While working with a therapist to untangle the riddle around his own marital discord, Dr. Robert Glover, the author of No More Mr. Nice Guy, noticed something in his own psychotherapy practice: Nearly all his male patients seemed to be having the same befuddling experience in their marriages. They were airing the very same grievances.
Session after session, Dr. Glover heard things like: Why isn’t my wife nice to me when I am so nice to her? It’s never enough. I just want to be appreciated. Why doesn’t she want to have sex anymore? And why is she so damn angry all the time?
It didn’t take long for Dr. Glover to realize that droves of other men were following a life script similar to his. Men who go to great lengths to avoid upsetting anyone. Men who constantly seek approval from others, neglect their own needs, sacrifice their personal power, and suppress their masculinity. Men who are especially concerned with pleasing women.
Men who rarely, if ever, stand up for themselves. Men who are frustrated and resentful, constantly struggling to experience the happiness they believe they deserve.
These men suffer from an anxiety and shame-based disorder that has become all too common.
Yes, these men suffer from the Nice Guy Syndrome, and they have bought into a myth.
HAVEN’T READ NO MORE MR. NICE GUY?
Nice Guys believe that if they are good and do everything right, they will be loved, their needs will be met, and they will live a smooth, problem-free life. When this strategy inevitably fails to produce the desired results, Nice Guys just try harder, employing the same tactics over and over again. Einstein would call this f*cking insanity.
So let’s take a deep dive into the Nice Guy Syndrome. Let’s talk about what it is, how it came to be, what’s wrong with it, and how you can start to overcome it.
WHO IS THE NICE GUY?
The Nice Guy is everywhere. You probably know at least one or two quintessential Nice Guys. Hell, you’re probably a Nice Guy yourself if you’re reading this.
So, who is the Nice Guy? Well…
- He is the husband who lets his wife run the show.
- He is the friend who will do anything for anybody, even though his own life is a fucking mess.
- He is the man who frustrates his significant other because he is so afraid of conflict that nothing ever gets resolved.
- He is the boss who tells one person what they want to hear, then changes courses to please someone else.
- He is the man who lets people walk all over him because he doesn’t want to rock the boat.
- He is the man who will never say NO or tell anyone if they are imposing on him.
- He is the man whose life seems so under control, until…BOOM, one day he does something to destroy it all.
CHARACTERISTICS OF NICE GUYS
Most Nice Guys possess many if not all of the following characteristics.
- They are givers. Nice Guys frequently say they are happiest when they are making others happy.
- They fix and caretake. If someone has a problem, Nice Guys will attempt to solve it, often without being asked.
- They constantly seek approval from others. Nice Guys say or do things to either gain approval or avoid disapproval.
- They avoid conflict. Nice Guys want their lives to be smooth and problem-free. They won’t do anything that might upset anyone.
- They hide their perceived flaws and mistakes. Nice Guys believe that if they expose any shortcomings, others will get mad at them, shame them, or worse.
- They try to do everything right. Nice Guys believe this is the key to having a problem-free life: If they do everything “right” then nothing should go wrong.
- They repress their feelings. Nice Guys tend to analyze rather than feel. They go to great lengths to try to keep their feelings at bay.
- They try to be different from their fathers. Many Nice Guys report having unavailable, passive, absent, angry, alcoholic, or philandering fathers. These Nice Guys usually decide to be completely different from the men who raised them.
- They relate more to women than men. Due to their childhood conditioning, many Nice Guys have very few male friends. They seek the approval of women while convincing themselves they are different from other men.
- They put the needs of others before their own. Nice Guys believe it is selfish to put their own needs first.
- They make their partner their emotional center. Many Nice Guys put tremendous energy into their intimate relationships, believing that happiness lies in making their partner happy.
THE ORIGIN OF THE NICE GUY SYNDROME: HOW NICE GUYS ARE MADE
Everyone comes into this life as a dependent, needy little baby. Surely this isn’t news to you. But there’s a lot more to the story.
Because babies rely on others to meet their needs in timely and judicious ways, they have an overwhelming fear of abandonment. For babies, abandonment means death. And yet, every baby experiences some degree of abandonment:
He is hungry and nobody feeds him.
He cries and nobody holds him.
He is lonely and nobody pays attention to him.
Furthermore, babies are inherently narcissistic and grandiose. They believe that they are the cause of everything that happens to them – bad or good. As their little baby brains develop, babies think they are the center of the Universe. (Yes, some very annoying adults still think this way. I’m looking at you, Kanye West.)
The human brain is home to a collection of nuclei called the amygdala. You’ve likely heard of it. It is only about the size of your fingernail, but it plays a critical role in emotion and behavior.
The amygdala is perhaps best known for processing fear and controlling your fight-flight-freeze response. It also stores your internalized beliefs and memories. Theoretically, everything you experienced as a child is stored in your amygdala as emotional memory – you can’t find words or pictures for these experiences, but the emotions are there.
The amygdala is basically your emotional operating system; it is hard-wired into every other part of your brain. Your current beliefs about yourself and the world are directly controlled and influenced by the amygdala. This is true for every adult. And every adult has created a persona based on their early life experiences.
Nice Guys are certainly no exception.
The Nice Guy inaccurately internalized his childhood abandonment experiences and developed the belief that he is bad, defective, and unlovable. In other words, as Dr. Glover often points out, the Nice Guy believes he is not okay just as he is.
The Nice Guy’s amygdala seems to contain a roadmap for life that reads: I must become what I think others want me to be and I must hide anything that might cause others to reject me. This is the foundation for what is known as toxic shame and it wreaks havoc on the lives of Nice Guys.
Because Nice Guys inaccurately internalize their childhood abandonment experiences, they develop survival mechanisms to help them do three things: (1) cope with the pain from these experiences, (2) prevent these kinds of experiences from happening again, and (3) hide their toxic shame from themselves and others.
These survival mechanisms lead Nice Guys to live by the following paradigm: If I can become what I think others want me to be and hide anything that might cause others to reject me, then I will be loved, my needs will be met, and I will have a smooth, problem-free life.
Even though it is based on the faulty interpretation of childhood events, this paradigm controls everything Nice Guys do in adulthood.
THE TWO TYPES OF NICE GUYS
After years of working with Nice Guys, Dr. Glover began to see that their survival mechanisms generally manifest in one of two ways, creating two types of Nice Guys:
- The I’m So Bad Nice Guy believes he is the worst kind of person. He is convinced that everyone can see how bad he is. He can give concrete examples of bad behavior that he exhibited in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. He tells tales of smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. He is convinced that happiness lies in trying to mask how bad he is.
- The I’m So Good Nice Guy believes he is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. If he is conscious of his perceived flaws, he will work to correct them. As a child, he never caused any problems. As a teenager, he did everything right. As an adult, he follows all the rules. He masks his toxic shame with the notion that all the wonderful things he does make him a good person.
While the two types of Nice Guys may differ in the ways they try to mask their toxic shame, they both operate from the same life paradigm. And both believe they are not okay just as they are. Dr. Glover only makes the distinction between the two types of Nice Guys to help each see their distortions more clearly. Neither is as bad or as good as they believe themselves to be. They are merely wounded souls, navigating the world with an outdated and inaccurate roadmap.
20th CENTURY HISTORY & THE NICE GUY SYNDROME
Nice Guys have probably always existed to some degree. As Dr. Glover affirms, “It is unlikely that there has ever been a notable shortage of mama’s boys and henpecked husbands.” But after working with countless men, women, and couples, Dr. Glover concluded that it is most likely a series of social changes and events – beginning around the turn of the century and accelerating after WWII – that produced the unprecedented number of Nice Guys we see today.
These social changes and events include:
- The transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy
- The migration of families from rural areas to urban areas
- The growing absence of fathers from the home
- An increase in divorce, single parent homes, and female-headed homes
- An educational system dominated by women
- Women’s liberation and the rise of feminism
- The Vietnam War
- The Sexual Revolution
Today, one can clearly see that the Nice Guy Syndrome didn’t begin or end with the Baby Boomers. In fact, Nice Guy conditioning is more prevalent now than ever before.
Masses of young men in their late teens, twenties, and thirties all exhibit the characteristics and behaviors that define the Nice Guy Syndrome. Nice Guy fathers raised Nice Guy sons who will create more little Nice Guys – and the process will likely repeat itself again and again.
When Dr. Glover wrote No More Mr. Nice Guy in 2003, he suspected that the third generation of Nice Guys was just beginning. He now suspects that Nice Guys will be here for generations to come
WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING A NICE GUY?
First of all, please know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being nice to others. It will serve you well to go through life as a decent human being.
But there is a stark difference between being a nice person and being a “Nice Guy” as Dr. Glover defines it. In fact, the term Nice Guy is a misnomer because Nice Guys are anything but nice.
- Nice Guys are fundamentally dishonest. They hide their mistakes, repress their feelings, and say what they think other people want to hear.
- Nice guys are secretive. Because they are so desperate for approval, they hide anything that might upset anyone. Nice Guys live by the motto: If at first you don’t succeed, hide the evidence.
- Nice Guys compartmentalize. They are highly adept at harmonizing contradictory pieces of information about themselves. A married Nice Guy, for example, might create his own definition of fidelity, allowing him to deny that he had an affair with his secretary because he never put his penis inside her vagina.
- Nice Guys are manipulative. Nice Guys tend to have difficulty making their own needs a priority and asking for they want in clear and direct ways. They frequently resort to manipulation when trying to fulfill their needs.
- Nice Guys are controlling. Because they have an overwhelming desire to live smooth, problem-free lives, Nice Guys try to control the people and things around them.
- Nice Guys give to get. While they tend to be generous, Nice Guys rarely give without unspoken strings attached – particularly when they give to women. They want appreciation, attention, and affection. Nice Guys are perpetually frustrated and resentful because they give so much and seemingly get so little in return.
- Nice Guys are passive-aggressive. They tend to express their frustration and resentment in indirect and not-so-nice ways.
- Nice Guys are full of rage. They might deny ever getting angry, but a lifetime of built-up frustration and resentment creates a highly unstable pressure cooker. Nice Guys often erupt in rage at some of the most unexpected and inappropriate times.
- Nice Guys are addictive. Because they keep so much bottled up inside, Nice Guys often develop addictions to self-medicate and relieve stress. Addiction to porn and masturbation is not uncommon.
- Nice Guys don’t set boundaries. They have a hard time saying ‘no.’ They play the role of helpless victim and see others as the cause of their problems.
- Nice Guys isolate. They desire to be liked and loved, but their behaviors make it difficult for others to get close to them.
- Nice Guys are attracted to people and situations that need fixing. They spend most of their time putting out fires and managing crises. This is likely due to their constant need for approval.
- Nice Guys have problems with intimacy. They are terrible listeners. Their fear of conflict keeps them from working all the way through a problem. And they tend to blame their partner for standing in the way of their happiness.
- Nice Guys have problems with sexuality. Almost every Nice Guy is completely dissatisfied with his sex life. Many have a sexual dysfunction or some sort of sexual compulsion.
- Nice Guys are rarely successful. Most Nice Guys are talented and intelligent with a lot to offer the world. But they never live up to their potential.
- Nice Guys are notoriously slow learners and amazingly quick forgetters. This is especially true when their paradigms are challenged. Even though the Nice Guy paradigm is ineffective and leads Nice Guys to exhibit the behaviors described in this chapter, it is difficult for Nice Guys to consider doing something different. By doing something different, however, Nice Guys can transform themselves into empowered, authentic, and happy men
Take out your journal. If you don’t have one, get one. Do you believe you’re a Nice Guy? If so, which Nice Guy characteristics do you exhibit? Write your answers down in your journal.
THE OPPOSITE OF A NICE GUY
Contrary to what many think when they first pick up or hear about No More Mr. Nice Guy, the book is not about being unkind. The opposite of a Nice Guy is not a jerk. The opposite of a Nice Guy is an Integrated Man.
Being an Integrated Man means being able to accept all aspects of yourself.
- An Integrated Man is able to embrace everything that makes him uniquely male: his power, his assertiveness, his courage, and his passion, as well as his imperfections, his mistakes, and his dark side.
- An Integrated Man has a strong sense of self.
- An Integrated Man takes responsibility for getting his own needs met.
- An Integrated Man is comfortable with his masculinity and sexuality.
- An Integrated Man has integrity. He does what is right, not what is expedient.
- An Integrated Man is a leader. He is willing to provide for and protect those he cares about.
- An Integrated Man is clear and direct. He expresses his feelings with confidence.
- An Integrated Man can be nurturing and giving without caretaking or people-pleasing.
- An Integrated Man knows how to set boundaries. He is not afraid to work through conflict.
An Integrated Man doesn’t strive to be perfect or gain the approval of others. He feels good about himself from the inside out. He seeks to improve himself – not so others will like him, but because he knows he can add value to the world.
HOW TO OVERCOME NICE GUY SYNDROME
Overcoming – or breaking free – from the Nice Guy Syndrome requires a radical change in behavior and perspective. It requires doing something different and facing your fears. It will also affect your personal relationships. While the people in your life will be supportive of you making positive changes, they may initially be confused. That’s okay.
The first step to overcoming Nice Guy Syndrome is finding a safe person or safe people. This is imperative. You cannot do Nice Guy recovery work alone. You must have safe people to whom you can reveal yourself. Revealing yourself to safe people allows you to release your toxic shame and toxic perfectionism, confront your insecurities, and challenge your self-limiting beliefs.
In addition to revealing yourself to safe people, overcoming Nice Guy Syndrome is primarily about being conscious. It’s about staying mindful. It’s about staying aware of your behaviors.
When you’re conscious, you can notice when you:
- Seek approval
- People please
- Use Covert Contracts
- Tolerate bad behavior
- Hide parts of yourself
When you’re able to notice these behaviors, you can stop yourself and start behaving in a more integrated way.
Additionally, Nice Guy recovery work requires you to start building what Dr. Glover calls a “great cake of a life.” Many Nice Guys do not have rich and fulfilling lives. A “great cake of a life” includes good male friendships, leaning into challenge, pursuing your passions and interests, and regular, strenuous exercise.
All that said, there is not one perfect way to recover from the Nice Guy Syndrome. Nor is there a specific timeline you need to follow. What’s most important is that you make a lasting commitment to personal growth. And hopefully, you’ll keep growing until the day you die.
Tony Endelman is an author, blogger, entrepreneur, certified transformational life coach, certified No More Mr. Nice Guy Coach and the founder of The Integrated Man Cave.