Is “NICE” the New 4 Letter Word?

Dear Woo Woo Girl:
Is being “nice” the new four letter word? I have been called “too nice” as if it is a terrible thing.  I tend to be with people who are a little needy, or are having problems. Sometimes they take advantage of my time, and my willingness to be open. I seem to be drawn to these types of people and I want to help.  I feel for them, but people disappoint me, because when they are stronger, they don’t need me as much. My husband tells me I am too nice. In some ways I agree that I could be stronger-maybe that’s not the right word- maybe it’s about not being so open, because it can be exhausting and disappointing. But on the other hand, people like me because I am this way. When I met my husband he was depressed, so you see it’s not all bad. I wasn’t too nice then. I do think that I am taken advantage of, but I will speak up if I am pushed. So, I dunno. I’m a bit confused. How do you define “nice” and is it a bad thing?
Signed, Trying to Figure It Out

Dear Trying to Figure It Out!
You are a girl after my own heart. I too have been told I am too “nice” which I find immensely insulting. Why? Because it implies you don’t know the kind of person you are being nice too AND that you are unaware that you might be taken advantage of. It suggests a kind of ignorance on mine and your part.

I’ll begrudgingly admit it, though. There is a grain of truth in this which irks me to no end.

Being nice is not as simplistic as it appears. Nice for me means you are courteous, accepting and open to others.  

BUT there is also the “nice” in a door mat kind of way.

I was the girl who just couldn’t say no, which speaks to working out a number of issues like learning to be assertive, and knowing you are not on this planet to fill other’s needs. This is usually what people refer to when they make remarks that you are just too nice. It’s the wrong kind, for sure. It might also be for the wrong reasons. Being nice to be accepted isn’t the way to go. Soooo, your husband might have a point.

I had a friend- a drama queen who was going through a variety of life stuff. We were friends for about 7 years, and each year was more dramatic than the next. I hung in there because I felt for her situation, but I also felt that we all go through shit and it would eventually reset into a different kind of friendship. Wrong! It was her modus operandi and exhausting. We ended up parting ways. It was hurtful because I was there to pick up the pieces and not to experience the fun stuff.

So why was I so “nice?”

I saw her “potential” and not the fact that she was unable to actualize it. This was a scenario that I played out with both parents, particularly my mother. I wanted to help her actualize everything inside her. She was smart, creative, strong, and interesting. I knew what she could offer the world and I empathized with her struggle.  I was more interested in her growth then my own, because I didn’t know I was supposed to grow too!

Strange right. But this is where “nice” people get caught. Taking pleasure in others growth over their own needs. That is what your detractors are calling you out on. You are not being proactive enough with yourself and what you want. Sometimes it is a failing, a self- sacrifice. But it’s also a learning opportunity. I became very wise. I have always had a sense of knowing, and the upside of being “nice” expanded that and proved me right many times.

You could redirect the niceness in you towards charitable acts. I make sandwiches for the homeless – never once has someone said “stop being so nice.” It allows me to act on the compassion I feel without the emotional baggage. But let’s not be fooled here. I know people who are cause driven and whether it is community driven or on an individual basis, it is the same drive. The need to “save” someone or something fuels them. It can be just as  tricky – the perception of need rather than the reality, will be blurred if they become too immersed in it.

 No matter how you give, it makes you feel good. It’s just that people judge you harsher if you give to the individual over the larger community because it’s messier, and brings out your personal needs more. But be clear here. You are giving for the same reason. Just the personal cost is less.

I think “nice” people feel others pain so much that they try to fill their void.
 It’s not easy being empathetic- to literally feel others pain.

 It’s a gift, a burden, a sacrifice, a compassionate ball and chain.

I truly believe that there should be more people in the world like you and me. There is absolutely nothing wrong in feeling others pain and responding to it. Just protect yourself. I have taught myself to help with logic rather raw compassion. The price is too large to pay.

My advice to you is to be clear in knowing why you are open and giving. I built a house for a single mother in Belize. Why? Because I felt for the conditions of the people living in that country, but I also liked the challenge of doing something I hadn’t done before. I was also curious.

Did they take advantage of me? Of course they did. It wasn’t an easy process. Did I know this? Of course I did. Did I stop it? No. Because my need was being served too. This is the key. We live on and off each other.

And if you remember this and don’t fall prey to others judging and using you, go for it.

At the end of a long day of giving, I suggest you ask yourself, what need in me does this serve? If I stick by this person, or donate money to this cause, will I fix something tangible for them or am I taking the lazy way out and amusing myself by feeling needed. Will I regret it, or more importantly feel angry? There is much anger and hurt burning inside if you feel you have been taken advantage of and misread the situation. It takes time to get over. Even “nice” people feel pissed.

If I feel that I gave a vital part of me and I was dismissed, it cuts deep. That is the problem with being nice. Why people act the way they do, is for a 1000 different reasons; the fact that we are “nice” will not change them. If they are inherently selfish there will never be enough nice for them. So how do you save yourself from disappointment? I rely on this forgiveness meditation. It releases the anger and allows me to analyze where I went wrong. It brings me back to a state of conscious living which is essential.

Being conscious in who, why, and what you serve is essential to the state of being nice.

So, take a step back. Ask why am I with this person; what am I getting out of it; what kind of difference do I want to make; and do I need anything in return? Which you shouldn’t, you know. If you are giving, give freely without expecting anything.
It frees you, and brings you back to conscious living.