Posted by: coachingparents | July 8, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

I like to think of myself as a “nice guy.” I like to think of my
friends as “nice people.”  I like to think of my parents as “nice.”
Indeed, my mother was so nice to me, I felt guilty every time I became
angry with her…which is precisely the point of this column.  Being
nice can be a way to manipulate and control others through provoking
guilt in them if they ever feel angry with you.

It is a very rare person who does not find it extremely difficult to
be angry at such a nice parent or grandparent.  After all, they are
manipulating with such “caring” or “concern” for others, it seems
almost sacrilegious to dislike them or reject their controlling
involvement in your life.  It takes almost expert interpersonal skills
to be guiltlessly confrontational with somebody who is “only trying to
please” you.

Obviously, being nice can have great beneficial effects in our
interpersonal relationships.  Others usually benefit from being
treated with nice consideration.  The givers of the world are
invaluable in making our lives more pleasant and satisfying.  It is
only when their gifts are paired up with expectations about our
responses to their giving, that “niceness” becomes manipulative.  We
have all received “gifts” from nice people and then felt obligated to
return the favor.  We’ve all benefited from the niceness of others and
felt a twinge or more of guilt when we took what they offered and
never gave them anything in return.

People learn to control with niceness as a way of getting others to
meet their needs rather than meeting those needs themselves. They
honestly believe that if they are nice enough to us, we will do, or
respond with what they want from us.  For the manipulatively nice
person, the underlying emotion is fear or shame.  Fear that they are
not able to be self-sufficient in fulfilling their own needs, or
ashamed they themselves have wants or needs at all. 

When a child is told, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he
takes it literally and feels that what he wants or needs at the moment
is totally unacceptable. “Nice boys don’t hit.” “Nice girls don’t get
angry.” In order to be pleasing to parents, children often inhibit
their natural feelings and desires because they have been told that
those feelings or wants were “not nice.”  This is especially relevant
to sexual feelings or desires.

Niceness can also be a means of inviting people away from conflict
or from any expression of displeasure or anger.  Moreover, when that
happens, we become confused and often feel guilty about our own
resentment or anger.  After all, how can we feel angry at somebody who
is being so nice to us?  Exactly!  Nobody likes being controlled.  Yet
everybody feels important when they are given unto.  When control and
being nice to others are paired, the results are always confusing
and/or provocative of guilt or resentment.

When you let go of the desire to be in control of anything else but
yourself, you become truly free.  Free to be yourself. And when you
love yourself, you are automatically nice to yourself.  When you are
nice to yourself, you will also be nice to others without any
expectations of them.  That makes niceness an expression of your love.
Expressions of love with no expectations makes your love
unconditional.  When you love yourself and others unconditionally, you
might not always be “nice.”  But you will always be free and
expressive of your true nature.


Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and
Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area
presented in “Practical Life Coaching” (formerly “Practical
Psychology”).  Initial coaching sessions are free.  E-mail: or


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