How Do You Define "Niceness?"

In my last post, I revealed my self-defeating mindsets in my associations and friendships with other women....all in the name of "niceness." As I continued to work on my spiritual and emotional growth throughout the years, I've learned the importance of setting healthy boundaries. Consequently, I've felt an unprecedented peace of mind and sense of empowerment. For 40 years, accommodation, adaptability, conflict avoidance, and passive-aggression were my reflex responses in my relationships with others--especially with women. Shifting those mindsets has taken herculean efforts on my part. Inevitably, friendships change and may become the sad and disappointing casualties of our transformations. (Although it doesn't have to be that way if friends are willing to negotiate and work through changes.) So, for women, who like me, struggle with what it means to be a "nice" person or friend, the following ideas might help you in creating a new framework.

These universal principles also apply to the expectations others place upon us at work and within our LDS community. Dr. Manuel J. Smith, author of When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, composed a list of human rights that promote healthy relationships and inner peace. He says:

....herein is composed of statements about ourselves as humans, statement about our true responsibilities for ourselves and our own well-being, and statements about our acceptance of our humanness which set practical limits on what other people can expect of us. Let's examine our prime right---from which all the other rights are derived: our right to be the ultimate judge of all we are and all we do. (I'm adding my own exception: Jesus Christ is our ultimate judge.) Let's see how we let people manipulatively violate this right in different types of relationships:  

  • You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
  • You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses to justify your behavior.
  • You have the right to judge whether you are responsible for finding solutions to other people's problems.
  • You have the right to change your mind.
  • You have the right to make mistakes--and to be responsible for them.
  • You have the right to say, "I don't know."
  • You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them. (One cannot live in terror of hurting other people's feelings. At some point we will do something that offends someone.)
  • You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
  • You have the right to say, "I don't understand."
  • You have the right to say, "I don't care" (pp. 28-71).

Truthfully...even now, I feel a bit anxious and guilty for including these "10 Rights" in this post. These basic human rights sound so...well...not nice--even mean (at least to me!). But they're not mean--or selfish. They're healthy boundaries that we learn and will probably cause some discomfort at first. Now, I'll juxtapose a list of unhealthy mindsets in contrast to the above. (My good friend, Toni, gave me a copy of this list from The California Therapist; a part of a state government program/website that promotes healthy families.

When you give up your boundaries in a relationship or friendship, you:

  • Are unclear about your preferences

  • Do not notice unhappiness since enduring is your concern
  • Alter your behavior, plans, or opinions to fit the current mood or circumstances of another (you live reactively)
  • Do more and more for less and less
  • Take as truth the most recent opinion you have heard
  • Live hopefully while wishing and waiting
  • Are satisfied if you are coping and surviving
  • Let the other's minimal improvement maintain your stalemate
  • Make exceptions for a person for things you find intolerable/accept alibis
  • Are manipulated by flattery so that you lose objectivity
  • Try to create intimacy with a narcissist
  • Are so strongly affected by another that obsession results
  • Feel hurt and victimized/ stifle anger or don't feel angry
  • Act out of compliance and compromise
  • Do favors that you inwardly resist (cannot say no)
  • Disregard intuition in favor of wishes
  • Allow your partner/friend to abuse you, your children or friends
  • Mostly feel afraid and confused
  • Are enmeshed in drama that is beyond your control
  • Are living a life that is not yours, and that seems unalterable
  • Commit yourself for as long as the other needs you to be committed (no bottom line)

Obviously, not all of the above components may be embedded in our mindsets and thus behaviors. Furthermore, each component has its own spectrum of dysfunction depending on the individual. I didn't realize I had lived by most of the above unwritten rules until I began the journey toward self-empowerment. Again, I won't pretend it's been an easy road. I'm still on the learning curve, and I still feel uncomfortable when I set a boundary. But I'd rather feel the discomfort of empowerment (discomfort that will eventually fade away) than the perpetual anxiety and fear of living under false distortions of "niceness."

As LDS women, we become further unified as we more fully embrace healthy definitions of "niceness." Imagine a sisterhood devoid of distractions due to unnecessary "drama" in our relationships! Instead, we can genuinely join together as a powerful united entity in preparing for the Second Coming.

Here's to authentic niceness!