Most of us were brought up to be nice. It makes relationships easier and living more hospitable, but where do you draw the line? How nice is too nice?

What’s “Nice?”

Before we talk about how nice is too nice, let’s define what it means to be nice. Nice is being pleasing, agreeable, friendly, polite, and kind. These are all things that we want, right? What could be bad about that?

When we are too nice, it comes at a cost to ourselves. We teach people how to treat us, and when we put ourselves last, we show others that that is where we stand. That’s where we are most comfortable. So we get more of that and don’t get our own needs met.

What “Too Nice” Looks Like:

You over give of your time, resources, and understanding nature. No matter what someone asks of you, you find a way to make it happen. No matter how shabbily you are treated, you forgive and maintain the relationship. As a result, people expect doormat behavior and don’t value your contribution or you.

Most people who are givers think that this is the way to get more appreciation, but it’s actually not. When you over give, you teach people that your time, resources, or kindness are not valuable because you don’t value it. You don’t have any boundaries around it, so it becomes cheap.

Another way that this shows up is as resentment. You give thinking that others will return the favor, but they don’t. While your friends, coworkers, and family may be kind and thoughtful too, if they are practicing healthy boundaries, they aren’t giving as much as you. And this can feel unfair, unequal, and unsatisfying.

They are actually practicing healthy boundaries. It’s your expectation of reciprocity that is out of line.

Another problem with being too nice is that you’re probably being somewhat fake. If you smile when you don’t feel like smiling, host events when you don’t want to, go to places you don’t want to go, and don’t say things for fear of being offensive, you are giving your people a false impression of who you are. How can you have deep meaningful relationships when you’re wearing a mask? Nobody sees who you really are.

Another “too nice” behavior is withholding the truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. While it’s always better to receive undesirable news when it is delivered with love, withholding the truth is another way of saying, “I don’t trust you with the truth” or “I don’t respect you enough to deal with you as an equal.” Withholding the truth can be a way of manipulating the relationship or diminishing yourself. That “kindness” comes at a high cost.

We get more of what we put out there, so if we are over giving, we will attract people who aren’t able to do for themselves or find it easier to sit back and let someone else do for them. That’s exhausting! Who wants that?

It’s a lot easier to trust someone with healthy boundaries. Someone who says “yes” to everything and has no limits looks too good to be true, and humans don’t trust that. There is a sixth sense about that that feels like there is a booby trap just waiting to be sprung. Setting boundaries is a way to say, “This is where I draw the line, and this is where I stand.” When people can see that, it’s easier to trust.

How to Hit That Sweet Spot of “Just Right”

Not everyone will agree on where that sweet spot is, so you will have to figure that out for yourself. It’s that spot where:

  • you give to yourself first, then share what’s left with others
  • you feel good about what you’ve given. You’re not guilty, overwhelmed, depleted, or resentful.
  • it’s honest. You give what you want to and nothing more.
  • it’s authentic, not fake.
  • you’re not nice so that others will be nice back

For the most part, kindness is free. Little things like a smile, holding the door, and using a pleasant tone of voice can be routinely given away with no cost to the giver. For things that require more effort, time, or money, it is okay to say no. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or justification. “No” is a complete sentence and a perfectly appropriate answer.

It may not be the answer that the other person wants, but it’s the one that will help you to retain your self-respect, healthy boundaries, and an honest relationship.