Does Niceness Get A Closed Person Open?By Dr. Margaret Paul
May 20, 2012
Were you taught that if you were nice others would be nice?
"I had this really terrible interaction on the phone with a customer on Tuesday," Carlton told me in our Skype session. "This guy was so closed and controlling. He just kept yelling about what he wanted me to do. I was being really nice, but it didn't seem to make any difference. The conversation went on for an hour and we didn't get anywhere. He just kept acting crazy. I ended up exhausted and drained. Why do people have to be like that?"
Carlton is a really 'nice guy.' The problem is he believes that his niceness is a way to control getting closed people to open. This was not the first time I'd heard about someone acting 'crazy' with Carlton. He had just ended a relationship with a woman who did the same thing.
"Carlton, does this remind you of what happened with Rhonda?"
"Yeah, it does. Why does this keep happening?"
"Do you believe that if you are nice, then the other person will be nice?"
I was brought up to believe the same thing. My mother often told me that if I was nice, then others would be nice. She brought me up to believe that I had control over how other people acted. All I had to do to get people to be nice was to be nice!
"So, Carlton, you believe that you have control over whether or not others are nice or open—is that right?"
"Well, I never thought about it as control. I just thought that's how it works."
"What would you have done differently with your customer on Tuesday if you had fully accepted that you have no control over whether another person is open or closed, nice or mean?"
"I would have gotten off the phone much sooner."
"So you stayed on the phone for an hour trying to have control over getting him to open and be nice. He was trying to control you with his anger and harshness, and you were trying to control him with your niceness—right?"
"Yes, I see that now. And I did the same thing with Rhonda. I kept being so nice and understanding in the face of her crazy behavior. Looking back, I can see that this has happened over and over in my relationships. But why doesn't niceness work?"
"So you are asking, 'Why can't I control people with my niceness?' I bet you know the answer to that question! Take a moment and turn it around. How do you feel when your mother tries to control you with her niceness?"
"Oh, you know I hate it! Is that what I'm doing? No wonder my relationships are not working. I never realized that I'm doing to others what my mother does to me!"
"Carlton, when you are with your mother, you feel pulled on by her to give her what she wants, and you either feel angry or you want to get away. This is what you are doing with others. Instead of taking loving care of yourself, you are abandoning yourself—just as your mother abandons herself—and making others responsible for you. Your niceness feels to others just like your mother's pull feels to you. Others get 'crazy' when you do this, and the angrier they get, the nicer you get—to try to control them into being nice to you. But are you being loving to yourself when you do this?"
"No, I wasn't being loving to myself when I stayed on the phone for an hour and then felt exhausted."
There is a big difference between being nice and being loving!
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