I have a theory: There’s a price to being nice all the time for some of us…it’s called numbness. When I say numbness, I mean unconscious. When I say numbness, I mean “being on auto pilot.” When I say numbness, I am specifically referring to living without the ability to be authentic. When I say numbness, I mean not being real.
I’M NOT SAYING…
Now, I’m not advocating that the answer to being nice all the time is to go in the opposite direction and suddenly become mean to everyone or to suddenly give yourself permission to be rude to less fortunate people or to intentionally injure someone who actually can’t fend for themselves. I’m not talking about adopting a green light policy on bullying or meanness as a way of curbing old tendencies to be chronically nice. Nope, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
In fact, if I have an intention at all it’s to introduce the ideas of not doing anything on “auto pilot” and that peace at any price is extremely toxic to the body. When I’m practicing inauthentic niceness, eventually there’s unwanted poison circulating inside me and there’s unfair poison going out from me towards others…In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that no one benefits from chronic inauthentic niceness!
KNEE-JERK PEOPLE PLEASING
As I’ve alluded to above, the tendency to be a knee-jerk people pleaser can be dangerous to your health. The unconscious habit of accepting commitments you don’t really want or staying in situations or relationships that drain you of your energy and make you stressed-out often times results from the inability to handle confrontation of any kind. That was me.
OVER AVOIDANCE IS HABIT FORMING
This compulsive over-avoidance of confrontation can become a habit in the brain. I recently attended a continuing education class (for nurses and other health professionals) called “How The Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower Is Not Enough.” It seems that compulsive over-avoidance was classified as an addiction-like brain habit and associated with chronic anxiety and depression. Chronic anxiety can increase the cortisol levels in our body which (over the long term) can lead to higher risks of diabetes, hypertension and other stress-related syndromes. Depression, of course, can be lethal.
In my own case, for years I had little or no tolerance for aggression or confrontation, whether it was aimed towards me or whether I was the one being perceived as the aggressor. I simply couldn’t handle it and I lived my life that way. I avoided aggression and confrontation at all costs. As you can imagine, the more I avoided confrontation, the more rigid, brittle and anxious I became because … the fact is that … LIFE CONTAINS AGGRESSION … LIFE IS RUDE SOMETIMES … CONFRONTATIONS ARE A PART OF NORMAL LIFE AND NORMAL RELATIONSHIPS.
(Sorry for the “CAPS!”)…(See what I mean?!!!)
In my case, the tenseness and stress I experienced from not being able to say “No” caused a “rebound resentment” inside me. I would then find myself saying, “I’ve ignored my signals for so long, how can I possibly own my real truth now? What will they think of me?” And then, predictably, they became the source of my resentment. I couldn’t quite make the leap that it was my own longstanding compulsive aggression over-avoidance tendencies that were the problem…and not the people I was resenting. I couldn’t see that it was my own aggression phobia that was the real culprit.
Meanwhile, back to my brewing resentment towards them. I don’t know about you but, for me, resentment is emotionally painful. And, being an over-avoider, I had little ability to deal with emotional pain other than to numb it (with food, worry, rumination, self criticism, criticism of others, low level depression and anxiety, etc).
Thus, the formula for my theory: chronic inauthentic niceness <eventually> equals numbness.
THE PRICE OF NOT BEING REAL
This is a passage taken from a book called, Creative Aggression, written by Dr. George Bach and Dr. Herb Goldberg (from back in 1974!). It reads: “NICE behavior eventually has a “price” for both the “nice” guy and the person or persons involved with him. It is alienating, indirectly hostile, and self destructive.”
Their book goes on to explain why chronic niceness leads to unfulfilling relationships with others and lack of authentic connections. I can attest to that. And the inauthentic relationship that troubled me the most was between me, myself and I. My inability to own my authentic reactions and responses to life, left me feeling indirectly hostile towards not only others but myself! And that’s a painful place to live…needs numbing…a cycle…cortisol…weight gain…eeeek!
It finally dawned on me one day…I want to be REAL. I want my body to trust me and I want to learn to trust my body.
I’VE BEEN THERE
A little story: Several years ago, I found I was ready to change an agreement I had with someone. She was a fairly aggressive and intimidating person for me. The agreement involved a daily activity. I went along with this activity in the beginning as a novelty even though I didn’t like it. I felt weak and drained of energy and apprehensive every time I did it but I did it. And then, after many months, it occurred to me that I had had enough. I requested that we re-negotiate our daily activity. She refused. We had a small, aggressive exchange ending with me backing down. I then continued to do that inauthentically nice daily activity (and hate it) for 6 more months!!!
REAL DOES HAPPEN!
I share this not to embarrass myself but to make the positive connection between trusting my body and eventually recovering from chronic (fake) niceness. Eventually the desire to trust my body and listen to its signals became more important to me than people pleasing. It didn’t happen overnight…but eventually it did happen! I eventually became
crystal clear that this arrangement did not work for me and, in fact, I ended it. As I began using the very same tools that I still use on myself today, I was able to end it as calmly and clearly and securely as I’ve ever done anything in my life. I chose loving my body over her approval. And I became willing to be perceived as “the bad guy” if that’s what it took. I went face-to-face with my chronic aggression over-avoidance tendencies. And I went face-to-face with a lot of internal bullying and stressful thinking from my own inner critic…and eventually I got there! A lot of love began to flow in the process.
WHAT DOES YOUR REAL LOOK LIKE?
If you’d like to become more real, more authentically you…if you suspect you’re a little too nice all the time…there is hope. What does your real look like? In my experience, loving yourself into REAL happens very much the same way for humans as it did for the little toy rabbit, in the story of “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams, except instead of a boy loving a toy rabbit into real, it happens by you choosing to love your body into real. I’m happy to help.
BIT BY BIT
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender; before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” – from The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams.
With love and gratitude,
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