By Nicholas Gomez
Have you ever been afraid of doing something for fear that others might think differently of you? Perhaps you’ve been working the same job for a half-year now and think you deserve a solid raise, but you’re afraid that asking your boss for it is something he might not like. Or maybe you have a hard time saying no to friends when they ask you for favors. There are an endless amount of scenarios where this same dynamic plays out, and if the above mentioned resonate with you at all, it’s highly likely that a part of you has developed what Robert Glover calls the “Nice Guy Syndrome.”
My hopes are that this article will help you in three ways: first, in understanding what a “Nice Guy” looks like so that you can assess whether this is you or not. Second, that it can shed some light on why this is a bad thing. And last, in giving you the tools necessary to overcome it.
When I first started applying for jobs, I quickly realized which areas I was weakest in. During interviews, when asked about my availability, I lied and said that I could rearrange my life to fit my work schedule. Even though finding a job that worked with my schedule was one of the most important determining factors I was looking for in a job, I was so afraid of mentioning my slightly limited availability because I worried they might automatically discard me as a prospect. I tricked myself into thinking that lying my way into a job was better than not getting one at all. And it soon became apparent in other areas as well.
Countless times I have received voicemails from future employers who either want to schedule an interview, or after having interviewed me already, want to offer me the job. This almost always happens once I’ve found another job, or decided to turn down the offer. Being the nice guy that I am, I thought never returning the call was better than having to tell them the truth. Telling them the truth meant telling them something they might not like. Instead of calling and saying I was no longer going to be able to make the interview, I decided not to show up, and ignore their calls.
Not only did this reflect poorly on me as a prospective employee, it also showed how rationalization helped enable my “Nice Guy Syndrome.” In reality, I wasn’t returning their calls because I was afraid they wouldn’t like what I had to say. But in my mind, I wasn’t returning their calls because it would spare them the bad news. What about the fact that I was wasting their time and efforts, which could’ve been directed towards other future employees? Thanks to my rationalization, I could ignore those feelings of guilt and tell myself I’d done the right thing.
Another area where this became prevalent in my life was with friends. A couple of my closest friends live thousands of miles away from me and because of this our interactions are limited to phone calls. When on the phone with these friends, I find myself waiting for them to end the call, rather than ending it myself.
After having chatted for close to an hour, the conversation starts to dissipate. Instead of sharing recent events in our lives with each other, we start finding nonsense to talk about. In other words, we’re just bullshitting to waste time. When I notice our conversation hitting this drywall, I realize it’s probably time to end the call. However, my “Nice Guy Syndrome” tells me that maybe my friend doesn’t feel the same way, so telling them I have to go and ending the call could hurt their feelings. Instead, I pretend like there is nothing better for me to be doing, and spend as long as I need to on the phone with them, even if it means another hour, until they decide to end it. This way, there’s no way I could’ve done or said anything wrong. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Really all I’m doing is putting other people’s feelings ahead of my own. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not inherently a bad thing. It becomes one when you do it because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do and not what you want to do. I didn’t want to stay on the line for another hour, but I thought that would be the best way to avoid any conflict. In fact, when you take a closer look, I’m not even putting their feelings ahead of my own. It’s reversed. I’m so afraid that by saying the wrong thing, they’ll get mad at me, and by nature of them getting mad at me, I’ll feel like shit. So, really, I’m telling myself it’s for them when really it’s for my own comfort and safety.
Last but not least is the idea of an unspoken contract. I do this for you only because I expect you to return the favor in the future.
The greatest example of this is gift giving. For the longest time, I thought presents were given on special occasions because that was tradition. When a friend had a birthday, you gave them a present because that’s what you were supposed to do. Then, when your birthday came around, he or she returned the favor because you’d done the same for them.
Most people adhere to this tradition of gift giving because it’s easy. Nice guys adhere to it because they have it ingrained in their head that this is what you’re supposed to do in order for people to like you, and in order for people to return the favor. We expect something in return.
If the gift giving analogy didn’t do it for you, here’s a list of other ways it may apply in your life: putting up with someone’s shitty behavior towards you; paying for dates and acting the way you think your date wants you to so they’ll sleep with you later that night; agreeing to things that cross your comfort boundaries simply because then you’ll be able to use it as ammunition to get what you want; covering a coworker’s shift; not expressing your emotions. The list goes on and on.
These are only three examples of how I’ve exhibited nice guy behaviors in my life. At least fifteen others exist that are just as important.
Recognizing whether or not you exhibit some of these same behaviors is crucial to getting what you want in life and feeling satisfied in your relationships with other people. By avoiding the recovery process, you’ll remain in a state of harboring resentment and being stuck inside your own head. The process of rationalizing things is especially dangerous, because it enables you to act based what you think others are expecting or thinking you will do.
Having these unspoken contracts with people where you do things only in the hopes that they will earn you future favors guides you toward feelings of resentment and incredibly high expectations that no person will be able to meet. You’ll be hesitant to admit or accept this, but these three behavioral patterns allow you to create a dual personality. When others are present, you do or say what garners their approval, even if it means lying. But when you’re all alone, it’s almost as if a different narrative is playing in your head: one of criticism, guilt, and resentment.
If all of this sounds like you or someone you know, you understand how difficult and sometimes frustrating it can be to spend time around “Nice Guys.” It’s a behavior learned and ingrained in our heads as children, so you can’t just turn off the switch; overcoming this goes way beyond a three-step process or solution. It takes months if not years to do so, and is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. But in the words of Robert Glover, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always had.”
The good news is that this is something you can start doing right away, completely free. These are only a handful of ways to get started.
Any situation you put yourself in, always ask: “Is this something I want?” If your answer is yes, then that’s what you do.
Changing your dietary habits, cutting down on drugs and alcohol, exercising, having fun, and resting are all extremely important for your body. Identify two ways in which you neglect your physical health. Now write down two ways in which you could improve it.
Open up to a friend about being a “Nice Guy.” Make sure this is a close, trustworthy friend who won’t be judgmental or critical. This step is important because it reverses the idea in your head that you are bad. By telling someone the truth about yourself and realizing that they still want to be a part of your life, some light can be shed on the same behavior in different areas of your life, like lying to your friends about why you didn’t make it to the party.
And finally, take a close look at your daily life. Find one thing you’ve had to stop doing because of the way your routine is set up. For me, this was sleep. After starting a new job and keeping all my other activities the same, I realized I was sleeping two to three hours less every day. After you identify what it is you stopped doing, find a way to start doing it again this week. Beware; this is where rationalizing makes it tough. I’m sure you can find more reasons for why you shouldn’t start doing it again, but they are all rationalizations you create in your head in order to feel better about not doing them.