I’ve been described to be a lot of things, artistic, sarcastic and the like. One that stuck to me though, was that I was nice. Too nice. But it’s not a bad thing, right? I mean we were all taught to be nice to other people. Ellen DeGeneres’ tag line every time her show draws to a close is ‘be kind to one another’, so it’s a good thing, right?
Despite niceness having so many attributes and factors that makes up the whole package, psychologists have coined it as agreeableness. Agreeableness reflects how important it is for you to get along with other people. A particular Huffington Post article maps out that if you are not that agreeable, then you don’t really care much about how the people around you feel about you. As compared to when you are highly agreeable, then you organize your life in ways to make sure that the people around you are happy and that they feel warmly toward you.
Now, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I mean no one wants to be labeled as a grouch, right? But then like everything else, overdoing the agreeableness factor can be a huge problem. Remember that if you are highly agreeable, you want other people to like you. As a result, you might not often stick up for yourself in lots of situations.
Oftentimes, I get stuck in situations that I would normally not do for the sake of other people. I don’t really know how to say no and still maintain the vibe that I’m still nice. I also had the impression that I had to maintain being nice, and most of that time it doesn’t really work for my favor.
A Psychology Today writer shared my pains when she was in high school. “To me, being the nice one meant being the sycophantic one—devoid of personality or opinions. I found myself agreeing with other people more than offering up my own ideas. And being too nice meant putting other people’s needs and desires before mine. I saw myself bending over backwards for people who wouldn’t dream of returning the favor.
Sure, I was always surrounded by people, but it eventually became difficult to be around them, because I felt like I had to constantly be “on” or live up to my “nice” label. Most times, I felt like the people I so desperately wanted to be liked by were the most inane and boring people I’d ever met. And the depressing thing was I was trying to be just like them.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the international best-seller Eat Pray Love, has written about her own tendency to be not just generous but overly generous. She calls the phenomenon being an “over-giver.” In other words, she’s inclined to give everything she’s capable of giving, regardless of what the recipients feel comfortable receiving. In fact, after her book rendered her very wealthy, Gilbert writes: “I was a dream facilitator, an obstacle-banisher, a life-transformer.”
Psychotherapist and executive coach Jonathan Alpert says that over-givers and people pleasers go hand in hand. “Over-givers use gifts as a way to gain and keep friends, because they think they need to be overly generous to be liked,” he says. It becomes problematic, he continues, when the giver is constantly putting others ahead of his or herself, like the woman profiled in his book who skipped a family funeral to work, for fear of letting down her boss. “People pleasers are afraid of disappointing others, to the point where they neglect their own needs.”
Most commonly, people who give too much are suffering from low self-esteem, explains Alpert. “They think they have to rely on giving to be seen in a positive light,” he explains, and fit the classic people-pleasing profile. “It’s usually people who feel that they don’t have anything to offer a friend beyond their wallet.”
A study profiled in The Economist found that, surprisingly, people don’t really like people who are too generous. In fact, they dislike extreme selflessness as much as they dislike selfishness. Why? Simply put, your unabated giving makes them look—or just feel—bad. So, even as over-givers try to connect with others by giving gifts, they’re likely to create feelings of guilt instead of gratitude.
Plus, as Alpert points out, there’s a difference between giving because you want to and giving because you feel you need to. The first may give you satisfaction, but the second could easily lead to resentment—that feeling you have when you covered brunch because your friend “couldn’t afford it,” only to see his vacation photos fill up your Facebook newsfeed days later. How could he afford that, but not this?
It’s still a long way for me to go, learning how to say no. It’s just recently that I realized that I don’t really need to be too nice, if it means I’m getting myself stuck in situations that make me uncomfortable. In the end, the key is to make sure that we communicate with each other as directly as possible. If we don’t like it, it’s up to us to change it.