As a recovering approval addict, I’m convinced we not only learn about God in the church, but also unhealthy behaviors that seem godly, but only work to isolate us from each other. We rarely question the assumptions handed down to us until we face some kind of identity quake that compels us to look deeper. I've come to the conclusion that the church subculture teaches or a least reinforces one dubious relational style; We are taught to present an image of pleasantness, while living lives of anguish and self-protection designed to keep us at arms length. Although we are healthier when we live authentic, transparent lives, we learn to hide behind an agreeable mask. As one author wrote, ¨We have learned to be nice in order to be accepted by others.¨
The author elaborates on this idea further by saying:
¨Maybe you have noticed your own contradictions in your interactions with people, expressed in the interests of being nice. Any or all of the following examples may apply:
You remain silent when you might have spoken out and expressed authentic feelings… you are less than honest in giving your opinion and repeat clichés as if they were meaningful statements. You rarely express so-called negative emotions such as sadness or outrage, preferring to blot out or rationalize events that set off such feelings. In order to appease others you do things you regret or simply wish you had not done that you cannot bring yourself to undo.
You say nothing rather than risk confrontation even when an issue arises about which you have strong feelings. ..
You use the telephone caller identification to hide from people rather than telling them that they have called at an inconvenient time… Still, you have spent a lifetime learning that niceness is good, and as far as you can see, niceness is good, so you carry on and try to ignore the grating inside.¨
When you or I fail to express our thoughts or feelings or refuse to hear what others say, we are falling into the tyranny of ¨niceness¨. Evelyn Sommers wrote, ¨The word nice was derived from the Latin nescius, meaning,´ ignorant´ and the French nescire, meaning ´not to know´. It is the notion of silence and silencing that links current use of nice to these Latin and French derivatives. …There is a shutting down – or silencing – or oneself or the other. In this way silence, in some form or degree, is the essential characteristic of being nice…
Niceness as a way of life is typified by passivity, sterility, obedience, denial, avoidance, and fear of making a direct, honest statement.¨¨Niceness fosters a culture of aloneness. Nice people exist in separate worlds, rarely or never revealing themselves to others in their lives. They may have lots of superficial communication with other people but little real connection. They fear aloneness, but their niceness perpetuates it.¨ ¨Letting go of niceness does not mean hurting people with unnecessary and attacking ´truths´.
Although such outspokenness might be mistaken for authenticity in the early stages of transformation, it is not the goal. Attacking truths, when submitted to scrutiny, rarely exist on their own. More often, they are part of a larger phenomenon in which the speaker has not worked out the complete extent of his or her feelings about a person or matter. On their own, these truths are not completely honest.As we mature, we add layers to our personalities, layers of complexity that make us unique and add to our character.
Giving up niceness means dispensing with a particular part of that complexity, a part that interferes with honest, direct relationships and makes us appear bland. We do not need to hide behind white lies or euphemisms to make ourselves acceptable. As thinking, feeling individuals we generate plenty of individual differences and complexity, yet remain similar enough to others to engage many people in satisfying relationships. We must trust ourselves that this is enough, that we do not need to place a wall of niceness between us and others to ensure acceptance. Giving up niceness means integrating the layers of personality and giving them expression, showing ourselves to the world in all our glorious uniqueness.¨
James Rapson writes, “What you’re describing is very common with people who are anxious to please. It's important to know that this doesn’t happen because of a lack of courage or character. It happens because of a lack of security deep inside. Building that sense of security takes time, but ultimately it can change your whole life. By exploring your fears and subsequent behaviors, you are opening yourself to healing and growth.”My role in the church for years and years allowed me to focus on others' needs so I didn’t have to think about my own.
Now I’m a few years out from a bad marriage and slowly those people-pleasing tendencies have been creeping back. Chronic niceness is like driving a vehicle that has no brakes. Do you suffer from any of the symptoms below? Please note that not all the traits will apply to you as niceness manifests itself in different forms:
"You are always longing for something or someone.
You feel worried or fretful so often it seems normal.
You can't keep romance sizzling, and often can't even get romance started.
You often don't know what you want.
You're always thinking about what you wish you had said.
You constantly second guess yourself.
You apologize frequently, or for things you are not responsible for.
You take what you're given instead of asking for what you want.
You get preoccupied with what other people think of you.
You are frequently surprised that other people don't reciprocate your good will.
You do favors for people with the secret hope they will reciprocate.
You are more prone to feel sorry for yourself than to take action and fix a problem.
You tend to give more than you get (you might be resentful about this).
It seems like other people get the attention or the acknowledgment.
It seems like other people get the dates (maybe your friends tell you you're a great catch).
Your emotional state mirrors your partner's (if your partner isn't happy, you aren't happy)."
Troubled Reflector © 2008