The term Nice Guy Syndrome was first coined by Dr Robert Glover in his book No More Mr Nice Guy. While it’s not an official mental illness or disorder in the DSM, it’s becoming widely recognized as a measurable and consistent issue for modern men. It’s also occasionally referred to as People Pleasing Syndrome, though this extends to women as well and is not as clearly defined.
In this article, I’ll outline the basics of Nice Guy Syndrome, so that you can recognize whether you or someone you know is suffering from it.
Or I can tell you directly, just fill out this short survey:
It should first be pointed out that each Nice Guy is slightly different from the next. In fact, you can get a wide range of presentations, which we’ll discuss in the next section. But there are some unifying factors that make this syndrome consistent among its sufferers. I’ll split the symptoms into universal and common.
These are the symptoms nearly all Nice Guys have, regardless of which type they are.
Control is the main unifying factor, though it’s almost invisible to most Nice Guys, who view themselves as subservient. Ultimately, Nice Guy Syndrome is about controlling the thoughts and emotions of others for your own protection. This means manipulating how people see you and feel about you to form a positive image, a.k.a. people pleasing. This can take many different forms, from passive agreeableness to outspoken entertaining performances.
Fake and dishonest. Nice Guys might like to think of themselves as honest because they see themselves as good people. But when it is investigated, you’ll find that they hide almost everything negative about themselves.
Difficulty with confrontations and boundary setting. The most common manifestation of their fear of conflict is the complete avoidance and prevention of it. Nice Guys tend to behave in an agreeable way so that confrontation never needs to happen. They view conflict as a dangerous form of rejection and source of emotional pain.
Covert contracts. Nice Guys rarely ask directly for what they want. Instead they expect to just be rewarded for being good. They will punish you in some way if you don’t meet this hidden expectation, e.g. sulking, but they won’t be straight with you about what you failed to do.
Emotional shame. There are very few emotions that Nice Guys are comfortable expressing. It differs between individuals, but the ones they’re most ashamed of are anger, confusion, attraction/lust, sadness, anxiety, and basically anything they think will make someone feel uncomfortable or will make people judge them as weak. This leads to significant struggles with intimacy.
Alexithymia – the inability to express and articulate emotions. When I was a Nice Guy, I had two settings: “fine” or “stressed”. I literally couldn’t differentiate between anger, sadness, stress, confusion, and tiredness. I didn’t know how to put my feelings into words.
Fear of rejection and abandonment. Nice Guys are terrified of being unloved, and will do all they can to avoid anything that proves they are hated. This mostly applies to romance but also to being accepted by peers.
Seeks approval and validation from others to confirm their worth. This is most often achieved by being helpful, easygoing, kind, funny, and considerate. Sometimes this is done indirectly through achievement and competition, or even through being controversial (rare but does happen).
These are the symptoms that many Nice Guys have, but not all. You can have Nice Guy Syndrome without many of these, depending on your “type”:
Obsessed with women’s approval. This won’t apply to the gay guys, but Nice Guys generally feel that pleasing women is the key to happiness. Sometimes, it’s even in the form of conquering women to impress other men.
Fixation on their reputation as a good person. Treats strangers and associates better than family because they’re more interested in winning over everyone than caring for the people they’ve already got.
Extreme emotional reaction to unfairness. Nice Guys believe they have been unfairly treated by life, so feel great empathy for it with others. They’ll often react strongly to things like bullying, or even something petty like cutting uneven slices of birthday cake.
Risk averse. As everything is about control, Nice Guys don’t go into situations they aren’t sure of winning. They stick to things that they find easy and prefer to be the big fish in the small pond.
Pukes. Most Nice Guys suppress anger until they eventually explode with childlike tantrums or even terrifyingly violent rages. Sometimes this can take the form of self harm, like drink-driving or extreme sports.
Inability to accept changes to plans. This is part of the control problem. Even if you make a change that improves their plans for the day, they’ll resist just because it’s different or not their own idea.
Self-sacrificing. Nice Guys will often harm themselves to help others, and indeed don’t think it really “counts” as help if it doesn’t hurt to do it.
Unsolicited advice. Nice Guys try to control people through “helping” them, meaning they often try to “fix” and caretake people, usually without permission, until a codependent relationship forms. Nice Guys want to feel needed.
Inability to lead or make bold decisions. I often talk about something called Green Light Syndrome. Some Nice Guys simply can’t move forward without permission and encouragement. This includes reluctance to initiate sex, even with their wife, for fear of rejection or accidental assault.
High achiever / over-performer. Some Nice Guys get their approval more indirectly by being impressive. They are top of the class, employee of the month, winner of the gold medal. Many top comedians and actors would be this type of Nice Guy.
Hides behind humor and nonchalance. To avoid emotions that are uncomfortable, some Nice Guys specialize in being funny and laid back. They never seem to take anything seriously and can make anything a joke. This also prevents conflict.
Avoidance of all forms of discomfort. Some Nice Guys will quit anything where it isn’t immediately easy to succeed. They like to binge on porn, video games, and alcohol/drugs. They are constantly seeking the path of least resistance.
Erectile dysfunction. The anxiety of needing to perform and please women can have physiological consequences. Many Nice Guys struggle in bed, either with ED or with premature ejaculation, or even just being unable to lose themselves in sex, treating it seriously as a job that needs to be done well.
Belief in a smooth, problem free life. Nice Guys tend to try to find final solutions to all problems, and avoid things that are difficult or impossible to control, because they deep down believe that one day they can find a formula that will end all suffering permanently. They refuse to accept that life will always be hard. This often leads to periods of depression.
Fear of their partners. Nice Guys are the men from which we get the stereotype of the henpecked husband. Due to fear of being dumped, Nice Guy husbands are generally submissive to their partners, to the point of being pathetic.
Only being kind and helpful if it will be noticed and rewarded. Some Nice Guys are all about the virtue-signalling, and will only help people if they are sure it will benefit them as well, at least as a reputation booster. They never give anonymously or help someone where there’s nothing in it for them.
Obsession with sex and promiscuity. As many Nice Guys are fixated on pleasing women, sex obviously becomes a focus point. Some Nice Guys also often believe that sleeping around proves their masculinity to other men, and makes up for earlier failure with women. And this can lead to Retroactive Jealousy, where the fear of rejection and being unworthy makes them obsess about their partner’s sexual history.
Types & Variations
Since reading No More Mr Nice Guy, it’s become apparent that there are nuances to Nice Guy Syndrome that weren’t covered in the book. In particular, the idea that not all Nice Guys are the same, but there are categorical types who have a lot in common. Here are a few I’ve identified.
This extrovert gets approval actively by putting on an impressive show. They’re the comedians, the high achievers, the successful athletes, the money makers. They are ambitious and bold and try to constantly prove their worth through winning and improving all the time. They never feel good enough, and yet paradoxically think of themselves as better than others. They love causing others to feel pleasure. They are often struggling far more than it seems.
This type focuses on manipulation to control other peoples’ feelings towards him. These are the Pick Up Artists, sales reps, pseudo-therapists, and gossipers. They constantly train themselves to better control how other people think and feel, and will sacrifice all integrity just to get people to like them, sleep with them, and build a “good person” reputation. They may think of themselves as “nice”, but often eventually develop bad reputations once their manipulation patterns are noticed.
This is the introverted type who doesn’t trust that they could win approval, so instead they focus on avoiding disapproval to achieve the same end result. They hide in the shadows and try to join in without pinging anyone’s radar. They’re agreeable, easygoing, quiet, and will take whatever they can get socially. They back down immediately if challenged, and only feel safe alone.
The Inner Critic
This type of Nice Guy is often isolated and alienated, obsessed with negative thoughts inside his head. He’s prone to being bullied and getting into conflicts, and is constantly worried what others think because he desperately wants to be loved but believes it’s impossible. There’s a good chance he’s on the autism/ADHD spectrum, and can’t figure out how to play the game like other Nice Guys can.
Nice Guy Syndrome is caused by childhood trauma. It’s a strategic reaction to painful situations and events, designed to protect the child. This can be vastly different for each type of Nice Guy. Here are some potential causes:
Strict parents. Strict parenting creates liars, because the only way the child can breathe and live freely is if they pretend to follow the rules. Before long, this pretense becomes a consisten persona. Common in first born Nice Guy children, and those from culturally suffocating backgrounds.
Moving schools a lot. Being unable to secure a tight social circle when young deprives the child of the skills to start friendships that last. They get desperate. They start to learn how to “woo” other children with fakery. They also avoid getting too attached because of the constant threat of connections being broken again, and develop an Avoidant Attachment Style.
Ostracized for being different. It only takes a bit of teasing and bullying for a kid to quickly change their entire personality to fit in with the cool kids. If people-pleasing protects them from pain, they’ll cling to it.
Emotional shame (especially in the sense of masculinity). Being told things like “boys don’t cry” and “What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?!” leads young boys to start hiding and suppressing feelings they don’t even yet understand. This can even be learned vicariously from peers, TV shows and movies.
Violent/sexual abuse. Sometimes Nice Guys are injured and abused by loved ones, but they discover that it lessens or stops if they are “good boys”, so they quickly learn how to walk on eggshells. Many Wallflower types come from this background.
Unpredictably emotional and unstable parents. This leads a child to become their parents caretaker, just to feel safe in the home. Unpredictability means the child must develop a universal approach to all situations that works no matter what, which means creating an generically pleasing persona.
Nasty romance experiences. The first time a boy asks a girl out can be monumental. If it goes well, he’ll likely be confident with women his entire life. If he gets humiliated, like me, or accused of harassment, also like me, he’ll be afraid of his sexuality indefinitely. There was a 15 year gap between the first and second time I asked a girl out on a date.
Emotional neglect. Boys who aren’t cuddled, validated, and listened to start to withdraw. They focus on achieving love via an engineering mindset, through winning rather than connecting.
Validation and praise. If a boy gets too much approval, he’ll become addicted. If this approval comes only from being pleasing or easygoing or high achieving or fake, then he’ll invest more into those traits than into integrity.
Bullying from siblings. Being the black sheep in the family can create incredible loneliness and rage, which some kids overcome by becoming untouchable and nonchalant.
Obviously there’s more, but there’s only so much I can remember and include in one article. Hopefully I’ve covered most of the symptoms and causes, enough for any Nice Guy to be sure of what they are after reading this.
Cure & Recovery Methods
Recovering from Nice Guy Syndrome is similar to recovering from drug addiction. In a sense, it’s the same. You need to learn how to cope with uncomfortable emotions instead of using unhealthy methods. You need to face your fears of intimacy, rejection, sexual performance, and being hated by others.
The primary moving force in the recovery process is Powerful Honesty.
At the heart of Nice Guy Syndrome is control through dishonesty and manipulation. “Coming clean” and learning to show what you’re really thinking and feeling at all times, especially when there’s a risk of rejection or hurt feelings, is the certain path out of this illness.
The most powerful behavior you can engage in is healthy confrontations. Standing up for yourself and risking conflict, expressing difficult emotions – especially in relation to other people, and even showing interest and attraction that might not be reciprocated; these are the types of honesty that transform you from people pleaser into a healthy masculine man.
You must treat those who are closest to you better than strangers and authority figures. You must learn to say No to certain people in order to say a more powerful Yes to others. You must raise your integrity standards about who’s allowed into your life.
You fear that underneath all your masks and performances is an unlovable man. In order to prove this wrong, you must expose this man to the world and let him be judged. Show people who you really are, what you actually believe, and want, and feel, and see how they react. Take off the mask.
You must eventually learn to risk your marriage, your friendships, your reputation, and even your job to prioritize living with integrity instead. Full confidence requires a complete all-in gamble. You can’t try to hold onto both worlds simultaneously.
You must conquer many limiting beliefs, like “I have to make everyone happy” and “Life is unfair to me” and “It’s OK to lie if I’m protecting people’s feelings”. You must challenge these beliefs, for they are your prison walls.
Recovering from Nice Guy Syndrome doesn’t mean giving up on women or becoming a jerk. It doesn’t mean turning to Red Pill, or MGTOW, or Incel communities. It means becoming confident, authentic, honorable, and meaningful. It means doing what’s right rather than what’s easy. It means courage, respect, responsibility, honesty, acceptance, humility, patience, and assertiveness.
You can make these changes. But sometimes you will not enjoy the transition phase. It will hurt to get rejected, and lose friends who are no longer right for you, and have people judge you for your weaknesses. Confrontations will feel horrible, at first. Becoming more real might disappoint your parents, or change your entire career path.
But hey, is all that really worse than remaining a Nice Guy?
You be the judge.
How you can make massive progress in just a few months!
You can do all this on your own.
Through trial and error, books, courses and online content, you can figure it out slowly piece by piece over time if you dedicate yourself to it and are willing to fail often and get uncomfortable in order to achieve social mastery and build strong self confidence.
You can work directly with me in your corner for a short period of time and achieve the same results in months that would take you YEARS on your own (or your money back!).
That’s what my confidence coaching is really all about. I accelerate your progress significantly by ensuring you:
- Overcome your fear of rejection
- Stop seeing yourself as not good enough
- Develop easy practical social communication skills while still being honest
- Unleash your masculinity to make you more assertive and attractive
- Increase your self-confidence and self-respect
- Get advanced practical tips to eliminate self-sabotage and give you the best possible chances at career advancement, dating opportunities, and deep connections with quality friends
- Help you see your blind spots and errors and develop a measurement system that you can use on your own to ensure ongoing improvement for life
It took me about 7-10 years to figure this stuff out on my own. It takes my average coaching client only about 3-6 months to achieve a level of mastery that leaves them able to continue coaching themselves to further success while feeling absolutely certain that they’re on the right path (proven by the results they get).
I’ve turned virgins into fathers.
I’ve created assertive leaders out of meek people pleasers.
I’ve released overthinkers so they become powerfully decisive.
I’ve transformed shy introverts into social connectors.
I’ve moved highly anxious and depressed guys into a world of permanent self-confidence and optimism.
You don’t need to take my word for it. You can test it out for yourself. Fill out the application form below for a FREE trial coaching session with no obligation to continue, and no sales pitch!
My coaching will either blow you away and convince you that it’s worth it, or you’ll simply spend an hour talking to me without losing anything.
Thanks for reading
Hope to speak to you soon