So many people move through life pretending to be who they are not, being nice on the surface when they are seething with rage inside, being mean when they have a heart of gold, being cold when they yearn for the warmth of others, being overly helpful when they actually want you to fail, being happy when they are inwardly crying, and being hostile when they are actually terrified. Sometimes people are not aware that they are pretending, sometimes they actually believe they are who they are pretending to be, and sometimes they are doing it with their eyes wide open with deliberate intent.
We all fake it a little bit every now and then, either because we want to fit in when we feel that we don’t, or we’re in a situation which makes us uncomfortable and we disguise our true selves for a while, whilst we figure things out, or we are just being polite, doing our social duty, and don’t want to rock the boat. Or maybe we are not sure who we are, so we are trying on different selves like outfits to find out which one of them fits us best, and is closest to our natural form.
There is nothing wrong with pretending, play-acting, faking-it a little bit. Sometimes it is fun, sometimes necessary. Sometimes we get away with it, and sometimes we get caught out. As long as it doesn’t do any harm, to us or to others, then all is well. But what if it does do harm?
Many years ago I met a person who was all smiles. Kind, friendly, generous, considerate, sensitive, always willing to help those who needed it, and even those who didn’t. Everyone loved this person. I did too.
As I got to know them a bit better, it struck me that most of the stories they told me about themselves involved other people taking advantage of them, of their kindness and generosity. It sort of made sense, if you are very nice to everyone without exception, there are going to be people who take advantage of that, but there are also going to be people who appreciate it.
This person never seemed to have a good thing to say about anyone, it seemed like they were the only nice person on the planet. I thought perhaps that they had just chosen to tell me only about the bad things which had happened to them, rather than any of the good things, so I prompted them to tell me about some of the good people they had met, about those who had helped them. Apparently no one had ever helped them, which is why they were so dead set on helping others. So I asked them about the people whom they had helped, who had been grateful, and had returned the favour. None existed. This struck me as very odd, especially as I had met this person through mutual friends, and those mutual friends were people I considered to be very sweet souls. I mentioned this to this person. This fact was met with a sad face, a slow shake of the head, and then a quiet conspiratorial whisper informed me that our mutual friends were not as sweet as they appeared to be, but this person could not tell me more about what had happened, to reveal the truth about our mutual friends because this person was a nice, good, and kind person who did not speak badly of others. I knew that if I pushed for information I would have been given every little detail of the story, but I didn’t want to hear it.
At that point I should have realised that this nice person was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but I didn’t. They were very charming, and so many people seemed to find them so delightful, that I doubted my own impressions, and continued to hang out with them.
Two things occurred which eventually snapped me out of the spell.
The first one was that this person managed to suck me into the drama of an argument they were having with another person. They had helped this other person, and they were upset because this person was pestering them, wanting more and more from them. They were too nice to tell this person to go away, so they asked me to do it for them. I did what was asked of me, and my behaviour shocked me. I was very ashamed of myself, and regretted it profoundly.
The second thing was a direct result of the first. This nice person was upset and in distress again, and asked me to sort it out yet again. I remembered very vividly how I felt about the first incident, and how much I hated myself for treating a human being I did not know, the way I treated them. I had been so devastated by my own behaviour, that I had not realised that the nice person had not thanked me for helping them the first time, which was perplexing considering how aware this nice person was about how it felt to not be thanked for the help given to a friend in need. This really pissed me off. I didn’t want to be thanked for being very rude to a stranger, but the fact that I had not been thanked by a person who was very conscious of ‘Thank you’s’ and of their absence, was deeply offensive.
On top of that they wanted to use me again as some sort of bodyguard, they were too nice, and to maintain that niceness they needed to recruit people to be mean for them, to express their anger, annoyance, and ugly side. And they expected not only that I do it without question, but that I should somehow be grateful that they were using me, that I should thank them for it.
I told this person that they needed to learn to handle their own problems, that if they didn’t want to keep getting themselves into jams from which they could not extract themselves without breaking their code of niceness then they should stop being so nice. I was frozen out in seconds, and never forgiven for this treason. They never said anything nasty to me to my face, the dismissal was all smiles and kindness, but I knew that I had been put on their secret shit list which they disguised as a ‘Those I have helped who have disappointed me list’.
I was very relieved that this person decided that I was not good enough to be their friend. One of our mutual friends told me later that this nice person told them all sorts of tales about me, all in a hush hush, ‘I never say nasty things about people’ whisper. The things they said about me were very similar to the things they had told me about other people. And so it goes.
I think that this person truly believed, and still does believe, that they are as nice, kind, generous, sensitive and considerate as they say they are. I don’t think they have a clue about how toxic their niceness is. And they probably never will because they don’t want to know, and anyone who tries to disillusion them is removed from their entourage.
I must admit, this person did help me, they taught me several very valuable life lessons, and for that I am grateful. I am also very grateful to them for ending our friendship because they set me free from an unhealthy relationship, and they introduced me to one of my most valued friends, the person I was very rude to on behalf of the nice person. I went to see that person to apologise to them, and they not only accepted the apology very graciously, they told me that they had been used in a very similar manner by the nice one, and that was actually what the real cause of the argument had been. We got to chatting and found we had far more in common than just being survivors of toxic niceness.
Do you know anyone like this?