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Are You Too Nice? How to Be Kind and Be Good to Yourself

“We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets.” ~Dalai Lama

I finally decided that I would call my friend. By then, our lunch plans wouldn’t have made any sense since it was getting close to midnight.

She answered and started speaking immediately, “Hey, I lost track of time. I’ve been running a lot of errands today. Oh, did you hear about this new job opportunity I’m getting? No? Let me tell you about it…”

I felt a wave of emotion within me.

This was the third time she had flaked on me this week, and it always ended with me calling her to find out what had happened. I noticed myself looking down at my feet at the end of our conversation, holding the phone in my hand as I said cheerily, “No, it’s totally fine! Don’t worry, I completely understand. I hope you have a good night!”

When I was younger, I would tell people proudly that one of my strong points was that I would never get mad.

“Have I ever been angry?” I would ask, knowing full well my reputation for being mellow. However, as time went on, I began to lose track of what being nice really meant.

When faced with challenges or confrontations with other people, I would automatically act nice, without actually feeling that way. It was as if I was set to automatic, where by habit, I was agreeable. However, on the inside, I felt depressed and anxious whenever someone did something I did not agree with.

Despite feeling sad, I did not give myself an outlet to communicate my opinions, and this finally came to a climax when I was unable to truly voice my thoughts during my four-year relationship.

For me, being agreeable had transformed into something ugly and submissive, where at times I did not recognize myself. During arguments, I would attempt to be accommodating; however, when alone, I was caught up in self-pity and resentment.

Over time, this situation had not changed, and I had made myself feel completely powerless. As I started to think about my day-to-day experiences with other people, I realized that I was being taken for granted.

People assumed that I would not speak out if I were upset. Whether I liked it or not, I had limited myself, and was having less genuine relationships with others.

“If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out of her, or—and the outward semblance is the same—crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more.” ~from The Scarlet Letter

Recently I have started to undo the damage I caused to myself by reinforcing the fact that being nice does not mean that I have to be weak.

Through my experiences, I have realized that being compassionate toward others is only a form of strength when you make sure to self-reflect on how you really feel.

If you’re simply being nice automatically, without reflecting on your own thoughts and values, you’re not being good to yourself.

If you don’t think about how you really feel, being agreeable is simply another mask you’ve put on to hide yourself from the world. If you don’t give yourself a chance to express yourself, you can experience fatigue and resentment.

In college, I studied a sociologist named Hegel, who argued that a person cannot truly be free without self-reflecting on decisions he or she has made. In the same way, in order to be kind in a sustainable manner, you need to reflect on your own needs.

Do you feel that you’re in a similar situation? Here are some strategies that push me to be more mindful, which may also be helpful for you:  

1. Take time to unwind by yourself.

Regardless of how we act toward others, we all need time to just be without acting a certain way for other people.

This can vary depending on your preferences. Unwinding can be as simple as taking a hike, practicing yoga, or spending five minutes breathing deeply and meditating. Make sure to write in some of this time into your schedule.

2. If you have difficulty sharing your opinions, write your thoughts down in a journal.

This journal does not need to be structured or consistent. Just think of this notebook as a place where you can vent. If you feel that you didn’t speak your mind, choose to fully express your opinion here.

3. Recognize toxic relationships.

Do you have a friend who always asks for favors but who doesn’t actually spend time with you? Do you have someone in your life who speaks but doesn’t listen? If you do have these types of relationship, recognition is the first step. A good next step would be #4.

4. Try to make more decisions during your everyday interactions with other people.

For example, you can choose which movie you and your friends are going to go see. Make a decision to say no if a favor is asked of you. Take time to do an activity specifically for your own enjoyment, and don’t move it due to pressure by someone else. Speak up more if you notice a conversation is one-sided. Small victories build momentum.

5. If you choose to follow #4, track the progress you’ve made over time.

My friends and I have decided to write letters to our future selves. I will later receive my letter in one year. This is one way to see how time has changed me, but other ways also help to see short-term results.

For example, you can write in your journal when you expressed your opinion confidently or made a decision for a group of friends. You could also put a dollar in a jar each time you go on an individual adventure. When you collect enough dollars, you can use that money to treat yourself. Be creative.

6. Remember to reach out to your support network.

This includes trustworthy friends, family members, and even online forums.

7. Read and absorb anything that you think would help you.

I find it helpful to read psychology and self-help books. I re-read any advice that speaks to me.

In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, by Dr. Richard Carlson, I read that if you find yourself intimidated by others, try to view them as if they were children or elders. In Born to Win, by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward, I learned that I need to be aware of the role I play whenever I speak with others: the child, the adult, or the parent.

8. Avoid victimizing yourself or blaming others.

These actions will only accumulate negative energy, and will do nothing to solve your problems. We can only be in control of our responses to others’ actions.

9. Finally, don’t make excuses for your feelings—they are valid.

Remember that sometimes the biggest limitations we feel have only been constructed in our own minds.

Photo by PhoTones_TAKUMA

Avatar of Nisha Balaram

About Nisha Balaram

Nisha Balaram is a recent UC Berkeley graduate. Her latest job has been at the Greenlining Institute promoting equity and political participation. She is a passionate reader, bird enthusiast, tea drinker, and rampant list-maker. Interact with her @Ninabee90 or email nishabalaram@gmail.com.

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  • Kristine

    I have the same issue. Thank you for sharing and for the good advice.

  • Kyah

    Thank you for sharing your advice! Your article is very timely for me. I encounter this same issue just this week.

  • jagaroo

    I have tears in my eyes reading this.  I feel like a mirror has been aimed at me and I won’t shy away from the advice suggested.  Thank you.

  • Guest

    This insight could not have come into my life at a better time. Thank you for saying something I needed to hear.

  • Rebecca

    Very poignant. Thank you for the sound advice.

  • Raji

    Loved this post Nisha! 

    Finally, don’t make excuses for your feelings—they are valid.I need to tell this to myself often!

  • Guest13

    I appreciated reading this post. This has been the case with me for many years. What additional reading sources are recommended on this topic? 

  • grk

    First of all, thank you for this wonderful post. Just in time
    for me, as a friend once again did not show up yesterday as promised. I had a feeling of what
    did I do to deserve this constantly. I feel like I am exactly the person
    you describe, too nice, too gracious to say speak up and say that did not go
    well with me. I have discovered that often people tend to mistreat people who
    they think they think they can easily get away with. I also think social
    standing of the person might play a key role in such behaviors. I also feel
    like how you portray yourself in front of friends ( and acquaintances alike) will have
    a  great impact on what they think of
    you. If you constantly put down yourself in front of friends (like I do for my
    weight or million other small things!) might eventually make them treat
    you badly or think this person does not respect herself. People are quick to sense these things early on in
    relationships, I am learning to watch what I am! I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you!

  • Susan

    Thank you for a much needed reminder. I’m 41 and still working on this. It’s gotten better, but just yesterday I found myself not speaking up when I was being taken advantage of. I am still beating myself up over it!

  • Nisha Balaram

    Jagaroo: You’re very welcome, I wish you the best of luck. I always remind myself that escaping this habit is a process. I firmly believe that through struggle, we learn a lot about ourselves and how we relate to the people in our lives. I know that I would not have reached the point where I am now without making many mistakes– and I am grateful for those lapses in judgment. :) 

  • Nisha Balaram

    Same here Raji! Over time, I have realized that no matter how I have ended up in a negative situation, the way I feel has always acted as a red flag. No one deserves to be unhappy. Feelings are so deep inside of ourselves, that they reveal to us an element of truth. A quote from Anna Karenina echoes this, “Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?”   

  • Nisha Balaram

    Hello Susan, thanks for reading! I hope you don’t beat yourself up too much about it. When thinking about a time in which I don’t speak up, I try to picture how I would treat my friend if he or she was going through the same thing. I wouldn’t be too hard on my friend, therefore, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself! 

  • Nisha Balaram

    I am glad that I was able to help in some way. Take care. 

  • Nisha Balaram

    I appreciate your comment. I feel really lucky to be able to share my thoughts with this community. :) 

  • jellybean22

    Thanks for this. Like you, I once thought it was a point of pride to say that I rarely got angry. I said this to someone I was just beginning to date recently. I didn’t stick up for myself when he misbehaved, and by the time things ended, he was subtly disrespecting me in hurtful ways. It was a hard lesson. Around the same time, a new friend began cancelling plans at the last minute over and over. I always responded, “no problem, I understand.’ I finally began to see that it was a problem, and I was unhappy. I was ignoring those feelings. Sometimes I think “nice” people want to know why someone is acting like this, and they try to fix the situation. But often it’s just better to walk away without trying to fix it. I’ve heard the saying “you have to teach people how to treat you,” and I think it’s true. I used to trust that others would treat me well no matter what, but it’s just not how things work.

    I just started reading Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape and it’s been helping me to love myself more so I can stop being too nice.

  • http://evolutionofadreamer.com/ Sasha

    Great post Nisha! I can really relate to this.  I’ve always had the reputation of being the nice girl, the one who always said, “No it’s ok don’t worry about it.”  After spending my entire life being this girl and after several bad personal and professional relationships where I felt I had been taken advantage of I was feeling really drained and depressed.  At first I just felt like a victim,  “Why is everyone always taking advantage of my good nature.” Then over time I realised I was the one that let them take advantage of my good nature by not being assertive and saying how I really felt.  Since that epiphany I’ve been trying really hard to be assertive in all aspects of my life and steer clear of leeches.  I can’t say I’m entirely there yet but I’ve certainly improved and now I feel like a huge weight has been lifted of my shoulders

  • Ally

    I wish I had read this 10 years ago, but it’s nice to see it put in words here. I started acting more like myself since (give or take) 2 years ago. Before that, I would always try to please everyone around me and didn’t even know why I was feeling so bad. Had therapy and everything, but finally it was my own insight and a ‘wrong’ kind of friend to show me I was even better off alone than with the so called friends I had back then. Now, I have made a couple of new friends (and hobbies, I might add), with whom I feel perfectly comfortable!

  • janieo

    Good article if you can live it.

    I find myself not standing up for myself often.  I think it is because I was the youngest and needed validation from my older brothers and sisters.   Above all, my mother wanted peace and I was the end of 8.   Sometimes she would say “I know you are right and that should be enough.  Don’t cause a fight.”   Good in theory but I never learned how to fight fair or voice my opinions. 

  • http://www.motivation.net.au/quotes/love-quotes Romantic Quotes

    You…are…awesome! This blog is so great. I
    really hope more people read this and get what you’re saying, because let me
    tell you, its important stuff.

  • Renpic

    I can so relate to this, always being the ‘nice’ or ‘laid back’ person, the compassionate one.  The problem is that I act so patient and understanding…then I realize (hours, days, months later) that I was actually giving away too much energy (to the wrong person), and not truly getting what I needed, because I never asked for that directly!  I’d get angry and this emotion would come out in a strange way, at the wrong time – as self-pity, resentment, even physical violence (just punching a pillow– not a person!).    

    So I would say to balance the ‘asking for what you need’ idea with ‘appropriate giving.’  It all comes down to choosing where you invest your energy.  But first you have to know that you have invested in yourself enough that you have some to give – in a real way.   

  • Dwatson Net

    it seems fate brought me to read this piece and just at the right time too. it IS possible to change the habits of a lifetime but it takes time. also, compassion applys to the ‘self’. you must show yourself compassion to be happy.

    thanks Nisha. all readers (and writer) take care. David.

  • sundancebleu

    Thanks so much for this, It really was just what I needed! I’m going to use your list!

  • Warren O’Bryan

    Simply adored this post. Funny how I see myself in this story.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for writing this!!! It’s going straight in my “save” folder.
    These sound like words and struggles right from my very own mouth. I am
    TOO nice and it’s slowly killing me.

    I see you are a UC Berkeley graduate. That is my number 1 dream school
    right now that I’m hoping I can transfer too. I keep seeing and hearing
    it mentioned. Only more signs that it’s where I’m meant to be c:

    Much love,

    Sarah

  • Katy

    I’m going to write #8 in my thought journal! (well… notebook.) Something profound yet simple that I always seem to forget.

  • Infinity

    Thank you sharing. I always tell myself “be polite and respectful with everyone but not necessary nice.” Politeness and respect are something different from (over) kindness.

  • Infinity

    Thank you for sharing. I always tell myself “be polite and respectful with everyone but not necessary nice.” Politeness and respect are something different from (over) kindness.

  • Nisha Balaram

    Renpic: I agree! Personal investment is definitely a must. Also, I think that it’s difficult to really know what you would want (and ask for it) without acknowledging that you have “wants” in the first place. Thanks for reading.

  • Nisha Balaram

    I do think that’s a very valid point. As for my thoughts on it, when I think of a friendship that isn’t equal, I don’t think about friends thinking a certain way/putting you down because they believe that you are not worthy of more. While some individuals can be led to think negatively, it’s not worthwhile in the long-run to ponder too much about it because we’ll never really know what’s inside someone’s head. In the end, when we focus on what someone else thinks, we are acting in a more reactive way instead of active.

    My main point about building successful relationships with others is to see yourself as writing the script between yourself and another individual. A lot of the times, the way a person reacts is due to the way that you initially act. So, let’s say I say sorry for having a bad hair day, and my friend lets me know that it’s okay. Had I not mentioned my hair, my friend wouldn’t have necessarily thought of the issue, or wouldn’t have been placed in the role of comforting me about it. It’s important to pay attention to weak speech and weak scripts that we follow, since humans are very reactive creatures. Overall, the most control we have over a situation is over ourselves. I do believe that while your friends may have heard you put yourself down a lot, this can be healed by you proactively being more positive about yourself. In the same way that something can become negative, it can also become more positive. Good luck. :)

  • Nisha Balaram

    Hello Sasha, thanks for sharing your story. I find it inspiring, and I know that sometimes being in uncomfortable situations with this serves as a good reminder to keep us on the right path!

  • Nisha Balaram

    Thank YOU! :)

  • Nisha Balaram

    Hello Sarah, I’m glad you liked it! Best of luck with transferring. I know that I learned a lot from my time in the Bay Area, and I hope that others can experience the same thing.

  • Nisha Balaram

    Infinity: Yes, I agree with you 100%. Being nice can be found at a variety of levels. Along with that reminder, I also tell myself that if I’m kind to others, I must not leave myself out of that equation. If being nice to others somehow hurts my chances of being gentle with myself, this ultimately leads me to resent my own behavior.

  • Nisha Balaram

    I feel that sometimes we forget the simple things most of all! We get caught up in the details.

  • Christine

    I used to be like that and the steps you’ve put here are so helpful to those that want to experience real self worth. The feeling is amazeballs xx

  • shelby cantrell

    proverbs 14:10 Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.

  • Alexa

    I have had the same problem of not speaking up for myself, letting myself get taken advantage of by other people, being too nice, etc. for a good many years of my life. Recently what has helped me the most to learn the words that give me a voice and opinion are:

    - positive affirmations – I read a bunch from the internet, self-help books, spiritual literature (Tao Te-Ching, the Bible, etc.) and ones that I make up on my own
    - music – I have played and listened to music all of my life, and hearing song lyrics and melodies sometimes speak for my feelings or thoughts when I don’t have the words (or music notes) myself to express them. Writing music and poetry has also helped me articulate a lot of my reactions to things and strange experiences with other people, which can act similar to how journaling works.

    - reading – Okay, this is a big one for me. If I “extreme-read,” reading everything I can think of until I find just the right words and opinons that express what I want to say or how I feel about something, that usually acts like a tree branch for me. If I am the tree, and these couple books I read are some branches – after I read those two books, I usually find myself going onto the internet to read more on the books’ websites and forums related to the books’ topics, and then watching tons of videos on it, then finding this activist group that speaks out against racism or whatever it was that was the issue for me that I could not articulate originally…and then I find myself subscribing to a newsletter and meeting other people in real life that feel the same way and then all of the sudden – and here’s the point of all this – I realize that I have a LOT more words than I had had before I read that first book, plus connections, networks, support groups and relationships and tons of other references that, the next time someone comes up to me and says something that I just hold my breath to, I feel supported enough, and have the confidence and words to say that that is not how I think or feel. This one is good for people who don’t feel like they have the words already inside them or who have a gut feeling, but not the knowledge or safe space in which to explore that feeling any further.

    I think that this is what Nisha meant by first finding how you yourself feel about something before being too kind.

    There are people who will be safe spaces in which to talk about things that are important to us, or sensitive things such as our feelings, and then there will be people who definitly do not provide a safe space. It’s important to note for yourself whenever you feel someone providing a safe space and when they are not. Maybe you can start with, when you don’t feel safe, something like “I don’t feel comfortable talking with you about this, so, sorry, I am not going to discuss this with you any further.”

    Education – education’s big because you can learn so much from taking courses – in just about anything, from psychology, music, environmental issues, politics, gender issues, mathematics, languages…for me, the more that I know about various aspects of this country and world we live in, the more current events I’m up to date on, the easier for me it is to form my own opinion and to be able to react in ways that feel genuine to me when I’m out in the world – whether I’m buying something in the supermarket or talking to people at work.

    Participate in in-person group discussions (only, though, if the group provides a safe space for you, as there are definitly groups out there in which we would not feel safe opening ourselves up or being vulnerable in order to explore our thoughts and opinions) – there are several anarchist bookstores where I have lived that host weekly lectures and groups that get together and talk about wide ranges of issues, from the environment/food issues, to gender, sexuality, health, and more. There are all kinds of groups out there where you can get together with other people and discuss topics that are going on in the world – the more practice you have with speaking, and expressing your opinion, the easier it can become.

    The last one I’ll put here, is mental removal in a conversation – this means that you mentally “remove” yourself from the other person’s thinking. If you are talking with another person, whoever they are, a friend, family member, peer, or stranger, you may notice that you are clinging onto their thoughts with your own mind and not making any thoughts of your own. At the moment you realize this, which may require practice for some people, you can just remove your mind from the tracking of theirs, which can be actually moving your head a little bit so that you sort of take hold of your brain again. After you take hold of your mind again, think of what you want to say next before the person finishes their sentence or if they’re just rambling, then say that next thing when they’re done or interrupt them. Don’t worry about missing what they said in the second half of their sentence – what your brain will do is it will say what you have thought about saying, then it will gather the new information from what they just said, and compute it into the larger picture of the conversation or into the point where you are at with the conversation. This helps me a lot. Sometimes we are so emotionally invested in what is going on when we are talking with people that we can be hard to remove ourselves from the other person’s words. When that happens, I usually end up saying something like, “I hear that you want to talk, but I am feeling really emotional right now, and I need to go be by myself now,” or “I hear what you are saying, but I disagree with you” or “I really can’t talk right now, but I hope that you’re doing okay.”

    It has taken me years to learn all of these things, so it may take time – or it may not. The essential thing is that you use words, word, re-word, figure out different ways to say things until what you want to say is just right, and the more you practice speaking, speaking up, the easier it will get – the more time you take to figure out what your opinion is of something, and to get to know yourself, the easier it will be to say no to people during the day at the times when you really need to meet your personal needs.

    We create our own worlds, our own experiences of life, and freedom comes the instant, whatever time of day or point in life, that we realize we already are free.

  • Bill

    Hi everyone . It alway’s feels warm and nice to see other people to have the same stuff going on like me. I considerd myself alway’s to be a strong man and i still do but i also recognize that i’m naieve as well. I LOVE people and hanging out with them . I feel bad in a instant if i hurt someone and correct myself and promise myself to never do it again . But when i let someone i love hurt me i close myself up . I tend to avoid it because i’m scared to lose my temper and say something that can hurt the other . I secretly hope that the other will come to his senses by himself like i tend to do . But i become alway’s dissappointed . Sow this last year’s i learned to speak up or to alway’s shut up for the rest of my life . Supprisely they than give me the respect i waited for . At that point i start to feel bad like i did something wrong . Probably because i was used to it over the year’s to be carefull with other’s when they just enjoyed my humbelness if i can call it like that . The most difficult one’s were my family who wanted to leave me that way on a subconsciousness level . Best lesson i learned was the world isen’t a fairy tall and also no nightmare . You decide who you want around you . And that does’nt makes you pretentious . First i have to learn to love myself before i can love someonelse . Thanks for the info and you’re vieuws . Love it !

  • Becky

    Thank you so much for this post. I recently lost one of my best friends. Among other things he has reproached me for being “too nice” to people. At first I couldn’t understand how being too nice could be a problem, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that he was right. Your article seems to hit the nail right on the head. Realising this about myself has not been easy and I wager it will not be easy in the future; but from now on I will try to change the way I am as so to feel more at ease with myself. I think, in the end, the most important thing is that you are happy with yourself and the decisions you make.

  • Keith

    The internet is full of terribly written articles with little real value and a lot of fluff; not this one! Nisha knows what she is talking about here and expresses herself very well. I can’t say enough good things here. I enjoyed the article and look forward to reading more from her. Great work Nisha!

  • Ana

    Please correct the numbering , used no. 5 twice

  • Ancilla

    I enjoy reading your article. Thank you for posting this,

  • Jabuticaba Treegoddess

    i loved this part: “Through my experiences, I have realized that being compassionate toward others is only a form of strength when you make sure to self-reflect on how you really feel.”
    Being nice without thinking if it is in line with one’s truth is worthless niceness… I feel like I am compulsively nice, I like the idea of stopping to think, “do I even want to be nice to this person?” not that i would ever be mean, but I am like waaaaaaaay too nice….

  • Tanvir

    I really needed this right now. This girl and I were very much in love, and though she resisted initially – and attempted to put up barriers – she eventually gave in, and couldn’t any longer deny how she felt. Things have been amazing for the last few months. Today she had a conversation with her mom – who alluded to the fact her daughter being in a relationship would really upset her. Well, she just can’t handle the guilt anymore, and has expressed her desire for things to return to how they were in the past. Suddenly, my world has just changed. The dream state I was in is transitionally into something so sad and empty.

    It makes it even harder because I know how strongly she feels, and I know it’s her parents that are being the barrier here – between us being together. She initially didn’t have the ability to express the fact that she felt things needed to return to how they were before…but eventually, later today, she admitted to fact that she felt she was being selfish in not making clear where we stood.

    I came to this article, because whenever she would say ‘I don’t think you fully understand how I feel’…it would hurt me, because I went to such ends to support her, empathize, and be there. But it got to the point where I felt my situation was being perceived as ‘secondary’ – as if my pain, and struggle resulting from the complications of our ‘unofficial relationship’ weren’t as prominent or important.

    Whenever I felt an argument was immanent, I would do all possible to show that I agree. But perhaps that has become the problem. Because perhaps it’s because I’ve suppressed so much, that she’s come to see my struggle as not as ‘big’ of a struggle and emotional toll as hers.

    Out of fear of going on too much of a tangent, I’m gonna stop. All in all, I need to remember how my feelings matter to, and that I can’t allow myself to accept that my emotional toll comes second. Nor can I stand by while others tell me that ‘I don’t understand.’ You go to such ends to show someone you care, and they still say that. That’s what hurt, it hurts alot.

    Thank you Nisha. Thank you so much.

  • bird

    What if the person who is taking you for granted was your support system…