The Trouble with Nice: How Being Passive Can Ruin a Good Thing and How to Find Your Assertive Edge.


Have you ever heard the saying, “nice guys finish last?”. Most people who consider themselves “nice” or “people pleasers” put a lot of effort and consideration into the needs and feelings of others, but often, this doesn’t get them the results they want. Ironically, when people develop people-pleasing behaviours and a permanent veneer of niceness, it can make them harder to connect with, and this can limit progress in healthy relationships.

Stop being nice so that you can be kind, and find deeper meaning in your life and relationships.

When we cover ourselves in a thick layer of “niceness”, it’s as though we are walking around wrapped up in a big, sweet, shapeless marshmallow. We might not offend anyone, but we are too insulated from our real selves to connect and get all kinds of important needs met. We may miss opportunities to put our ideas forward at work, resolve relationship problems, and speak up when people take advantage of us. In some cases, being too nice or helpful or checking in on everyone else can even drain the energy of others. Often, they can sense that the people-pleaser is hiding behind a wall and is not all there. Until we are in touch with our authentic feelings and sense of self, both the good and the bad sides, it is more difficult to show up with empathy for others in your life.

Your anger has something important to tell you.

All of my clients who struggle with people-pleasing tend to hide their anger. Some of them are so used to burying this important emotion, that they are not even aware it exists. Anger is a healthy expression of our sense of self. It is your body’s way of letting you know that something isn’t ok, or that a boundary has been crossed. It is always important to feel and acknowledge our anger, but we have some choices about how we use this information.

Finding assertiveness (and not aggression)

Sometimes my clients are worried that if they begin to release their long-buried anger, they will “lose control” or will become too aggressive. It’s quite normal on the road to becoming more assertive for your first efforts to speak up will come off a little more edgy than you might intend. Over time, the edges will soften, as long as you keep your focus on becoming more assertive versus aggressive.

What’s the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness?

Assertiveness is about speaking your truth without fear. Aggressiveness is about speaking your truth without any regard for the other person. Assertiveness is “this is what I think or feel”, while aggressiveness is “I am right, and I do not care what you feel about it”.


If you are a life-long people pleaser, you probably don’t have to worry much about this important difference. Your natural awareness of the needs of others is already built up, and it is going to still be there when you need it. Over time, you will get better and better at voicing the thoughts and feelings you have been protecting others from, only to find that you are moving into stronger connections

Danielle Burgess

Danielle Burgess is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Expressions Counselling. She is passionate about working with individuals to overcome people-pleasing, complex trauma, and relationship issues.

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