we often do this at the expense of our own happiness and well-being.
Recently ‘Katie’, came to a session feeling overwhelmed, anxious and confused about something that had happened to her during the week.
She told me:
‘The guy I met on Tinder a few weeks ago asked if we could meet up on Thursday night. I said sure. I didn’t hear anything back from him either way, but I assumed we’d make plans closer to the day. On Thursday I sent him a message asking if we were still on, and he said he’d message me after work and take it from there. By 8:30 I assumed I wouldn’t hear from him. So I decided to make a bowl of pasta and watch Netflix. It’s hit and miss really in the dating game, I’m used to it.
Then her voice dropped, and she looked away before she continued:
As I was heating up the pasta, some of the pasta sauce spilt on my favourite pair of pyjamas, and I just started to sob.
Katie talked a bit more about how she should just ‘take a break’ from Tinder for a while, and maybe step away from online dating altogether. Then we started to discuss one of the more pervasive and deeper issues at play here.
It was Katie’s deep-seated need to be liked, and to be seen as agreeable, down to earth, laidback, and easy going, that often led her to behave in ways that elicited approval from others.
This is Katie’s in-built defence mechanism, which cleverly helps her fight off the anxiety she feels at being rejected by others.
She was seeing in profiles that men want women who are, ‘laid back, easy going, down to earth’. Katie is often complimented by her dates on how agreeable she is, which only serves to reinforce her belief.
Essentially Katie’s inner dialogue goes something like this: ‘If I disappoint you, I’ll run the risk of losing your approval, and that’s too uncomfortable for me to bare’.
The downside of all this for Katie was her total inability to be appropriately disappointed, angry or forthright with others. She wasn’t able to process her feelings about the disrespectful behaviour of the Tinder date in a healthy, self-loving way, and it felt safer to cry over the spilt pasta sauce.
Katie found it hard to express her disappointment or anger and instead would say things like ‘what’s the point? It’s not like we even met’. Again this was her agreeableness coming out. Her style of relating to others is designed to discourage angry or critical responses from others as a way of avoiding any conflict that might in turn arouse her anxiety.
I had to break the bad news to Katie – the more she avoided these interactions, the stronger her belief in her inability to deal with others’ disapproval would grow.
If she didn’t get to the bottom of this need for constant approval, then the sadness she felt when she didn’t get it, would simply keep showing up in other areas of her life.
Here’s how Katie started to address her issues:
- She started to take notice of when she was being “agreeable” and “pleasing” as a way to elicit approval from others
- She began to be more forthright with friends and family members about what she wanted – instead of what she thought others wanted
- Every time she did something that was asserting herself she recognised that she was able to bare it and rewarded herself for it
It is possible to change the way we show up in our relationships, the way we deal with conflict, get our needs met, and set clear boundaries.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of being aware of our inner dialogue and the conversations we’re having with ourselves. Talking to someone who is subjective, a good counsellor, friend or family member, can really help put things in perspective.
Think about it this way: If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, then don’t say it to yourself.
Be nice to others, but most of all, please be nice to yourself.