Why it Doesn’t Pay to be a Nice Guy (or Gal)

A couple of weekends ago I had a bit of a meltdown. It was late morning and I’d been cleaning out the gutters of our house and scrapping moss of the roof for a couple of hours while growing increasingly frustrated and angry.

You see, I hate home maintenance. It is pretty much at the bottom of the list of activities I would choose to do with my free time.

When Kim got home I was really worked into a froth and exclaimed to her –

“I feel smothered by responsibility!”

There’s nothing wrong with being nice and helping people. But prioritizing that over our own needs will lead to frustration and resentment.

I proceeded to go into five-minute diatribe on how frustrating it can feel to be an adult sometimes. How I feel like there’s no time to do what I want because I’m too busy with responsibilities and trying to live up to the expectations of others to do anything that I want – anything that fills me up and energizes me.

Unfortunately, the breakdown wasn’t a new experience for me. In fact, as I looked back over some of my posts from this year, I recognized a pattern in myself of getting frustrated with responsibility and tired from working too hard, having a small breakdown, and then remembering the importance of taking care of myself. I wrote posts like:

As I looked back over those posts I realized a theme that tied them together – The importance of prioritizing our own needs and taking time for what fills us up and energizes us.

Obviously my pattern has been remembering that importance for a while, taking some action to change and then slipping back into bad habits.

What I’ve realized recently is that, at least to some degree, I think I’m actually afraid of prioritizing my needs.

I’ve spent so much time trying to make everyone else happy that I’m afraid what will happen if I stop, or at least don’t do it so much.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Glover calls this “Nice Guy Syndrome.” He describes three “Covert Contracts” that nice guys tend to live by:

  • If I am a good guy, then everyone will love me and like me (and people I desire will desire me).
  • If I meet other people’s needs without them having to ask, then they will meet my needs without me having to ask.
  • If I do everything right, then I will have a smooth, problem-free life.

He also says,

Because most Nice Guys believe they have kept their side of the contract, they often feel helpless and resentful when other people (and the world) don’t keep their side of the contract.

You can see how easy it might be to fall into this line of thinking but also how self-defeating it can be. There’s nothing wrong with wanting others to be happy, and certainly there are responsibilities that must be attended too. But if pleasing people is our primary goal and we always prioritize our to-do list above things we actually want to do, we will eventually end up being unhappy, tired, angry and resentful.

The hardest part of getting past this line of thinking (at least for me) is recognizing that I’ve allowed things to get this way and it is my responsibility to change it.

Only I can prioritize my own needs, I cannot expect others to do it for me.

Like most other subjects I’ve written about, I’m in the middle of this. Honestly, sometimes it still feels pretty foreign to take time for myself. At times I still feel like when I do I’m being selfish and letting others down.

But I’m also beginning to realize that it is actually smart and healthy and critical to my long-term well-being. It will also make me more equipped to do the things that I need to do.  As with anything new I attempt to learn, I’m confident that with practice it will get easier.

How about you? Do you have trouble taking care of your own needs? Do you need to prioritize things that fill you up and energize you? I’m curious what other recovering “Nice Guys” or Gals have done to make space for their needs and better take care of themselves.