Why Being Nice Is Not Always So Nice

Daily Thoughts
Art by Marialaura Fedi

The word nice is often said as a compliment to say that someone is lovely, sweet and friendly. “You are such a nice person, Katie!” was a very common phrase I heard growing up. As time passes by, it has been a blessing and a curse that has taught me many lessons. Being nice is different to being kind. However, from my own experience, it is difficult because my personality is naturally very caring and friendly. It often takes energy to be nice, and there are moments where I really do want to listen and help someone. However, it is important to be careful where you put your energy, otherwise you will experience emotional burnout.

The word nice has connotations of being modest, likable and well-mannered, but it also has negative underlying meanings of being weak, unaware and naïve. As an introvert, I prefer to spend more time having no activities in my calendar. Therefore, learning the art of saying no is very important. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly, but it’s important to know that there is a distinction between being kind and being nice and to set your boundaries with people. Don’t let people walk over you, and take control of who you are.

The pressure to be nice all the time The words we are told throughout our childhood have impact on our identity. The repetitive nature of being told something can make us believe those words. We begin to associate who we are as a person with those descriptions. The truth is no one can define who you are except for yourself. However, breaking a life time of believing what someone might say is good or bad can take time. It’s not realistic to be positive all the time and this expectation can create added stress and pressure.

The ability to be kind and assertive The moments I have been assertive are the moments I’ve felt the stress and worry decline. There is a misconception that being assertive means being loud and outgoing. You can be assertive and direct, but still be gracious and kind. Learning to communicate assertively in a fair and kind manner can be a relief to express yourself calmly and directly, yet still stay true to who you are without having to pretend to be anyone else.

Being taken advantage of A common experience I had growing up was being bossed around or being told what to do. I want to highlight that there is a difference between being asked for a favour, or designated work in a kind and direct manner. As opposed to someone who is taking advantage of you out of dominance and narcissism. There are many kind people in the world, but it’s important to know that there are people who will only engage with you when they need something or want something from you.

Stop caring what other people think Being caring and compassionate is being human. We have to remember that that is one of the greatest strengths we have as individuals. However, it is also important to stop caring too much what others think of you. The moments I care too much what someone might think, the more I want to try avoid situations that might upset anyone. No matter what we’re doing in our lives, people will always judge no matter if you succeed or fail. When you start to care less, you begin to live for yourself.

Self respect and self assurance Clearly stating your needs and being fair and open minded shows that you respect yourself. When you are sure about your choices and decisions, then you can communicate these more directly. When you know who you are, when you accept yourself and when you love yourself, that energy shines out into the world. Our self-esteem is lifted when we have a positive self-image of who we are and our identity.

Healthy disagreements are okay We can’t escape disagreements with people, and having wisdom to not be involved in unhealthy conflict is a good skill to have. However, it’s okay and very normal to have conflict, because we are all human and we can’t agree on everything. There will be problems and situations we get into that may bring discomfort, and learning to face the discomfort and find the best solution is important.

Avoid passive aggressiveness and emotional outbursts I can say very clearly from personal experience that one of the worst things for your mental health is bottling your emotions up. Learning to regulate your emotions and finding methods to feel calm and communicate clearly to others will save a lot of distress. The periods of my life where I felt deep depression was after a period of bottling everything up without sharing with anyone.

Pain of perfectionism and self-criticism The strive for perfection is impossible. The more we create an unreachable standard for ourselves, the more stress and pressure we create for ourselves. It can be debilitating and increase feelings of anxiety. I remember thinking if I upset someone, if I spoke up about a certain topic or said something that might cause negative feelings, then it would mean that I’m not a ‘nice’ person. The self-criticism is very intense in my mind.

Speaking your mind and being honest When we stay silent in the moments where it counts to speak up, we lose our voice. When we are honest in an authentic and well-intended way, we stay true to who we are but we still have the ability to be assertive. Knowing when to stay silent and when to speak up takes wisdom. Being kind means thinking before we speak and considering how our words may impact on the other person. It means seeing things from someone else’s perspective, and then expressing your views. Being nice is often associated with potentially hiding your true feelings, however, you can always be kind and express how you feel.

The power of saying no When you say no to things that you can’t commit to, you aren’t interested in or you don’t have the desire to engage with, you are setting your boundaries. The choices we make each day will impact on the life we live. If we say yes to everything, we don’t create space for ourselves and we make ourselves too available for others. It will become a set expectations from others that you are always readily available which can make you end up being taken for granted or attracting only those who will get in touch when they need you, not because they want to.

Set clear boundaries for yourself As a nice person, it’s easy to want to help others and invest yourself into doing more. The more you set boundaries for yourself, the more that other’s can’t take advantage of you, and the more you are clear about where you stand. Our boundaries keep us safe and conserve where we place our energy. It shows the respect that you have for yourself. Boundaries help to keep your emotions in check, avoid social pressure, be clear about what you don’t tolerate, and stay true to who you are as a person.

Avoid burnout by prioritising yourself When you prioritise yourself, you prioritise your mental health and wellbeing. This is a hard one, because if you are naturally caring and sensitive then you tend to put others needs before your own. It makes me think of when you’re on the plane, and the safety video tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else. You have to take care of yourself first. This doesn’t mean that you are being selfish, it means that you are practicing self-care.

Unrealistic expectations of others We can’t control how other’s react or what they say, we can only be in control of how we react to a situation. When we’re too nice to others, it builds unrealistic expectations that others should do the same. When they do not meet these expectations, you may feel upset or resentful. I’ve noticed this in situations such as in work or friendships. The truth is we shouldn’t waste our energy towards people who don’t care or who only come to you when they need something.

Being kind is the care and compassion we show through our actions. We can be outwardly nice and polite to those around us. We can smile and be friendly with strangers. When we are kind from our heart, it shows genuine care and empathy. Someone can have a serious demeanour, yet they may show their care through their actions. Someone can be outwardly nice all the time, yet in the moments where it really counts, they aren’t present. This is why it’s important to strive to be kind and assertive, and work at it everyday.

Being assertive means that you stand up for your own rights and set your boundaries clearly. There are many situations in my life where I let things slide by, when all it takes is a moment to speak up. This created a lot of unnecessary pain and hurt. I really hope someone reading this can know how important it is to practice and learn to be assertive, and know that being kind and assertive go hand in hand.

Michelle writes that:

  • Being nice takes energy, tons of it. Being kind gives energy – you feel enlivened by it.
  • Being nice makes at best a small difference to someone’s day. Being kind can make a huge difference to someone’s day.
  • Being nice can feel fake. Being kind always feels genuine.
  • Being nice may be superficial. Being kind goes deep.

2 thoughts on “Why Being Nice Is Not Always So Nice

  1. This is such an interesting topic, Katie. I so agree being nice can take effort, and most of the time being nice means putting yourself out there even if it is just a little bit. As you mentioned, commonly ‘nice’ refers to being polite and smiling and sharing a positive image of ourselves. I think it’s a fine line between living up to the expectation of ‘nice’ and being who we are. By being who we are, we are sharing a dose of reality around, and basically not kidding ourselves. Not everyone will like that. But in reality life isn’t always nice and doesn’t flow the way you want it. I like the idea of being kind as Michelle wrote. Agree being genuinely kind comes from the heart. It is a genuine want to do something and help someone out.

    1. Thank you for your comment Mabel. Definitely, the least effort and energy will always come from being who we are, and the best thing is that when we’re true to ourselves we will be much happier!

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