This is for Good News Kelly. Thank you for your very honest and candid podcast today. It really hit home. I could hear the pain in your voice when you were talking about how you sometimes don’t feel like a good friend or a good mom. I think we all feel that way sometimes, especially if we are empathetic, or highly sensitive people. Your words made me think of something I wrote about a year ago that is very similar. I put it on my personal Facebook page, and I shared it with a limited audience. It is something, however, that I think more people need to hear. We can’t always be perfect. We can’t always be nice, but when we can, we should. Thank you for your truth and wisdom. Here are my own unpolished thoughts on that very same subject.
On Being Nice When You Can…
“Why are you so nice?” This is a question I get from people regularly. It’s not spoken as a statement. It’s almost an accusatory remark, not mean, but a serious curiosity others sometimes have in regards to my words and actions. I’ve been called too nice. I know some of my family and friends think I allow myself to be a doormat for others. I am quite certain that when I first start interacting with some individuals, they are almost skeptical of this “niceness”- like it might be a form of manipulation, or perhaps a severe form of low self-esteem or a desperate need to gain friends.
Whenever someone accuses me of being too nice, I just laugh. It’s weird to think of yourself in those terms, and one certainly wouldn’t admit to being like this for fear of appearing to have an enormous ego. I usually smile politely when accused of this and assure the interrogator that I just like making people happy. That’s been my standby response over the years, but if I really stop and think about it, that’s only a partial truth.
I been contemplating this question on my morning drives recently, which is of course the best time for deep reflection, and I think I stumbled upon the real reason. The real reason I’m so nice is because I don’t always feel like a nice person. While I do try exceptionally hard to be a good person, I know that there have been, and there will still be, times when I am unable to be nice. This won’t happen because I don’t care or don’t want to be nice. It will happen as a result of stress, anxiety, worries, fears, and countless other idiosyncrasies that make me the weird and quirky person that I cannot hide for very long from the world. People that have known me the longest, or are the closest to me, will probably know what I’m talking about instantly. I’m sure they all have seen some examples of this not so nice behavior. For my loved ones, the non-believers, and to simply illustrate my point, I’d like to take a moment to identify what makes me feel like I’m a not so nice person sometimes, and when I don’t feel nice.
- I don’t feel nice when I go to a new environment for the first time and I can’t even make simple conversation with those around me because I am trying very hard to make sense of what is going on- unfamiliar faces, unknown sights and sounds. I want to be able to engage, but when I am overwhelmed with sensation it’s difficult for me to process in the moment.
- I don’t feel nice when I’m stressed out and friends I’ve known for years try and contact me to talk or go out, and I can’t even respond to their phone calls, emails, or messages, because I can’t think well enough to even compose or formulate words. It may be days or weeks until I’m ready to reply.
- I don’t feel nice when I pull into a parking spot, see someone I know, and I pretend to make a phone call just to avoid the awkwardness of the conversation I am worried about having as we walk to the door.
- I don’t feel nice when I make up an excuse to avoid a social event I’m afraid to attend for one of the countless reasons or doubts I have floating around inside my head.
- I don’t feel nice when I finally set up a time to get together with my brother, and I get so stressed about coordinating schedules I almost want to cancel.
- I don’t feel nice when I show up late or cancel plans because I’ve tried on every article of clothing in my closet and nothing I put on can mask my insecurities or make me feel confident enough to appear in the world.
- I don’t feel nice when I become frustrated and talk rudely to people trying to help coach me through a task that has me overstimulated or confused.
- I don’t feel nice when I don’t offer to drive on a night out, because I’m too afraid of getting lost or overwhelmed.
- I don’t feel nice when a simple decision like where to eat turns into an argument.
- I don’t feel nice when I am paid a sincere compliment and I brush it off thinking that the person can’t be possibly be serious.
- I don’t feel nice when a person wants to be close to me, but I feel so unlovable that I can’t show them love back.
- I don’t feel nice when I can’t concentrate on a conversation, because there is a blinking light on the microwave I want to go push.
- I don’t feel nice when I exhaust myself keeping focused and “together” at work and then have no patience left for the people closest to me when I get home at the end of the day.
- I don’t feel nice when I push people away because I’m afraid it’s bad for them to be around someone like me.
- I don’t feel nice when I want to lay in bed or sit quietly instead of playing with my daughter some days.
- I don’t feel nice when I perceive someone trying to help me as criticism and get upset with them.
- I don’t feel nice when I am not honest with myself, and I blame my family and friends for the things within my control.
- I don’t feel nice when I say or do something that I know is not nice, and I choose to avoid the situation because I think that is easier than just working it out.
So there you have it. I don’t want anyone to think that I get super fixated on these times when I don’t feel nice about myself, because I obviously don’t respond to people and situations this way all the time. Anyone that has similar challenges, however, will understand that even rarely can feel like always. At times in my life, I have wanted to be invisible, or I’ve isolated myself to save people I love from me. I’ve worked hard at recognizing when I’m “overthinking” or acting “not so nice,” and I’d like to think I have become exceptionally aware of the connection between my thoughts and actions. I try to continually learn new strategies to handle the way my brain works, and I have learned to be patient and not too hard on myself throughout the years. I used to want to live my life without impacting anyone, but I know now that is not a realistic goal. All I can do is know myself, my limitations, and my needs. I can only admit when I am being “not so nice” and surround myself with people willing to patiently support and challenge me with understanding. Because of this, I may be extra nice when I’m feeling that I can be.
If I send you an email full of compliments, post an inspirational message to your Facebook wall, give you a homemade card, make you your favorite meal, pay for a night out, or pick you up something you’ve said you wanted from the store, it’s because I know there will probably be times when I won’t be able to do these things for you. If I listen to your troubles for hours without offering advice or passing judgment, you know it’s because I really do understand your worries- even if the rest of the world dismisses them. If you get anxious or stressed and say something out of character to me and I don’t get mad, it’s because I get what it feels like to want to have your emotions temporarily short circuit your logic. If your fears get the best of you, and you are unable to return any of the niceness that I am sending your way, do not worry. I know what if feels like to not be able to connect with others sometimes when that’s desperately all you really want to do. I guess I get the guilt and shame that goes along with feeling like this, and I don’t want anyone to feel that way ever on my account. I don’t take it personally.
I wrote a good portion of this yesterday, and then didn’t post it. I got to worrying that people might think I’m weird. Then this morning I had a conversation with a student that has been acting “not so nice” in my classroom. He told me that he doesn’t know why he acts the way he does sometimes, but he really wished that he did. I thought he was about to cry, which is exceptionally out of character for this particular student. He told me people call it impulse, but he wonders if it’s instinct. He looked sad and worried, so we talked about strategies to help when he feels certain ways. I think a big problem is that we don’t let other people see our weakness sometimes, and we try and go on pretending like we don’t have limitations or unique needs. You can be a good and nice person and still have some not so nice days. That’s what I told this student, and he smiled. He then told me I was really nice. I jokingly replied back, “sometimes!” I don’t want to feel bad about who I am, and I don’t want my students, daughter, family, friends, or even strangers to feel bad about themselves either. I know, and have known, people that feel like “bad people” for things beyond their control, and I know that feeling guilty doesn’t make the situation any better. That’s why I say always be nice to yourself and others when you can!