For those who don’t know, I spend a lot of time working with men and women who have experienced trauma – both singular traumatic events, prolonged toxic relationships, recurrent abuses, and lack of atunement with caregivers during early childhood. Inevitably part of our work focuses on helping them re–establish boundaries that have been lost, or were never learned, as a result of these experiences. One barrier these clients often face is that establishing these boundaries (saying “no,” sharing the impact of something, or simply having an alternative opinion) doesn’t feel “nice.” So, I’ve spent some time thinking on this subject and I am growing more and more convinced that while being “nice” isn’t an inherently bad thing, it is also not a goal toward which we should strive. Instead, I find being kind to be a much more advantageous and adaptive goal.
Let me explain, being “nice” is often about being sweet, agreeable, or enacting some kind of socially appropriate behavior. It has to do with fitting in and not rocking the boat. We can see there are many advantages where being nice would be a helpful strategy in remaining a valued member of any society or social group. In the context of a toxic relationship or environment, it can even become a survival strategy – being “nice” might allow us to avoid conflict, keep a partner from becoming upset, or maybe keep a parent engaged. Once a person has left this environment, however, this behavior becomes problematic. They can feel unfulfilled or un-cared for in their relationships and may feel that nothing they ever do is good enough.
Alternatively, being kind is about holding beneficence at the core of our decision making. Kindness is rooted in love and authenticity. This means that even when a conversation is difficult, if the intention is what is for the benefit of you, me, and us then having the conversation is the correct action to take. Being kind is speaking up when you feel unheard. Being kind is letting a person know how you are being impacted by a decision they’ve made. Being kind is sharing your opinion even if it is unpopular. While it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, it ultimately helps keep the relationship in tact and allows them to be more responsive over time. Alternatively, failing to share this can lead to feelings of resentment, hurt, and anger as one person continues to be “nice” and sublimate their needs while the other person has no idea that their partner, friend, child, parent, sibling, co-worker, etc. is feeling unfulfilled in the relationship.
I would encourage you to consider whether you’ve found yourself trapped in being “nice” or “too nice” all the time and how you are practicing being “kind” – towards yourself and others – as a means of creating the relationships and life that you want! If you are someone who struggles with this, please know that we can help. Learning boundaries can be a difficult, but ultimately rewarding process! As therapists, we are uniquely qualified to help you develop and reinforce those strategies – please feel free reach out to our LSRG team for support!
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