Your Neurochemical Self

Getting real with a 200-million-year-old brain

The Dangers of Self-Identifying as “Too Nice”

Defining yourself as "too nice" causes trouble.

Do you explain your frustrations by telling yourself "I'm too nice"? That may feel good in the moment, but consider these consequences:

  • It distracts you from other ways to frame the problem.
  • You may hurt rather than help those you think you're being nice to.
  • Being less nice might be the wrong solution.

Let's examine these potential dangers.

Is "being nice" the real cause of the problem?
Maybe your frustrations have another cause. You may be "running east to find a sunset" (to steal a phrase from Tony Robbins). You will never catch a sunset with that strategy, whether you're nice or not. A flawed strategy can be fixed with careful observation, but you don't observe when you're convinced you already know what the problem is. Stop relying on the "too-nice" identity and your mind opens to alternatives.
Are you enabling bad behavior in others?
Probably you have other motives for behavior you define as "nice." Maybe you fear conflict or rejection. Your "nice" gestures help you avoid these fears. But rewarding bad behavior leads to more bad behavior. If you're extra nice when others are hostile, you could end up with more conflict. If you're nice to people who are rejecting, you end up with more rejection. Being nice can sugar-coat a bitter pill, but it doesn't eliminate the bitterness. Stop coating things with sugar and you may get a different result.

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Is there a better solution than "stop being nice"?
When you frame a problem as "being too nice," the conclusion that follows is to be not-nice. That can obscure better solutions. Let's say you think you're doing more than your share at work or at home, and you're "too nice" to say anything. Then one day you suddenly explode and make irate demands. Your anger startles co-workers or family and doesn't get what you seek. Making requests in another way might have gotten more. But to do that you must look beyond the nice-guy explanation of the problem.

We mammals are disposed to compare ourselves to others. A mammal in the wild is always deciding whether to leap at a delicious chunk of food or to defer to a bigger member of the herd or pack or troop. The mammal brain is always choosing to jump at a mating opportunity or hold back in order to stay safe. Your mammal brain evolved to live in a group. That means getting your needs met while surrounded by others seeking to meet their needs. This is not a problem to solve. It's a reality that comes with the gift of life. 

Once you accept your mammalian nature, you actually waste less attention on these social comparisons. Instead of getting hooked on analyzing them, you just accept that a mammal brain generates these thoughts and then move on to the next thought. You free your cortex for new information about how to get what you need.

The quirky habits of the mammalian brain are explained in my books, Meet Your Happy Chemicals,  I, Mammal, and Beyond Cynical


Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., is the author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute.


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