Nice Guys / people pleasers: How to know if you’re doing things for the right reasons

Today we’re looking at a dilemma that comes up quite often for my coaching clients as they are working on nice guy recovery and trying to stop people pleasing. Eventually the conflict arises where they want to do the right thing, but they’re worried that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. And therefore, they’re not sure if it is the right thing to do. They start to doubt themselves because they’ve finally become aware of how unhealthy and toxic some of their motives have been in the past.

In this article, I want to help you to figure out if you’re doing the right thing and if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Nice guys and people pleasers actually quite often do good things ⁠— objectively helpful behaviours, but they do it for the wrong reasons.

Recovery from nice guy syndrome doesn’t necessarily mean totally changing your behaviour. In fact, it is often what I call the 360. That is, after all the recovery work we do together they behaviour looks quite similar to what it was when they started. They’re still polite, helpful, generous, kind and giving, but now they’re doing it for completely different reasons.

And they’re doing it in slightly different ways that make it a lot healthier than it was before. For example, a person who used to force their advice on people might now ask for permission before they give advice. As I mentioned, nice guys generally do a lot of what appears to be good behaviour, but for very bad reasons.

They’ll help someone but they’re just doing it to get recognition, or they’ll pursue sex, but they’re just doing it to get approval and validation. They’ll give advice, but they’re just trying to control and manipulate others.

Good behaviours done for such unhealthy reasons often can be disastrous in the long term for everyone involved. These behaviours end up causing harm because of the bad place they are coming from. Rather than helping now valued living with integrity means not only doing the right thing, but doing it the right way, because you’re doing it for the right reasons.


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This is a subtle but significant difference. In the long term, if you are doing the right thing, and you’re doing it for the right reasons, then the long-term effects are very helpful and healthy for everybody involved.

I want to emphasize that recovery from nice guy syndrome doesn’t mean that you stop being nice necessarily. It just means you stop being fake, you stop being manipulative, you stop being needy, you stop being emotionally disabled, you start doing all these things for healthy reasons. That means reasons of integrity ⁠— to make the world a better place and trying to make yourself a better person, rather than trying to control the world so that you feel emotionally safe.

The problem with being in recovery is it’s like a drug addiction, you’re always in recovery, you’re always at risk of relapse, and the most likely form of relapse is to do something for the wrong reason. And then to create a kind of spiral effect, where you end up fully relapsing into full nice guy syndrome.

This downwards spiral begins when you start doing things where you have both good bad reasons for doing it at the same time. At these times your integrity, your values, and that reason for doing it overlaps with nice guy reasoning.

I might go to help someone because it’s the right thing to do. I’ve asked permission, but I’m also hoping that they give me a recognition. There’s a little bit of nice guy still in there.

I might pursue someone because I’m genuinely attracted to them. And I think that I would bring value into their life, and that we could create value together, but… I’m also hoping that I’ll get laid and be able to tell my friends about it.

This kind of conflict between healthy and unhealthy happening at the same time is very common for nice guys in recovery. It’s hard to know, if you’re doing things for the right reasons, when you have such a long history of doing things for the wrong reason. When you’re in recovery, this stays with you all the time. For me, if I’m comforting someone emotionally while they’re upset, I’m at a very high risk of relapse, it’s very hard for me to be able to be sure that I’m doing this for the right reasons.

And this is actually what’s helpful for them. And then this isn’t about me fixing them. So, when I’m around, people are really upset, I have to get very conscious and very careful about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it because I’m constantly at risk. I can’t trust myself because I’ve got such a history of doing this for the wrong reasons, that it’s probably important that I never really trust myself in this situation. It’s just like a drug addict should never really trust themselves at a bar, right? There’s no point in trusting themselves around substances they’re addicted to. It creates complacency and risk on the same level as people pleasing. There are certain situations where I just should not trust myself because that’s best for my long-term quality of life. However, not trusting yourself doesn’t mean you can’t act.

Now there are two key things to keep in mind here:

Firstly, ensure that you’re at least doing the right thing, even if you’re not sure if you’re doing it for the right reason. The behaviour should line up with your values after a rational assessment of what’s in the best long-term interest of everyone involved, including myself.

  • Is everything out in the open?
  • Is this really what we should all be doing?
  • Is this morally right by my own standards?
  • Is this ethical, all of that should be cleared up, even if you’re not really sure why you’re doing as usual, make sure at least it also lines up with your values.

Number two is a little trick: try to force the right reason to win.
And what I mean by this is, if you’ve got a nice guy reasoning and valued reasoning competing, there are little moves you can make it depends on every situation to ensure that you can only do it for the right reason. Essentially you take away any possible people pleasing type reward that you’re seeking. Any possible Nice Guy bullshit can actually be squashed by the way that you take the action.

For example, a great version of this is remaining anonymous. A lot of people pleasing is about getting validation, recognition and approval. Therefore, if you want to help someone, if you want to give to make the world a better place, ensure that you’re doing it with by making sure nobody knows that you did it.

It can be as simple as giving Christmas presents to your family from Santa, so nobody knows who really gave it to them. You can enjoy them enjoying the gift without saying, “oh, by the way, can you tell me I’m a good boy for giving it to you?”

If you’ve achieved something, rather than taking all that credit yourself, you make sure you give credit where it’s due. You can say, “well, I’m only this way because this person trained me, and that person supported me. I couldn’t have done it without them”. And I really mean that, like they hadn’t been involved, this wouldn’t have been accomplished. Make sure you only receive recognition for your actual piece of the pie, rather than claiming the whole pie for yourself.

Watch out here though, because it can be reversed for some people pleasers. Don’t discount yourself either, say I did this amount, and this is the amount of recognition I deserve for this. Claim your actual rewards if you’re the type of people pleaser who tends to brush off compliments and avoid them. But don’t go outside of there. Don’t claim anything that belongs to other people.

Don’t forget to be grateful and give recognition to the people who helped you achieve whatever you achieved. Serve yourself first, especially if you are a caretaking type of person who self-sacrifices and hurts themselves to take care of others, in an effort to be seen as some sort of master. One way you can make sure that doesn’t happen when you’re helping others is make sure you get your own shit sorted first. Before you help someone with mowing their lawns, make sure you’ve mowed your lawn. Make sure your help is not stealing time away from taking care of your life.

Another way to do this is encourage rather than do it for them. If someone wants your support, guidance, or encouragement you can help them get it from themselves by coaching them rather than being the kind of servant. So, if somebody you know, wants help stay in their business, ask them questions like, “where can you get the best information for that?” And “what would you do if you were brave?” Ask them questions that will prompt them to come up with the answers, rather than just giving them the answers. This way you help them but without being the fixer and the controller and the manipulator.

So, it’s different with every situation you have to play with this in any situation, “how can I do this?” “If this is right by my values, how do I remove the people pleasing reward?” “How can I make sure I act with integrity?”

It can be just a very subtle mental shift, it could just be that in your mind, you get it clear why you’re doing it and that’s enough. Most of the time it will require an actual change in how you plan to do it or removing some extra bit that you would have added to get approval or get a reward of some kind.

So just remove that bit and then carry forward with the action and you come out clean the other side. That’s what I mean by forcing the values to win no matter what kind of conflicting motives you had in your head. You only got the rewards that come from valued living you didn’t get any nice guy rewards therefore — valued living wins out.

Lastly, you can also redeem yourself if you relapse and you did something you look back and like I wasn’t good thing to do, but I really didn’t do it for good reasons. Go and tell the person and admit to it. Try to repair the damage as much as you can and give back whatever awards you got. Make it clean again as much as possible. This will help you stay on track.

It’s better to go forward do something not sure why you’re doing. Afterwards you can assess whether it was for the wrong reason than to hold back from taking action out of fear that you’re not going to do it for the right reason. Make the mistake and clean it up.

Of course, if you want any help with this, get in touch We might be able to have a coaching session the first ones free And we can talk through this stuff I’ll see you next time!

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