Helping Your Life Work
February 1, 2006
Volume 2, Issue 2

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 it.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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