Need to Please
February is generally dedicated to matters of the heart. We celebrate
the love we share with others and express it through acts of caring,
generosity and kindness. For some, the act of doing for another
can be borne out of a genuine desire to give. For others, the desire
to please can become a need; one which causes them to ignore their
own needs for the sake of the other. The act of giving may arise
more out of obligation, fear of reprisal or guilt than genuine affection.
This need has variously been described as “codependency,”
“relationship addiction,“ and “the disease to
please.” Now comes a new entry into the mix with the publication
of “The Tyranny of Niceness: Unmasking the Need for Approval”
by Dr. Evelyn Sommers, a Toronto psychologist who is also a colleague
and close friend.
Dr. Sommers has written a book that speaks to many of us who spend
much of our lives trying to be nice, thereby losing a part of ourselves
that doesn’t always feel that way. “To be nice,”
she suggests, “means to silence ourselves in some way, and
in doing so, we compromise our authenticity and give up freedom
to act and speak. “ She presents a cultural, political and
psychological analysis of our need to be nice, using case examples
from her fifteen years as a psychotherapist.
In contrast to the disease concept mentioned above, Dr. Sommers
contends that understanding our need to please is not about the
individual, but more about our response to a psychosocial phenomenon,
one in which we are conditioned by parents, teachers, employers,
religious leaders, governments, etc. to “be nice.” Unless
we are encouraged to speak our mind from an early age, many of us
learn to keep our opinions and thoughts to ourselves, knowing that
the reaction to them may be one of rejection or isolation. Over
time, we may forget what we really thought or wanted in the first
place. We may become passive and complacent about our lives and
relationships, staying in loveless marriages, meaningless jobs,
and unhealthy situations.
Dr. Sommers cautions us that there is a high cost that we pay
for being nice (aside from those listed above), such as stress,
chronic illness and lack of intimacy. (For further information about
that topic, read Gabor Mate’s book, “When the Body Says
No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection.”) Furthermore,
she cautions that being “not nice” is not the answer,
that we do not need to be rude, aggressive, or arrogant to be more
honest with ourselves and others.
“The Tyranny of Niceness” is not your typical self-help
book. It offers no easy solutions to a complex problem. Instead,
it challenges us to rethink some of our long-held views and values.
It provokes us to question our behaviours and attitudes. And it
urges us to start living a more authentic life. I highly recommend
Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”
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