When Nice Is Cruel

broken-mirror-cloudsIs your niceness killing people, softly?

Niceness, politeness, and diplomacy are generally considered positive attributes. And for the past part, they are — if people weren’t as nice social relations wouldn’t run as smoothly, new environments would be unwelcoming, and life would generally be less pleasant. But the more discerning notice that niceness isn’t always what it’s hailed to be, and can even be the opposite of what it seems, that is, it can be cruel.

In my experience the Nicely Cruel manifest in three broad types, which can overlap but which each have their own particular motivations. The Nicely Cruel all have one thing in common — they expect something in return for their nice deeds.

The Martyr

The Martyr is probably the most obvious and well-known of the Kindly Cruel. The Martyr makes a lifestyle of doing things for others and sacrificing their own well-being so that others are taken care of. Somewhere along the line the Martyr decided that their life’s purpose was to help other people and become known as the “good” person.

The hitch to the martyr’s endless giving is clear after some time — they expect you to do endlessly for them as well. The problem comes when you’re not aware of this implicit agreement and take the Martyr’s gifts as just that. Then the Martyr attempts to guilt you into returning the favors or brands you a selfish and “bad” person.

The Good Guy (or Girl)

Not to be confused with The Nice Guy ™

The Good Guy’s niceness stems from an overwhelming need to see himself as a nice and “good” person, and to have others see him this way as well. This desire is so strong that the Good Guy will do what others ask without thinking about whether he really wants to do it or not.

The issue with the Good Guy comes when he realizes, or comes to terms with, the fact that he is just like everyone else; not so “good” after all and never wanted to do any of the things he did. Once he comes to this realization he will either take back his gifts or if that is not possible, bitterly denounce the persons who received them. People are left bewildered at how such a Good Guy could turn out to be anything but, and what they did to cause his passive-aggressive frustration.

Needless to say the Good Guy is often, if not always, a passive personality.

“Never Say No”s

The Never Say Nos are easy to understand — they never say no. And because they never say no they end up doing many things they would rather not. But why do they never say no? Well, because it’s simply not nice! And being nice is of the utmost importance.

What the Never Say No wants is simply for you to acknowledge that they are a very nice person. And should you ever imply that they are not that nice or that their favors aren’t that noteworthy, then they will suddenly begin to say no. Why not, since you don’t see that they are such a nice person? Their favors would be lost on such an ungrateful person.

Anyone else have experience with the Nicely Cruel?

See also:

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24 thoughts on “When Nice Is Cruel

  1. I don’t see these folks as Nicely Cruel. I would call them Ridiculously Resentful. Giving without establishing or respecting your boundaries is like accepting a job without knowing what the salary is!

  2. Sherry,

    Ridiculously Resentful… that’s a good one. Love the alliteration. 🙂

    “Giving without establishing or respecting your boundaries is like accepting a job without knowing what the salary is!”

    Another good great comparison; you’re absolutely right on that one.

    You should have written about this, instead of me!

  3. I know many people who fit the “nicely cruel” description. Sometimes, it seems that all the people who appear nice are cruel, deep down. Especially the ones who are very polite. I see that as a warning sign.

    Being nice (or polite) is not a bad thing per se. But NOBODY can be nice all the time. We all have bad days, grumpy days, the “I don’t want to see anybody” days, the “just leave me alone days”. Some people don’t allow this to be seen, which seems like a good thing, but then again it isn’t. We’re all human, and we can’t be nice all the time. So when somebody wants to be nice 24/7, it seems forced to me and I take it as a warning sign. I can’t feel relaxed with those people around, and I can’t trust them.

    Then again, I’m (I was?) one of those people who can’t say “no”, so I might not be the perfect person to judge here.

  4. Mira,

    “Sometimes, it seems that all the people who appear nice are cruel, deep down.”

    It sure seems that deep down, most have not so unselfish motivations, which can often be cruel. But don’t say that so loudly. They might hear. 😦

    😉

    Seriously, I don’t think (many…) of them are purposely cruel, but their actions often turn out to be such. They have to realize that things would be a lot simpler (and less cruel) if they learned that being “nice” all the time is not really so important.

    “Then again, I’m (I was?) one of those people who can’t say “no”, so I might not be the perfect person to judge here.”

    Really? You seem like the type to say no all the time… maybe you just come off as more uncompromising online.

  5. I’ve known lots of combination “martyr” and “never say no” types. Generally, they get into situations where they could say no (for example, lending someone money or giving someone a ride), but they convince themselves–and try to convince others–that they can’t say no because the people they’re helping have no other options. (I think a big part of being a “never say no” is a strong desire to be needed.) Then, when they aren’t hailed as heroes for helping someone out, or the people help are ungrateful, or the people they help turn to someone else for assistance, they become martyrs.

  6. Alee,

    Really? You seem like the type to say no all the time… maybe you just come off as more uncompromising online.

    I am sure that’s how it is. I am better at expressing myself in written communication, which means I can be myself and think for myself.

    Because of the way I was socialized, I am hesitant to say “no” in RL, but I am slowly learning how to do it.

    Jasmin,

    I think a big part of being a “never say no” is a strong desire to be needed.

    With me, it’s not a desire to be needed at all… It’s the fact I believe people won’t like me/won’t want to be friends with me if I say no. But it seems to be quite the opposite: people respect you more if you say no from time to time. I had to learn this the hard way (and I am still learning it). I never know when is ok to say no and when it isn’t.

  7. “Anyone else have experience with the Nicely Cruel?”

    Oh yes : / and it always ends up badly for them. They get to a point where they can’t keep their true feeling bottled up inside and they lose it either by lashing out at people or just retreating and limiting their contact with others. It’s not pretty.

    I agree with Sherry. It is dangerous to give ones time and resources without establishing boundaries and parameters for yourself.

  8. Jasmin,

    “I’ve known lots of combination “martyr” and “never say no” types”

    Same. It might just be me but these might be the worst of the Nicely Cruel types… it seems they try to make others become indebted to them so they can feel needed.

    they convince themselves–and try to convince others–that they can’t say no because the people they’re helping have no other options.”

    Oh, yes! That’s an important part of pretty much all of their schticks — “Well, they didn’t have anyone else/had no other place to turn!” *rolls eyes* And of course they just swooped in like Superman… Okay.

  9. Mira,

    “With me, it’s not a desire to be needed at all… It’s the fact I believe people won’t like me/won’t want to be friends with me if I say no.”

    But people that won’t be your friend if you say no… are they really your friends if you say yes? Some friendship.

    BWLivingWell,

    …it always ends up badly for them. They get to a point where they can’t keep their true feeling bottled up inside and they lose it either by lashing out at people or just retreating and limiting their contact with others. It’s not pretty.”

    Exactly, exactly. Especially the Good Guys. Because they can’t stand to think of themselves as “bad”, they just keep giving and giving until they reach their breaking point. Then they act like it’s everyone else’s fault that they’re at their breaking point.

    P.S. I like your gravatar (And no that’s not just me being nice. Ha. 😉 )

  10. Thanksss!!
    “Then they act like it’s everyone else’s fault that they’re at their breaking point.”
    Been there done that. I have done a much better job establishing my boundaries, TG!

    p.s. I’m new to wordpress, but is there a way to send private messages to wordpress bloggers. Like if I wanted to send you a pm, how would I do it? 🙂 tytyty

    So weird that I’m listening to Bill Withers- Use me on ITunes while I type this.

  11. earthichick,

    Same! I love how the commenters reflect myself. 😀

    BWLivingWell,

    Oh, so you were a Good Girl? Ugh!… Just kidding. 😉

    I don’t believe there is a way to send PMs to other wordpress bloggers. To contact you just use regular email.

  12. ^LOL. What? Some (many?) liberals are not nice at all, if you don’t agree with their views. Ditto for Christians, but to a lesser extent.

    However, I agree in that I’ve met several Christians who would comfortably fall in the Martyr category.

  13. Nkosazana, except if they’re from a place where people are just really nice. But yes, even then, it’s still weird because niceness itself is mostly a veneer.

  14. Sounds great, this land of unicorns and nice people who does things just because they are nice 🙂

    As someone said: People are bastard covered bastards with bastard filling.

  15. Nkosazana,

    …LMAO. 😀

    “Sounds great, this land of unicorns and nice people who does things just because they are nice”

    There are places where people are warmer than you’d expect… like the Southern region of the U.S. (“Southern hospitality”). They regularly smile at strangers, always greet them upon seeing them, both and women hold doors for other people, and if they happen to be in your way they’ll say something like, “Well, ‘scuse me!”

    That doesn’t necessarily mean they are nice on the inside, but they sure behave nicely and do randomly nice things.

    “People are bastard covered bastards with bastard filling.”

    In bastard wrapping? 🙂

  16. I have known some people like this and have recently been distancing myself from a friend that will act nice and do whatever it takes for people so he can get things in return. This person I speak of is very manipulative and plays the nice role with people that have something that he wants. So if your in the entertainment industry he will be all over you playing his part so he can get put on, then he will trash you and gossip behind your back. He is also very vindictive if you don’t help him in return for a favor he feels he has done for you.

  17. Nikisha, ugh, I’ve known people like that, always wanting to get in with the “in crowd” and sucking up to get there. They are no words to describe how annoying they can be. There are probably a lot of them in the entertainment industry — they must be the ones who are always selling those “insider” stories to tabloids, TV, etc.

  18. Yes Alee, and I confess that I have put one of your posts up about narcissism on my facebook so this same friend could get the hint about himself. I’m so tempted to post this one on facebook as well…lol…smh. I realize that these type of people are sick and need help beyond someone like me posting a great article.

  19. Nikisha,

    “I confess that I have put one of your posts up about narcissism on my facebook so this same friend could get the hint about himself.”

    LOL. Awesome. If you post a couple more (maybe when you know he’s online or when you comment on his wall…), he should definitely get the hint. 🙂

    “I realize that these type of people are sick and need help beyond someone like me posting a great article.”

    On the road to recovery, every bit counts. 😉

  20. At what point does it go from being nice as all people should be, to being taken advantage of and used, and simply standing up for yourself against that particular person? If one person is giving and the other is taking taking taking…I don’t think someone is nicely cruel to draw the brakes on that. Every relationship, including business partnerships, there should be value added from both sides, not just one. If it’s a one-way value-add, someone’s using somebody and that’s never nice…maybe it’s the business school training in me…

  21. Eloquence,

    The issue arises when you a) expect something for your “nice” deeds and b) lash out at those you’ve been nice to if you feel you haven’t been adequately compensated. True kindness expects nothing.

    If you’re going to be “nice” and do something for someone else then by all means, do that. Don’t hold the person prisoner to your niceness. And unless you are clear that you are expecting acknowledgment in return, you can’t blame the other person.

    In the case of the Good Guy/Girl (and the Never Say Nos, most of the time), it is their own need to feel like and be seen as a “good” person that drives their so-called nice actions. How is it the fault of anyone else that they have this desire? The real victims here are the people who get caught in the Nicely Cruels’ complex web of desire to be “good” and “nice”.

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