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10 Childhood Traumas that cause Nice Guy Syndrome

Being a nice guy is actually a form of mental illness. It’s the result of coping mechanisms we created in childhood and teen years to deal with traumatic events and painful situations. When good-hearted boys are faced with emotional harm and lack the tools to properly process, confront and deal with it, we come with an act: a way of behaving that keeps us safe, makes us feel loved, and avoids difficulties.

In this podcast, I shared the top 10 traumatic experiences that happen to boys that lead them to become Nice Guys as adult men, and I expand on the theory that Nice Guy Syndrome is always a result of childhood trauma.


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Full transcript

 

Why do some guys end up as nice guys? What is the cause of nice guy syndrome? In today’s podcast, we’re going to be looking into that. I’m going to share what I’ve learned from working with these guys for many years and of course from from being one of these guys my entire life.

 

I think very few men become nice guys suddenly and spontaneously in adulthood, even though the nice guy behavior might kick in at a certain point in time, like in their first relationship, or when they first leave high school and go into the world, the underlying elements were always there. I’ve never in my career, or my life, seen a guy spontaneously become one after being something completely different, something else entirely. 

 

So I believe quite firmly at this point that it is rooted in childhood, as all things are. And it is a strategy to deal with childhood trauma. Perhaps the trauma may have occurred in high school, when you transition into your peer group being the most important people in your life, from your parents previously being the most important. But I think for the most part, parenting is where it’s happening, or at least early school experiences, which again, is still quite tied to parenting. 

 

I saw an interview with Dr. Gabor Mate, the trauma specialist, and he was asked, can anyone really have trauma after childhood? Is it always about childhood, or can you have it afterwards? And the interviewer said, what about when people go to war and they come back traumatized? And he said, and I haven’t confirmed this, but he said, Well, what you find is that if 100 People go to war, 20 come back traumatized, even though the whole 100 had the same experience. And of those 20, you’ll find that they all have childhood trauma anyway, and the war just triggered off their trauma. So he believes all trauma is childhood related. That basically, if you have a great childhood, you cannot be traumatized. You just can’t. You’ll get over it, you’ll heal, you’ll grow through things that are traumatic, even horrible things like going through a war. And I have a tendency to believe this, with everything I’ve observed in psychology. 

 

So I think it’s really helpful to see nice guy syndrome as a childhood strategy reacting to traumatic events, which is why it doesn’t work very well. Being a nice guy doesn’t work very well, because it’s something that a kid came up with to deal with things like parents and other kids. It’s not something that works well in the adult world and that’s why it backfires quite badly in the adult world. Because of course, a plan that a kid made up isn’t going to go well. 

 

Now as a coach, and as a friend, I’ve helped literally 1000s of men recover, in some way make some progress, from being nice guys into being confident and authentic, and it isn’t a huge range of stories that I’m hearing. These guys don’t have a wildly varied childhood experience. They basically all go through mostly the same shit, with some exceptions, but even the exceptions, a whole category of nice guys go through the same exception. 

 

So what I’m going to share is 10 traumas that I thought of off the top of my head, (there may be more than 10) the 10 that I see the most consistently, and the 10 that I think have the biggest impact. If you have one on this list, you only need one, you’ve got a real shot at becoming a nice guy. And of course, if you have many on the list, which most of my clients do, then you’ve got almost no choice but to become a nice guy. So these won’t all apply to you. But if one does, that could explain everything and it inly takes one; children are very sensitive. They’re very absorbent, they’re very malleable. You can change a child’s trajectory with a single sentence. It is so sensitive to change, so easy to adjust a child, to manipulate them, and to control them. So it doesn’t take much to cause trauma. And it can even be something that’s misinterpreted by the child. It wasn’t even a negative thing, but they heard it wrong, and so on. So it’s amazing how sort of hair trigger sensitive children are and how easy it is to fuck them up, basically. 

 

Now I’ve started this conversation, assuming that I’m talking to people who are quite familiar with nice guy syndrome, but just in case you aren’t, I’ve got to emphasize what I mean by it, which is a guy – usually a man – who engages in consistent and frequent people pleasing behaviors, or at least the passive version of avoiding disapproval. So they seek approval or avoid disapproval as a primary motive, especially when they’re in obviously social situations. So they will compromise their own values. They might not even know what their values are. They will give up being honest and brave in order to get good reactions from people. They’re so obsessed with being liked and with controlling the emotional state of themselves and everyone around them. That’s nice guy syndrome. Of course, there’s more to it, I’m not going to go through the whole thing. But when I say a nice guy, I don’t just mean someone who’s confidently generous and gregarious and enjoy his life, I mean, somebody who uses niceness to control other people’s emotions so that he feels safe. 

 

You also must understand, before I go into the list, that nice guy syndrome is just one possible response to childhood trauma and the kinds of traumas that I’ll be talking about today. And not everyone reacts to it this way. Two guys can go through the exact same childhood and go quite in different directions with how they respond to it. So not everyone is going to become a nice guy if they have these experiences. There’s something inherent in nice guys that we have in common, and I think it’s something good. I think it’s just a genuine, pure belief that only a child can have – I believe only children can have pure beliefs – this kind of purity, of wishing the best for others, of having so much empathy that it actually harms you to see other people harmed. To have a sense of righteousness and fairness about the way people should behave, or a kind of innate morality about people being good, and  how they shouldn’t be bad where possible. Now, of course, there’s gonna be lots of different takes on this, but generally believing that if something harms another person it’s probably wrong; if something helps another person, that’s probably right. I think the people who end up with nice guy syndrome are children who started with a basic moral philosophy of right and wrong,  helpful versus harmful. 

 

Now, there are plenty of kids who don’t mind harming someone else, or are selfish, or aren’t particularly bothered by other people and apathetic, and they’re going to go in a different direction to these childhood traumas. They’re not going to develop nice guy syndrome because they’re not going to have that innate kind of want to be good. And so that’s the driving force. So the tragedy of nice guy syndrome is many of the guys are actually genuinely nice underneath all the bullshit; what you’re seeing is a kind of murky, poisoned, tainted and mutated version of their niceness coming out, just absolutely infected with neediness and approval seeking and manipulation and emotional controlling techniques. But if you were to wipe all that away, this person will still be good. 

 

Put it this way, every Nice Guy I’ve help recover, still is a nice person at the end of it. Every single one without exception. I’ve never created a jerk. I’ve never turned a guy into a total asshole, a selfish prick – it never happens. They become way more confident and assertive and self respecting, but they still have the primary focus that everybody has a good life, they just don’t do it from such a manipulative, passive, weak self serving place anymore. 

 

So like I said, other people can react with different strategies: psychopathy, criminality, drug addiction, isolation. There’s lots of ways that people can react to trauma differently than nice guys, who are just one type of reaction. It gives me some hope in people because nice guy is such a common response as well., whereas criminality is such a rare response. At least, probably less than 1% of the global population are truly criminals and 1-3% are psychopathic in some way. So most people are actually kind of inherently good. And so most people, I do believe the majority of people in the world, are people pleasers. I don’t think I’ll ever be out of work, you know what I mean? I think it’s even more prevalent than depression. 

 

I should also note that there are guys who call themselves nice guys who aren’t- that kind of media portrayal of nice guys as these incels who are entitled to a woman and hate them and end up murdering them and are full misogyny and bitter, and those aren’t nice guys. They call themselves nice guys, in the same way that man haters call themselves feminists, but they’re not, they don’t count. They’re not part of the group because they rarely treat others well. They don’t sacrifice themselves or others. They hate other people rather than themselves. This actually disqualifies them as being nice guys. Nice guys, they might be bitter and resentful about their lack of success with women but they blame themselves, right? They worship women; they don’t hate them. If you hate women, if you see women as inferior to you and you despise them, you’re not a nice guy, you’re something else. 

 

So let’s get into it. Like I said, these are 10 off the top of my head. I haven’t nailed all of them, but they come up a lot. 

 

First is a chaotic or unpredictable parent. Unpredictability is a thing that will come through a lot. Nice guy syndrome is about control, creating a predictable, reliable, smooth and problem free life, as Robert Glover would say. So, often in the childhood you’re going to see unpredictability and chaos and the kind of walking on eggshells that happens when you just don’t know what the rules are. You don’t know how it is supposed to go . It never plays out the same way twice. Any trauma specialists will tell you when it comes to parenting, that predictability and stability are the simplest and most effective things you can establish as a parent. If you can get that going, if you can make it so that your kid knows the routine and knows the rules, and doesn’t have to guess anything, they’re going to feel safe most of the time (assuming that the routine rules aren’t also harmful). But what you get is you get a kid who might feel the need to manage their parent’s emotions in order to manage their own emotions. They basically think, If I can make sure my parents are having a good time, then I can have a good time, and if I can’t do that, if I can’t manage my parents, it’s hell at home, I don’t even want to be there. 

 

It can also be to the extreme of violence. I had one client where his dad would just randomly beat the shit out of him almost every day for nothing; for imagined crimes; for no reason, sometimes. So he was just constantly on edge, just waiting for violence.

 

But much more common is just emotional instability. The parents are just wild, there’s no rhyme or reason to why they feel the negative emotions that they express. The child is led to believe or allowed to believe that they are the cause of those emotions. The parents don’t take responsibility for their own emotional instability. So the kind of mama who says, You’re driving me crazy! Rather than going, I have struggled to manage my own anger, it’s not your fault.

 

The kid ends up feeling like, I am the cause of it. And even if you don’t directly say that to a kid, which a lot of parents unfortunately do, but even when you don’t, until you’re about eight or nine years old, your brain hasn’t formed certain functions. And one function that you get when you’re a bit older is that you understand you’re not center of universe, that other people have their own lives, and they have nothing to do with you, you don’t control them. But before that, you are the center, you’re everything. So if something’s happening at home, it’s somehow related to you. And you’re sure of that. If your mom’s pissed off, either you pissed her off, or it’s your job to fix it or something like that – it’s got some direct relationship to you. That’s how children think. 

 

That’s why parents need to be very careful about taking responsibility for their own feelings around their children. Because the default is the child will blame themselves. One person I worked with for many years, had a mother who was later diagnosed with borderline personality. And she was kind of like just roll the dice and see what you get. She was so random with her moods. She could be loving one minute and then shouting at you the next, and all you’ve done has been sitting there. She could take you out for ice cream and then leave you in the carpark and make you walk home because she suddenly changed. It was just so unpredictable. My client, who is also on the autism spectrum, there’s certain things she could do to reduce the unpredictability. She could placate her mother, she could do things that entertained her mother and get her to the point where most of the time the feelings were good. And it gives her the impression like, I’ve finally found something that allows me to survive at home. 

 

So you can see this playing out into adulthood: just as soon as someone gets upset about you, and you don’t understand why, you immediately just instantly try to fix it. And you try to prevent those kinds of feelings from happening because they’re associated with just horrific experiences in childhood. 

 

Number two emotionally distant fathers or lack of a father. The more more common is the father’s at least in the picture but just in proximity. I’ve found that guys who are actually raised solely by mothers are not so likely to become nice guys. If they have bitterness and trauma, it’s more likely to be something misogynistic, or they go down the path of actually not liking mean, whereas nice guys tend to have the dad there but the dad is a really poor role model for healthy masculinity. 

 

In fact, I don’t know any nice guys who report having a role model as a father – a role model of what it means to be a healthy man. So generally you get the emotionally distant father, or the emotionally unpredictable father which we’ve already covered. But he’s kind of impossible to please because you actually don’t really know how he feels about you, ever. He might occasionally say, Good on you boy, but you don’t know if he means that, he says that to everybody. Quite often nice guys have nice guy fathers. They have people pleaser in the house, usually the father or the mother sometimes, or both. So they get that kind of modeling, like they see the father interact with the mother as the submissive passive, and thinkg that Okay, so that’s what men are supposed to do. And that all gets registered. They got this dad where you have to do so much to get anything out of them, to get any sort of love out of them. You have to put on such a show, you have to be a really high performer or really entertaining. Kids who go the other way have to get in trouble and that’s a different path than nice guys gi.

 

One of my clients’ dad was just a classic UK nice guy. Everything that came out of his mouth – the few times he did speak – was just bog standard small talk cliches

 

Yeah, how’s your day going? You know, the weather is looking good today. I think the crickets on this afternoon.

 

No personality, nothing, and just bowing down to the mother and just having no assertiveness, no spine. And the client, the boy is a man now, he’s in his early 20s, and he still doesn’t know if his dad loves him. He still doesn’t know how his dad feels about him. He still has to do so much to get even a hint of any kind of real feelings out of his dad. 

 

So when you’ve got a father like that, you have to try really hard to get love. And that’s where you get the try hardness of nice guy syndrome. 

 

Number three, again, going along the lines of unpredictability: inconsistent rules, and unfair punishments, especially for being just yourself – being curious, being honest, doing a bit of risk taking. If you find that you’re walking on eggshells, like being in a foreign country and you don’t know what the laws are, and you keep getting in trouble. You know that that thing where something was fine yesterday, and now it’s a crime just because your parents’ mood changed. 

 

My own experience – one of my great sort of bitterness experiences from childhood – was the way I’d find out what the rules are was by breaking them. So I’d go to jail for a first offense. You know what I mean? If I did something that I didn’t know was against the rules, I would get punished as if I did know. I’d get punished as if I was deliberately flouting the rules. And rules would just be made up on the spot. Maybe I’d go into the pantry and I’d stand up on a barrel to get a packet of chips – suddenly standing on the barrel is against the rules, something I couldn’t possibly predict. And now I’m in trouble because I stood on the barrel. Or I would get home five minutes late, but I don’t even have a watch. And suddenly, I’m grounded for two weeks. I didn’t even know lateness was a thing. I got in trouble like that a lot. I spent a lot of my childhood grounded for very minor crimes. And it was very obvious to me that this was not happening to the other kids, so it felt very inconsistent. It felt very unfair, or overly harsh, strict. 

 

Strict parenting, generally, and nice guy syndrome go together hand in hand. The only way for a nice guy to actually have a life when he’s got strict parents is to become dishonest, is to pretend to be good and be bad on the side. The studies clearly show the more strict the parenting is, the more the children lie. And that was definitely my experience. I had very strict parents, who I have a great relationship with now because they’ve changed and I’ve changed significantly. But back then it was like a tour of duty, the rules – so, so many rules, I couldn’t possibly keep track of them all. Sometimes I’d be sitting on a chair in the lounge, I’d be like, Uh oh, my legs are on this chair at this time of day, like I had no idea what the next thing would be because my parents were stressed and broke. They’d just take that out on me without realizing that I’m sitting there thinking that there’s some structure to this when there wasn’t, that it’s just mood swings, that there’s some other stuff going on in the background as well. 

 

That kind of thing leads you to just be very unsure of yourself, feeling like pending doom, that you’re always going to get in trouble and a need to try and prevent that trouble from finding you. And that’s where you get that placatory element of nice guy syndrome. Nice guys are always trying to anticipate and prevent negative emotions because they associate people feeling upset with being in trouble. And I think that there’s just so many rules, that when a nice guy gets into a relationship, he’ll imagine all these rules about what he can and can’t do and say, and become quite passive and weak and often not speak his mind,  not do what he feels like doing. He’ll sacrifice his friendships and his hobbies because in some part, in some way, he thinks, I’ll get in trouble if I do the things that I want to do, because that’s what happened when I was a kid. 

 

Nice Guys, always have problems with binging and addiction as well, various forms, and maybe it’s sugar, maybe it’s drugs, maybe it’s Netflix. It’s because when they get out of the house, they are finally allowed to do stuff, and they just overcorrect. That was me, with a sugar addiction that I’m currently battling and maybe winning, but I was only allowed to have one treat per week, like one chocolate bar per week. I’m talking about when I’m like 19 years old. And all my friends are just allowed to eat whatever they feel like and they get their own money to buy it and so on. I had this extremely strict thing. So when I finally got out of home, I was just like, Oh, sugar, finally I can do whatever I want.

 

And nice guys tend to have the black and white fallacy problem. So if you’re really strict on a child, they tend to be big rule breakers later on, just to kind of make up for lost time. And then you get that kind of paradox of the nice guy who’s actually doing a lot of bad stuff, at least bad to himself. 

 

Numbee four: peer bullying and ostracism, being picked on being left out, not fitting in. These are common complaints with my clients from their early social experiences. But it’s not so common that it happens to everyone I personally did not have this experience until later. I always had a peer group in primary school and throughout high school. It was only later on that I realized that peer group wasn’t quite as loving as I thought they were. But I really felt like I was in the group. Now that’s actually quite a rare experience for nice guys. Many more, probably more than 50%, actually report feeling like they’re on their own a lot, that they couldn’t fit in, that they were the weird one, or they only had a couple of friends, and they were friends with the other weird kids and so on. All the way through to outright bullying, being targeted and brutally punished and picked on by other kids, or by their own parents, or by their older brothers, that kind of thing.

 

 So you get this overall picture of you don’t belong, you’re not good enough for us, you’re not cool enough to be in the group. And it can lead one of two ways for nice guy. 

 

So you get the either the wallflower type of nice guy, where he realizes, Hey, if nobody notices me, nothing bad happens. So they’re still ostracized and they don’t fit in, but at least no punishments come their way. And they just kind of sneak away into the background. The more introverted types have a tendency to go that way because they don’t have that kind of extroverted power. 

 

Extroverts like myself, eventually, if they’re lucky enough, a lot of them cotton on to something that does get approval and does get them in with the group. For me, it was being funny. I found that being funny got me in with the group of my peers. And I found that being academically talented got me in the group with adults. So I found a way to make kids like me and a way to make adults like me. I’d oscillate between being the funny kid and the smart kid depending on the audience. It was a tough one because being a smart kid with other kids wasn’t so popular. So I had to dumb it down and play it down, and pretend that I wasn’t as smart as I was, and that I didn’t read as many books as I did, and so on. And then with the adults, it wasn’t that I had to not be funny, but I had to sophisticate the funniness. I’d use adult humor, and kind of meet them at their level. 

 

And that’s generally what happens is a nice guy finds a strategy to either fit in, or at least not stand out in a negative way, and continues that strategy into adulthood. So you get the Chandler Bing style of nice guys: he’s always funny all the time and never seems to grow up – the Peter Pan thing. 

 

What I found is an interesting side note that I think’s related is many, many, many, many of the nice guys I’ve worked with report moving a lot when they were younger. So lots of different schools. I personally had three schools by the time I was seven. And a lot of the nice guys – when I run a group program or something, I say raise your hand if you moved more than two or three times before you were 10, and all the hands go up. That’s actually really disruptive to move a lot when your child is young. And I plan to try and avoid doing that as much as possible with my own kid or children. Because it takes time for a kid to establish a clique, an in group, and a group of friends. And if you disrupt that, they have to start over again. But the problem is if they had to start over again, they were the new kid. Who remembers being the new kid at school? Is there anything fucking more horrifying than walking into a school knowing it’s already established? 

 

I left my first school I think after six months, I was halfway through the year when I was a little five and a half year old or whatever, then I was going to a new school, everything’s already established, all on my own, trying to fit in. I mean, the kids had their crew in my first school. I don’t remember that well, but I just remember feeling intimidated a lot. Not by the kids, but just by the situation. I was in new kid at school. At my second school, I just couldn’t find a friend. I had like two mates. One was my neighbor who was just a friend by default. And then there’s one other kid who was also ostracized, and me and this other kid would hang out – with me and one more maybe. We were all just the Freaks and Geeks. And if one of them was off sick from school or something else, I had no one to hang out with because the groups were already established. I couldn’t join in when I didn’t have social skills. Just five and a half years old and I had like break into a group and take over leadership. I don’t know that shit. 

 

And then I got to my third school, and I can’t remember why it worked out but partly it was a smaller school. So there was only one group to be part of. That helped. But also I discovered being funny, and once I discovered being funny, plus, I think my dad coached the sports team – that helped as well, sort of gave me an in – I managed to finally establish a friend group, but that establishment was kind of luck. There’s a lot of nice guys, that doesn’t happen too. 

 

So nice guy syndrome is ultimately a syndrome to try and get love, isn’t it? It’s a strategy to try and get love, and to try and feel loved. So you can see why somebody who was ostracized, bullied, and left out, might develop such a strategy. 

 

Number five, being judged on performance and achievements and being punished for being less than. So being compared to others, being held to a higher standard than the other kids. This kind of thing can lead to nice guy syndrome in terms of trying to seek approval from older people, like your parents and teachers and such.

 

I had one of numerous clients who are Chinese, second generation in another country. So you might get a Chinese kiwi, but his parents are still full on Chinese. They don’t even speak English, and are conservative Chinese / traditional Chinese. I had one client, I remember that really well, I don’t think he ever heard words of love from his parents, ever. He had proper crazy Tiger parents. And he came home once and he had gotten like 99% on a spelling test. And his dad just said, Where was the other 1%? Top marks in the class and it still wasn’t good enough for dad. And that kind of thing happened a lot, constantly just being told, I wish you were as smart as your brothers, You’re a waste of time, You’re horrible, things like that. 

 

But it can be even more subtle than that, just like they wish you’re more like your brother. That’s devastating to say to a kid. So Look at Kathy’s son, he’s doing so well, why can’t you be more like Kathy son? 

 

And that’s when the comparison with others thing starts for nice guys who are like, Fuck, I’m in a competition. The love is scarce, you have to earn it. Only the winner takes home the trophy and everybody else loses. And again, you get the either approval seeker or disapproval avoider. 

 

So the approval seeker, someone like myself, thinks, Actually, I think I can win this competition. I’m going to go hard and get the love and beat the other kids. Because maybe you got a natural talent in the classroom, or you got sports or some way that you can impress people. 

 

But the people who don’t naturally find a way to impress others, they’ll be like, I’ll just try to pretend I’m not in the competition. I’ll just try to go unnoticed so that I don’t spark disapproval and comparison with others. 

 

From my own childhood, I was forced to do like two hours of homework every night, like not locked in my room, but certainly shut in there. And I couldn’t find another kid who had to go through that. I was like, Why do I have such intense pressure on me to do well at school? Even though I’m already doing well, I’m already in the top class like, when’s it going to be enough? When can they just relax and say you’re smart enough that will do? They were trying their best, but it was really like I felt like I was in competition. But there was no grand prize. I couldn’t win. Every time I did win, I had to do win again. I got the award for dux in my primary school. I mean, there wasn’t a lot of competition but dux is basically the smartest kid in the school. I got that award that got me into the smartest brainy group during my year high school. And all my parents did in response was up the workload. They keep putting more pressure on me to do well academically. Which just made no sense to me. I’m like, I’m at the top can I fucking cruise? Like, do you want me to do be better than the teachers, like be one of those prodigy kids who goes to university when they’re 14? I’m not going to be there! I’ve maxed out. I’m not actually that smart. I’m just good at pleasing others.

 

Aside from those who study, there’s  being judged on performance – having the love given or withheld based on how well you achieve certain things. Not moral things, not principles, not values, but external socially approved off things like, Are you a good kid in other people’s eyes? If you were judged in such a way, nice guy syndromes the response. 

 

And number six, enmeshment. Not so common, but only not so common because people weren’t aware that that’s what was happening. Now enmeshment is also known as emotional incest. And what it is, it’s where one of your parents has a relationship with you that’s not parent and child but something closer to partnership. Now, I don’t mean sexual abuse, though that can also be part of it. It’s not so much what I’m referring to. What I’m talking about is quite often the mother and the son. Like I say, most of my clients are men and the issues they have with their parents are generally quite gender specific; there’s a set of issues that happen with the father and a set of issues that happen with the mother. And emotional incest is one of the mother issues, especially in broken homes when there’s a divorce and it’s just the mother and son spending a lot of time together. Or they’re not divorced, but the marriage is for shit and if the dad is deadbeat or whatever, the mom will form a relationship with the son where she’s telling him her secrets, she’s oversharing, she’s saying, like, I wish I could find a man like you, I wish all the boys were like you and You’re nothing like your father. Or even worse, whenever you misbehave, like You’re just like your father – comparing you to someone who was her partner, or is her partner, which is a weird comparisons, like, we’re not the same category, I’m your son, not your partner or, your lover.

 

But just generally, the connection is one sided. You are maybe treated like a therapist, you’re expected to soothe your mother’s emotions, that kind of thing. And that can create somebody who worships women, somebody sees it as their job to make women feel good, it’s their job to make women feel happy and to listen to their problems, and take care of them and fix them and so on. Somebody who has a codependency relationship with their mother is likely to project that onto future women. 

 

So again, not so common, but very powerful. And then if you think about it, you might find that it was true, even though you’ve never thought about it before. Though, it is a horrible thing to think about, to face the fact that your parent treated you like a partner, even if there wasn’t a sexual element to it, it can be quite a disgusting feeling. But it’ll help you understand like, Why am I always looking for a partner who’s like my mother? Or why do I treat women like they’re a princess and I’m a servant? What are ways that this dynamic comes out? Why am I not being the man in the relationship? Why am I being a therapist? Well, have a look at how you and your mom get on. 

 

Number seven, this one’s an interesting one – might be more common than I give a credit for. But you can actually have a relatively decent childhood, but you have these random small events that are very powerful and significant. And the way they’re interpreted and the way they’re handled leads you to develop nice guy syndrome. So there are some nice guys who actually I’ve even met their parents or heard the parents described and I’m like, Yeah, I mean, there’s some things here and there., but I think your parents are all right. And that actually might be my parents as well. Like I said, my parents were probably too strict on me. I was judged on performance. My dad was emotionally distant until later in my life. There’s some of the elements there. But that might have not been the reason why I became a nice guy, because there were other things that happened that I have such powerful, quite traumatic memories about, that I think really shaped particularly how I interact with women, and how I viewed women. And also what I thought it meant to be a good person and a good boy.

 

I’ve heard a lot of my male clients describe a powerful moment in their early childhood, before the age of 10, where they were led to believe that sexuality from a man is bad and harmful. It can be as small as watching a sitcom where it always looks like the woman has to give up sex and that the man is a begging, sleazy guy trying to get it and looks like it’s some burden on the woman. It can just be something subtle like that where we allow men to hurt women with their sexuality. And you’re not just thinking about sex as the act of penetration – its thinking about being sexual, being romantic, showing interest, showing attraction, all of that in one category. 

 

If you get anything like a bit of shit about sex you shut down e.g. look how much it hurts people. It can be an event like that, like there’s one story – I’ve already done a piece on it – but these girls came up to me when I was in primary school. I’m just fucking around my friends and they said, Oh, this girl likes you. (I won’t say her name). They say she likes you, like little kids do when someone likes you and you want to be boyfriend and girlfriend. You’re like seven, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. I don’t know how old I was,  somewhere around 8 or 9, something like that. And I just spontaneously blurted something out, something that I didn’t even understand what I said. But I said, Oh well tell her I want to fuck her then. Which sounds horrible when you hear it from an old man. So I had get that. But I didn’t even know what fucking was right? I thought people rub their bellies together. I didn’t know about penetration or the bits and pieces of it. I  was born before Internet porn and understanding. Right? So they screamed and ran away, which instantly made me go Oh, I said something wrong. I’m fucking in trouble. I don’t know how exactly, but I fucked up, I didn’t have a chance to like reel them back in and say I’m just kidding or whatever it was over. But the way that was handled, I was humiliated and shamed. I had to watch this video on sexual harassment, I had to write letters of apology to her and to her parents. My parents lost it, they heard a one sided story from the school and came down on me really hard. I was basically treated like I’d actually sexually assaulted the girl, when actually I just said something that I didn’t even understand. I wasn’t trying to be sexual at all. Now, I’m not trying to diminish the effect of would have had on the girl, obviously, given the reaction, she took it pretty badly, and I feel really bad for her. If only I’d had a chance to talk it out with her. If only it had been moderated better, if a teacher got us together and said, Daniel, what did you mean when you said that?  like, I fucking don’t know what I meant! Really! And if she’d been there and we talked it through and I just said, Look, I was nervous because you liked me and suddenly those words just came out, and I would never harm you. And so you know, that conversation might have happened and it might have gone better for her too. Who knows how traumatized she was from that experience. 

 

But the way they handled it, my lesson was never be sexual, i hurts people. And combined with lots of other little elements, I was like, Okay, I’ll never fuckin doing that again. And I spend most of my 20s completely sexless directly as a result of that one experience.

 

And a lot of nice guys have one experience – e.g. they boldly ask a girl out, and they just chose the wrong girl who publicly humiliates them, you know what I mean? I had one one client who overheard his mom talk about how men are sleazy, and he worshipped nhis mom, loved her a lot. And he goes, Alright, I’d never want to be one of those men, because he didn’t have a man sit him down and say, Look, that’s what we mean by sleazy. Most guys aren’t actually like this. And as long as you do this, and so on, nobody explained that. He had to figure it out for himself. And so he figured out like, okay, just don’t talk to girls at all to, never do it. 

 

So it’s amazing. Like I said, hair trigger sensitivity, a small event can turn into nice guy syndrome because no one’s there to kind of come and collect the pieces. And there’s not enough counterweight. You don’t have like a powerful role model as a father or something to counterweight the little bits and pieces. See little things won’t affect a kid if they’ve got a lot of positive influence to counteract it. 

 

But again, if he doesn’t have any positive influences, or has other negative ones that are aligned with it, then the kids got no chance, right? They’re going to be massively affected. 

 

Alright, number eight, the culture of man hating feminism. Always being told it’s bad to be masculine in one way or another. When I was younger, I definitely remember kind of messaging about men are rapists. I didn’t even really know what rape was as a kid late. I understood it as a teenager. But again, there’s more very strong messaging that just even a guy showing interest in the girl is somehow assault and just inherently harmful. It’s just bad to be a man. 

 

And what boys do is they look at all this messaging and they go, Well, I can’t help but be a guy. So I’m just going to be ashamed of myself forever, sorted. I’ll do that. But what can I do to minimize how much of a guy I am? How can I reduce the harm that I’m causing? 

 

And so they start to observe the behaviors that are associated with men, the masculine behaviors: guys being assertive, guys being rude, guys being violent. There’s things that they are definitely harmful, but there’s other ones that are less so, like being assertive. It isn’t objectively harmful, but if it goes into the category of masculinity, the little boy goes, Well, that one’s out. I feel so much more comfortable. And they start getting this feedback, girls say Oh, you’re such a nice guy. You’re so lovely. And they’re like, Oh, turning off the man show really does work. 

 

And that was my experience. The the less manly I wa,s the better feedback I got, especially from females (and guys didn’t really have much feedback at all). Plus, I was playing a different role with everybody so I’d be a bit harder with men, go play rugby and joke about shit. But with girls I actually changed my voice to be softer. I used to call it my gentle voice. I talked probably like how most therapists talk. They take the bass out. So even taking the bass out of my voice, I just like castrated myself as much as possible.

 

And lots and lots of nice guys do this because they can’t figure out like what exactly the bad bit about being a man is, so they just delete the whole thing, baby with the bathwater, never realizing in the first place that the messaging they’re getting is not accurate. They’re getting it from people who hate men. It’s not a good place to get your information about men. And they don’t have that counter weight of a powerful male role models go, Here’s how you be a man, don’t listen to these stupid idiots, here’s how you can do it without harming anybody. It’s perfectly fine. You can do it like this. 

 

Number nine. What Nine and 10 have something in common is that we actually get positive feedback. So number nine is validation and approval for people pleasing and dishonesty. So this happens a bit later,  maybe teenage years, depending on when you get started. When it kicks in, it might be your first relationship that it really starts to happen or your first proper peer group. But this little strategy you’ve been toying with of being a nice guy, in whichever way it is, maybe you’re the performer, maybe you’re the manipulator, manipulative controller, maybe the wallflower. You start to get positive feedback.

 

They will start telling you that you’re a good person and that they like you. They laugh at your jokes, they include you in their groups, they stop hurting you, you get the validation. Or being left alone, if that was the thing you actually going for, it starts working. And in fact, it’s actually paying out finally. I figured right away for me it was being funny, and I totally get stand up comedians. Almost all of them would be nice guys, almost all of them. To get started, to go get up on stage and do something that brave, there has to be a big reward. And the big reward is like, Fuck, I can get a whole room to love me for like 15 minutes,. And so they go up there, and they just seek that approval, and they get it. And I used to play that role but I was just in my friend group. I just be the one always creating the laughs and telling the stories and keeping everyone entertained. Others, they just do really well at school, perhaps, or they’re really good at sports, or they’re in the band. And I did all of these things. But they find something that works. 

 

And that thing comes with a cost around integrity. They have to be dishonest to do the thing. They can’t say how they really think and feel, they can’t show weaknesses, they can’t be negative. And it has to be something that pleases others, it can’t be some random weird thing that nobody likes. So there’s a compromise that takes place. But because it’s working so well, and you feel so good about the reaction you’re getting, you don’t care so much about a compromise. I mean, you’re like a 14 year old boy – what does he give a fuck about integrity? He’s just trying to get a kiss from girls, he’ll do anything, he doesn’t give a fuck. And this is why it doesn’t pay out later on in life. When the laughs die down or don’t actually get you that far, or even if it does there’s no real inner reward. You just feel empty and hollow and lonely all the time, and you can’t get high often anymore. Then you also don’t have your integrity, you don’t even know who you are. So it’s a double loss. 

 

Number 10. Validation again, but this time for high achievement, getting love from doing well. So as opposed to being likable, you’re impressive. Many nice guys will do both, they’ll do the thing that makes them likable, and they’ll do something that makes them impressive. Like for me, I was funny, but I also did really well at school. So I kind of stacked up my odds to be as likable as possible and approved of in high quantity. So I found a way to finally get some love. 

 

Maybe you do well on the sports field, maybe something artistic or academic goes well, you’re good at it. And you’re like, Holy shit, this is something. Fuck I’m doing that for rest of my life. You get the kind of nice guy who goes into the family business, even though he doesn’t like the job, because finally it’s something that dad approves off. Or the person who marries the first girl that has sex with him finally, just marries her because she likes him. Finally, somebody likes me. 

 

I know so many guys, who we used to disparagingly call one-ginas, and I don’t mean to offend anyone listening, but the guys who basically married the first girl that he liked. Now there must be some cases where that really is true love and compatibility and you just nailed it on your first go, but I’d suggest in most cases it’s a form of desperation of like, Fuck, somebody loves me, cling for life. I think it’s a form of anxious attachment style. 

 

The idea, maybe I should just get a range of flavors – figure out what I prefer and who I am before I choose one flavor. Which is generally what healthy and confident people do, they sample the full buffet before they decide what they really want to eat. 

 

But people will commit to a career. I went to school, went to university and then signed up for a communications degree; I didn’t even know why I wanted to go to university. I hadn’t even looked far enough ahead to go, What point is there in me getting this degree? Where am I going with this? But everybody just approved of how well I did school and so that’s just another school. That’ll do, right. And I often did jobs because somebody offered it to me. I just took the path of least resistance. And whatever I did, I tried to win. 

 

Even when I got into dancing, and this is after I’ve done a lot of work on myself, I got into dance and I just felt this compulsion to compete and train really hard and win the competitions. It’s just I can’t I just enjoy fucking dancing. So now I’ve got a win all the time, got to achieve that thing where people say You’re the best dancer. I couldn’t just be another middle of the pack dancer who is having fun on a Saturday night. No, I’m going to be the guy who shows up and everyone gets excited. Thankfully, I eventually got over that. And now I am a middle of the pack dancer, so I can just enjoy it without being the hero. 

 

But that took a lot of work, I had to let go of training. I got to the point where I actually co founded a dance school. And that was when I said, Fuck I’m going way too far with this shit, it’s supposed to be a hobby, what the fuck am I doing? I haven’t even got my coaching business off the ground properly and now I’m running a dance school? I can relax. 

 

Anyway, so those are my top 10, though there’s probably more. 

 

And I want you to note that these are deeply embedded when something happens to you in childhood. You can imagine it like layers of the brain, like evolution. If you’ve got like those layers you get when a cliff falls away, and you see all the time through the layers in the ground. Some layers are untouchable. 

 

There’s some parts of nice guy syndrome that happened before you were three years old. I can see it in my daughter. She’s only two and I can already see a tendency occasionally to try and get what she wants by seeking approval and stuff. Now it’s nothing completely unhealthy, but I was to say, well, it could start pretty early. 

 

Actually, when you’ve got a really emotionally unstable parent, you’re already going to be doing some basic strategies when you’re like two years old, you won’t even remember. Your earliest memories are what? four or five years old, maybe? How much shit you got away with before then? Imagine how early the strategy goes back. It is deeply embedded in the brain. If you think of how reinforced it is from so many hundreds of 1000s of repetitions, you’re not going to cure this. 

 

I sometimes sort of use the word cure lightheartedly, but really nice guy syndrome’s about recovery. It’s about management, you got to know what it is you do that’s nice guy syndrome and how that’s different to living with integrity. And you’ve got to consciously change one behavior over to the other when you make your decisions, until the other way becomes more consistent and more natural to you because, of course, it’s authentic to you. 

 

I have to watch it forever. I’m always keeping an eye on it and my people pleasing and my fixing. Am I sulking right now? Or am I being honest? I have to watch it. And I slip and I get it wrong because my default is so deep in the brain, I can’t even get to it. But what I can do is I can stop it arising in my behavior. I can catch it as it’s a thought in my head again, and say, No, we’re not doing that shit again, and do the other thing instead. 

 

So you need to practice ways of living that override that immature strategy and those urges you get. And that’s a long term piece of work, well, it’s a lifelong piece of work. Of course, if you want help doing that piece of work and you want to figure out what the other way is and how to transition from one to the other, get in touch dan@brojo.org 

 

Thank you so much for listening. Please feel free to comment below with anything you think I’ve missed or any critique or thoughts you want to share on what I’ve talked about. And I’ll see you guys next time. Cheers.

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