A nice guy can be quickly confused when they hear the statement that women are attracted to assholes and that nice guys finish last. I suffered from the same confusion, not knowing why being nice is so problematic.
I always wanted to be exclusively a nice person, but that often didn’t lead to the results I wanted. Sometimes it backfired in a nasty way and I didn’t understand why. At the end of the day, I was only being nice.
The confusion went away after reading No More Mr. Nice Guy written by the psychotherapist Robert A. Glover. After reading the book, I finally understood that there is a healthy form of being nice (something we should all do) and a very toxic one (fawning).
And the toxic form is the one that backfires almost every time, because it’s nothing but a manipulation strategy.
Being a nice guy (the toxic form we’ll talk about from now on) is more or less only about seeking approval. What happens in the end is that a nice guy tries to please everyone, but he pleases nobody, not even himself.
You can recognize the toxic nice guy behavior quite fast (even when you resort to such unhealthy behavior) – they:
- Only give, give, give and expect to be appreciated for their generosity
- Tend to fix other people’s problems, without even being asked
- Seek approval from others at all costs
- Avoid conflict and try to keep their world as smooth as possible
- Try to hide their mistakes and flaws
- Want to always do things the “right way”
- Repress their feelings and analyze rather than feel
- Have big difficulties making their needs a priority
- Put their partner in the emotional center with covert strings attached
The nice guy syndrome is unfortunately a very common thing. If you’re struggling with always trying to be a nice guy and having a terrible love life (and other relationships), immediately read the book No More Mr. Nice Guy.
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It will definitely transform your life and help you solve the dilemma of when it does make sense to be nice and when you’re only fawning and (unconscious) manipulating others, even though you probably have good intentions.
As I said, you should definitely read the book, but I decided to write a short book summary, so you can quickly see where the frustrations and challenges of always being a nice guy come from.
Nice guys aren’t really that nice
The underlying false belief of nice guys is that being good, giving and caring leads to being loved, happy and fulfilled.
They believe if they do all things the right way, they will live a happy, problem-free life and everything they ever wanted will fall straight into their laps. Because they are nice, they assume that they deserve a good life without any struggle.
Mr. Nice Guy believes that if he is nice, he will be loved, have a smooth life and all his needs will be met.
Being nice is far from enough to be successful and care free in life. But there is one even bigger catch in the nice guy game. Nice guys are anything but nice. Their behavior is just a manipulative mask in hopes of getting something they want.
Being nice is a form of nice guys trying to calm down their neediness. Consequently, these men swing back and forth between being ultra-nice and not so nice.
Their other, not-so-nice side is soon reveled with behaviors like:
- Dishonesty – They tend to hide their flaws and mistakes, avoid conflict, repress their feelings and rarely say what they think. These are all forms of dishonesty.
- Secrecy – Nice guys tend to hide everything that might not win them approval or might upset others. Thus, they many times hide things or are very secretive.
- Manipulation – A nice guy always has a big problem asking directly and clearly expressing his needs. Consequently, they resort to manipulation to get their needs met.
- Control – By being nice, there are always string attached. Expectations of some sort behavior or favor in return. That’s an indirect tendency to control people and things.
- Fawning – Their behavior is driven by giving, but with unconscious and unspoken attachments, in forms of love, appreciation and smooth life. But the payback expectations are very unrealistic and then they feel like they get very little in return for their generosity.
- Passive-aggression – Most often their negative feelings and frustrations are expressed in indirect, passive-aggressive ways. Examples are being unavailable, forgetting, not following through, being late, annoying behaviors or even erection problems.
- Rage – They deny being angry and don’t express their anger when needed, and consequently the rage escalates inside them until one day they lose their temper out of nowhere.
And the list goes on and on. Nice guys are drawn to addictions, have difficulty setting boundaries, frequently isolate themselves, are attracted to people and situations that need fixing, they can be terrible listeners impatient to respond and they often blame their partners and other people for their unhappiness.
They operate out of a covert contract that they will always be nice and fawning, but in return they will get something they want. But that something they want is never enough.
Mr. Nice Guy is usually above averagely talented and intelligent, but somehow an underachiever. He fails to live up to his full potential, oftentimes because he’s always “nice”.
Seeking women’s approval at all cost
Usually, nice guys see women’s approval as their ultimate validation of self-worth. If a woman is flirtatious, responds with a smile, touch, sex or attentiveness, it means they are worth something.
And if a woman they like is depressed, in a bad mood or angry, they feel as if they’re not accepted and consequently worthless. The self-worth of a nice guy greatly depends on a woman’s approval.
But there’s more. The ultimate woman’s approval for a nice guy is sex.
And a nice guy believes that if he is nice to a woman, she will always be in a good mood around him and have sex with him sooner or later. Logically, if a woman is not in a good mood, that needs to be immediately fixed – with solutions, sacrifice, manipulation, gifts, lies, whatever.
Mr. Nice Guy’s niceness is a manipulation and his expectations are completely unrealistic. He wants a perfect woman with a perfect relationship, in exchange for being always nice.
Consequently, everything they do is to try to win a woman’s approval or avoid disapproval. A nice guy thinks he must hide all his flaws and shortcomings and forget about his own needs.
He assumes if he makes a woman happy by being nice, she will recognize his greatness and start paying attention to his needs – have sex with him, in other words. Beneath the nice facade, every nice guy is extremely needy.
They believe their needs drove away the people they love when they were young (more about that later), thus they express their neediness in a very indirect, unclear, manipulative and controlling way. Always being nice is a form of neediness. Period.
Not only is such behavior far from attractive, even if nice guys do end up in a relationship they build a big wall. They prevent people from getting to close to them, because they are afraid of being abandoned. That’s why they run to:
- Isolation instead
For all the nice guys, it feels kind of uncomfortable if their needs are actually met. So sooner or later, they find a way to push people away.
- They self-sabotage themselves,
- intentionally create distance,
- resort to passive-aggressiveness,
- operate from unspoken agendas and
- get obsessed with unavailable people.
Not a fun person to be around with, right?
Women don’t want a needy, wimpy and manipulative man, but a man who is not afraid of life, is adventurous and knows how to please himself. Women look for someone with his balls still intact, not a needy manipulative perfectionist.
The opposite of a nice guy is not a jerk, but an integrated male
Nice guys often think in all-or-nothing ways. They can either be nice or “jerks”. Consequently, they try to be nice all the time.
But the only alternative to being nice is not being a jerk or a bastard. The opposite of crazy can still be crazy. The solution lies somewhere else.
The solution is in being an integrated male, a male being able to accept all aspects of one’s self.
An integrated male is capable of embracing everything that makes him uniquely male. An integrated male develops healthy assertiveness through self-development and accepts his masculinity with all his power, courage and passion, but also together with his flaws, imperfections, mistakes and even his dark side.
- An integrated male can be recognized by having a strong sense of self, taking responsibility for meeting his needs and being comfortable in his masculinity and sexuality.
- An integrated male likes himself as he is and has a strong sense of integrity. Usually he is a leader providing and protecting the people he loves.
- He has no problem expressing his feelings and giving with no strings attached.
- And he is not afraid of conflict and knows how to set boundaries.
An integrated male can be kind and often is. But he’s not needy and always nice just to get approval from others.
No more Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t mean you become a jerk, but an integrated male with a strong sense of self, big capacity for love, healthy assertiveness and a spine of steel.
The toxic environment without male role models
The most common reason for developing the Mr. Nice Guy syndrome is a toxic upbringing environment. That leads to inaccurate interpretations of childhood experiences in the adult years.
The nice guy believes that if he can hide his flaws and become what others want him to be, then he will be loved, his needs will be met and his life will be problem-free.
The only alternative nice guys have is: Try harder to make things even more perfect!
Here’s how the vicious circle happens. Parents are never satisfied with a young boy, no matter what he does. And so, he tries harder.
But his parent’s expectations are never met. Unfortunately, a child can’t see that there is no way to do everything right and that no matter what he does, it simply wouldn’t be good enough for his parents.
Now in his adult years, even a small imperfection in a relationship can be a reminder that maybe he’s not worthy of love. That’s why the nice guy tries harder and wants to keep everything smooth in an adult relationship.
He tries to get approval from his spouse 100% of the time. Only a second of a bad mood from the spouse takes the relationship to zero and alerts him to try even harder, to be even nicer.
We all tend to attract people who have some of the worst traits of both of our parents. We are attracted to what is familiar to us, but that also enables us to resolve childhood traumas.
Many times, Mr. Nice Guys don’t have healthy male models in their families. Their fathers are absent, passive, angry, philandering, abusive or struggle with addictions.
Most often nice guys describe their fathers with negative terms. Consequently, they want to be completely different from their fathers.
Even more, nice guys usually develop an unhealthy bond with their mother. With an absent or abusive father, they needed to take care of a needy, dependent and smothering mother, and that’s an impossible task for a child.
They try to be their mother’s little partner and unconsciously create a monogamous relationship with a mother, which disables them from developing a sense of self and autonomy. When they try to express their masculinity, they hear things like “you’re just like your father”.
It often happens that they find it easier relate to women than men, and have few male friends. That’s why they seek approval from women at all costs and want to differ from other men, believing that other men are as selfish, angry and abusive as their fathers were.
You turn into a Mr. Nice Guy because deep down you believe it’s not safe and acceptable for you to be who you are. As it wasn’t when you were growing up.
Things go much deeper into feelings of toxic shame
Unrealistic expectations put on the shoulders of a young male in his upbringing environment is only one reason for turning into Mr. Nice Guy. That reason is usually combined with much deeper feelings of toxic shame.
When a child is born, they’re completely helpless and dependent on their parents (or caretakers). And every child has needs that should be met in a timely, judicious manner.
If that happens, the child feels safe and lovable. If the child’s needs aren’t met s/he feels abandoned. And to a completely helpless child, abandonment equals death.
At the same time, every child thinks they are in the center of the universe. They assume everything revolves around them, since they are not yet aware of their broader environment.
Consequently, they believe that they are the cause of everything that happens to them, even abandonment. When a child experiences any form of abandonment, they believe they are the cause of it.
Examples that evoke feelings of abandonment are:
- Nobody pays attention to the child or feeds them when hungry,
- nobody holds the child when they cry,
- a parent gets angry too many times,
- a parent doesn’t accepts the baby as they are,
- hits, shames or neglects a child in any way, and so on.
Unrealistic expectations, leaving a child alone for too long or controlling behavior can be added to the list.
But we are all born into an imperfect world, thus every child experiences abandonment to some extent. The problem occurs when there are too many mistakes made in the upbringing which leads to a toxic environment.
When a child is raised in a toxic environment, the development of toxic shame occurs. In such a toxic environment, the child starts to believe that they are not okay as they are. They start perceiving themselves as flawed.
Toxic shame is the belief that one is inherently bad, defective, different and unlovable. It’s a deeply held core belief that one is bad.
Whether parents abuse, abandon, neglect, shame, use, smother, control or objectify a young child, s/he internalizes the same belief that it’s bad and dangerous for them to be who they are.
They develop strong feelings of toxic shame. And they have a strong belief that they are the cause of it, because there is something wrong with them. They believe their needs drove the people they love away.
And when toxic shame is developed, two survival mechanisms come to life that lead to Mr. Nice Guy behavior.
- A person tries to prevent similar events of abandonment from happening (by being nice) and
- they try to hide their toxic shame from themselves and others (by being perfectly nice).
That’s expressed in behaviors of not making mistakes, having perfect grades, being always happy and experiencing no bad feelings, not causing any problems, trying to be the lowest possible burden to parents, always trying to predict their parent’s wants, moods and behaviors, and so on.
Always being nice is a survival mechanism to cope with feelings of toxic shame.
There are two forms of Mr. Nice Guy. The one who sees himself as perfect, the nicest being alive, and the one who thinks he’s the worst kind of person.
The steps to stop being a nice guy and develop into an integrated male
A commitment to be good and do everything right is most often an unconscious tendency to compensate for internalized beliefs of low self-worth. Such a faulty commitment can be made in hopes to finally be valuable and lovable.Being perfectly nice seems like the best solution for nice guys to feel better about themselves.
But being perfect is not what people are drawn to. People are drawn to shared interest, shared problems and an individual’s life energy. Humans naturally connect with humans.
The rough edges and imperfections are what gives others something to connect to. Perfection only makes a person vague, slippery, lifeless and boring.
That’s why it makes sense to stop trying so hard to be a nice guy, and become an integrated male.
Here are the steps to take to achieve that:
- Accept yourself as you are
- Stop seeking approval from others
- Make your needs a number one priority
- Learn to give with no strings attached
- See mistakes as opportunities to grow and learn
- Surround yourself with people who are willing to help meet your needs
- Set boundaries and express your feelings in a healthy way
- Don’t try to overanalyze everything, but rather experience and feel
- Build relationships with other men
- Face your fears in life and deal with problems directly
Now let’s dive into a few more recommendations on how to stop being a nice guy.
1. Identify situations where you seek approval
The first step to an integrated male is to identify how you seek approval (list all the things you do only to win approval), and then take good care of yourself, encourage yourself with self-fathering, develop your personality strengths and reveal yourself as you are to the safe people.
It also makes sense to practice being with yourself and liking yourself as you are in the moment.
Identify all the events where you’re being nice only to win approval.
Put yourself first and find a good balance between taking good care of yourself and others. Don’t focus on everyone else’s needs and keep your own needs on “low maintenance”.
Don’t try to appear needless and wantless. Then cover contracts, guessing games, anger outbursts, manipulations, controlling behavior, resentment and passive-aggressiveness will be gone too.
2. Pay attention to your needs
We all have needs, so start paying attention to them and put yourself first.
Go for a walk, do exercise, eat healthy food, get enough sleep, relax, play, get a massage, buy yourself something, clean your car, go out with friends, listen to music, there are many ways how to take good care of yourself. At first it might feel uncomfortable, but that’s the first step to recovery. Paying attention to your needs.
Slowly you will realize that you’re not bad, that you don’t have to do anything to win others’ approval, that you don’t have to hide your perceived shortcomings and that people will love you just as you are.
Remember: others can connect most deeply with you on the rough edges of your imperfections. And you must remember that mature people make meeting their own needs a priority.
Most nice guys learned to survive by self-sacrifice, thus a big part of recovery is to make themselves and their needs a priority. They must realize that having needs doesn’t equal being needy.
Nice guys believe that if they put their needs first, other people will see them as selfish and needy. That other people will get angry and think less of them.
But the reality is that when you put your needs first, you become less needy and more attractive. You become confident and self-assured. Putting yourself first and taking care of your needs attracts people, not drives them away.
3. From caretaking to caring
Instead of taking care of others, start caring for others. Caretaking means giving to others with unconscious strings attached.
You give gifts, affection, massages, surprises, encourage your partner to take a day off, go to a doctor etc., and expect love, admiration and sex in return.
Caring, on the other hand, means giving others with no strings attached, it means giving others from a place of abundance. You take good care of yourself, you make sure your needs are being met, and because you have a lot of everything in life, you are happy to share with others.
4. Stop being a wimp
A nice guy often feels powerless. They assume their niceness is the only power they possess. That makes them wimpy victims who assume they must sacrifice their personal power to be worthy and accepted in this world.
Because they feel powerless they want to make their life as smooth as possible by being nice. If you feel powerless, the best survival strategy is a smooth life.
But life is never really smooth. Life is a chaotic experience by nature. Creating a predictable, problem-free life is an exercise in futility.
Even if you do everything right as a nice guy, life will still be a chaotic experience. Doing it right, playing it safe, fixing things, trying not to rock the boat, being helpful, and avoiding problems won’t make life any smoother.
The only thing that can make life smoother for a nice guy is recognizing his own personal power. A nice guy, you must recognize that you possesses power; you must develop a state of mind in which you are confident that you can handle whatever might come his way.
With that kind of a mentality, problems, challenges and adversity are welcomed, not avoided. You stop being a wimp.
Reclaiming personal power is shown in:
- Surrendering – not giving up, but letting go
- Dwelling in reality
- Expressing feeling
- Facing fears
- Developing integrity
- Setting clear boundaries
Then life can be perceived as a gift from the universe to stimulate growth, healing and learning.
5. Express your feelings
Nice guys are usually afraid of their own feelings (and everyone else’s). When they were young, feelings invited either negative attention or no attention at all from their caretakers.
Thus, it feels much safer to not express feelings at all. Not expressing feelings is many times covered by the claim that they don’t want to hurt other people.
But they are only covering their own butts. Nice guys would do just about anything to not recreate their childhood experiences when it comes to expressing feelings. They are not protecting anyone, they are trying to keep their world smooth.
If you are a nice guy, it’s time to rock the boat and practice expressing feeling in a healthy manner. Your feelings are just feelings, they’re not going to hurt you.
Only men who are in touch with their feelings can be powerful, assertive and energized. Thus, learning the language of feelings is a mandatory step in recovering from being a nice guy.
Pay attention to how you feel, and practice expressing your feelings in a respectful manner.
6. Connecting with your own masculinity
Nice guys were most often disconnected from their fathers and role models. That’s why they tend to be disconnected from other men, afraid of their own masculinity, monogamous to their mothers and dependent on the approval of women.
Because they didn’t have a positive bond with their father, they never learned the basic skills needed to develop meaningful relationships with other men and women.
They believe if they are different from other men, they aren’t controlling, angry, violent and that they are attentive to women’s needs, good lovers and fathers.
But that leads to them disconnecting from a masculinity (one’s equipment to survive as individual and species), which contains strength, discipline, courage, passion, persistence and integrity. All the qualities women are attracted to.
These characteristics also contain aggressiveness, brutality and destructiveness (they don’t have to be used) and this is what frightens the nice guys. But repressing one’s darker side doesn’t make it go away, it only escalates in other unhealthy directions.
The dark side needs to be accepted and tamed. And repressing masculinity is certainly not a formula for attracting women, like nice guys think. Because with such an act, assertiveness, competitiveness, creativity, ego, thrust for experience, and personal power also get repressed.
Reconnecting with your own masculinity consists of connecting with other men, finding healthy role models, reexamining the relationship with your father and becoming physically stronger – embracing your body, personal power and spaciousness.
The latter means embracing a healthy lifestyle, in other words.
If you find yourself in the summary, immediately read the book
The last two chapters in the book go into detail of how nice guys suffer from a poor sex life and why they are usually underachievers.
When it comes to sex, nice guys often avoid sexual opportunities, try to be good lovers (but fail at it), hide compulsive behaviors, repress their life energy and settle for bad sex.
The nicer the guy, the darker the sexual secrets is usually the rule. It’s very similar at the workplace. Nice guys don’t know how to master fears, they try to do everything right all the time, they try to do everything by themselves and that leads to them not reaching their full potential.
They often self-sabotage themselves, develop a distorted self-image and stay stuck in familiar dysfunctional systems. They get caught up in wasting time, making excuses, not finishing projects, procrastinating, not setting boundaries and having too many projects going at once.
The book contains many very useful tips and recommendations on how to handle these typical nice guy symptoms. If you find yourself in any parts of this summary, I recommend you immediately read the book.