Niceness does not mean weakness

Whoever said nice guys never win was wrong. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I prepare to enter a battle that I really need to win.

But am I too nice to fight? After all, the only fight I’ve ever had was in 1987 and resulted in me getting my ears boxed. I am, by and large, a fairly gentle soul. I try to be kind and thoughtful. I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, however ill-fitting they may feel. I’m generally quite affable, pleasant and jolly. Chirpy even. I enjoy making people laugh. I am, of course, only human. I’m also impatient, stubborn and sometimes grumpy. I say things and do things that I later wish I hadn’t. But I think ‘nice’ is a word quite a few people would use to describe me. So that takes us back to the question about whether I’m too nice.

Well, too nice would suggest that there is something wrong with niceness. It would imply that niceness is something undesirable – a chink in the armour, a flaw in my personality. Maybe I’m some kind of nice doormat for people to step on. Perhaps I’m a wispy bit of wishy-washy niceness that gets pushed aside as the stronger personalities barge past.

I’ve decided in the last couple of days to stop thinking of my niceness as a weakness – something I need to change if I am to become respected and successful. I will recognise that being nice is part of being me, and I’m giving myself permission to accept it, not to fight it.

Niceness is, after all, a good thing. Surely it’s better than being nasty. A nice friend of mine unwittingly confirmed this today when she said:

“My mum always said when I was a little girl that being nice is the most important thing as it makes the world go round.”

Niceness is a strength. If you can still be nice to people every day – even when you feel like you can’t cope, that life has trodden you down and it would be easier if you didn’t have to be you – then that is a sure sign that you are made of strong stuff. You’re a tough nut to crack.

There can, however, be a hidden downside to niceness, and to being a tough nut. A ‘nice’ person is often one who is diligent, reliable, sensitive, has a strong conscience and sense of responsibility – all admirable qualities, but all things that can bring extra stress. Dr Tim Cantopher, in his book Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong, says:

“Give a set of stresses to someone who is weak, cynical or lazy and he will quickly give up, so he will never get stressed enough to become ill. A strong person on the other hand, will react to these pressures by trying to overcome them. After all, she has overcome every challenge she has faced in the past through diligence and effort. So she keeps going, absorbing more and more, until, inevitably, symptoms emerge.”

And that’s pretty much a summary of how I ended up with depression. I carried on coping at work, wherever I was working and whatever the demands. I carried on coping at home, in spite of a total of three years of disrupted nights while I adjusted to the challenging world of fatherhood. I was strong. I kept going. But something had to give – and it did.

The fight I mentioned earlier is not a physical fight. I’m not going to enter a boxing ring and pummel someone senseless. I’m not going to get into a street brawl. I am, though, going to be handing out a severe beating to a special someone: Paul Brookes.

“Who is this unfortunate character?” I hear you ask. “What did this chap do to you?”

He’s my twisted alter-ego. My nemesis. The vicious, low-life, power-crazed villain who skulks in my subconscious. And I’ll tell you what he did to me. He brought me down. It wasn’t even a fair fight. There was no ‘Paul Brook in the blue corner, Paul Brookes in the red corner – ding ding, round one’. No, he crept up behind me, pulled a sack over my head and suffocated me. He is my depression – and he deserves what is coming to him.

So what form will this fight take? I’ve thrown pills at Brookes, and he’s been weakened but hasn’t retreated. He was knocked down by my first round of counselling, but had a rest and made an unexpected comeback when he was ready.

A very wise gentleman who lived next door to me when I was a boy once gave me a pen and told me:

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Although I mostly write using a computer these days rather than a pen, the message is the same. Words are powerful. I’ve been blogging about depression for a few months now, and each post has, in some small way, punched a small hole in the force field surrounding Brookes.

It’s time to take the fight to the next level. Armed with my own resilient brand of niceness, I will kick Brookes’s backside with the boots of merriment; stab him with the sword of silliness; knock his lights out with the fist of fun; and render him powerless with the shield of pleasantry.

To help me win this duel once and for all, I am going back to my counsellor. And that is what this blog post is really all about, under all the dramatic metaphor. A normal, fairly nice bloke, struggling with an illness, getting some help – and mustering up some extra courage and fire in his belly to try and shut that illness down for good. Begun this war has.

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34 Comments on “Niceness does not mean weakness”

  1. a passer by says:

    Have you read Mindful Way Through Depression?

    Good vibes for your journey.

  2. Lydia says:

    What an interesting blog, sounds very familiar, good Luck with the battle, I am just about winning at moment with medication and counselling.

  3. Jan says:

    Can’t help but feel you are writing about me here…… it certainly resonates yet again. One thing I try to remember about being nice, sensitive, caring et al – I ask myself if I can live with my behaviour. If I can, then that’s fine. I think I would rather struggle with depression but know I have been true to myself and my ethics, than become a b*****d. That said, I would rather be free of depression – but I don’t want to become an uncaring, me me me sort of person, either. Make sense? Take care.

  4. I hereby give you complete permission to be as mean and nasty and play as dirty as you can in your fight to overcome Brookes. Do not spare anything, show no mercy and go for it! Throw everything you’ve got at him and if you’re running out of arsenal, I’m sure there’s many of us on here who’d be more than prepared to pass on some of ours! You have a winning way with words, Brookes is not going to stand a chance!

    All the best!

  5. KittyKatt says:

    Oh Paul not a truer word said.. I have a lot of ‘nice’ people in my life and a good few of them I am fortunate to call friends, you and Jane inc. I would sooner have a hand full of ‘nice’ people around me than a whole world of the others.. Nice is good, nice is what everyone should strive for, nice is most definately not a weakness its what make other people want to be near you time and time again.
    People often say to me ‘your too nice, you shouldn’t let them do that or why are you always helping them would they do it for you’. Well I don’t care, to stop being that way is to stop being me and if I stop that then whats left..
    I’m glad your going back to get more help. If you find the right councellor they are brilliant. Good luck and keep writing xx

  6. Rebecca says:

    Excellent job, Paul! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing.

  7. A Guardino says:

    Beautiful article. Thanks for sharing! You are simply sensitive – a huge asset often undervalued – check out research by Elaine N. Aron at the Highly Sensitive Person http://www.hsperson.com . Thought Field Therapy has been of immense help for me. For details of practitioner near you, visit the British Thought Field Therapy Association website http://www.btfta.org.uk. All the very best to you!

  8. Sukh Pabial says:

    Have you done much reading into interventions from Positive Psychology? Martin Seligman’s work in this field is pioneering stuff. He’s been around for years and in the last decade, Positive Psychology has really come into its being. I’d be happy to discuss this further if its of interest.

    I write about Positive Psychology on my blog, and if it helps, come on over to have a read of some of the things I talk about. This is not a shameless plug, hence no direct link.

    Good luck in the fight against depression. Some things I’ve learned:
    – positive interventions can have long lasting effects in raising your feeling of happiness
    – sometimes you have bad days and you just have to accept them
    – a support network is vital to continued wellbeing

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thank you. I’ll have a look. I think the second point you make is a really important one. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one bad day = beginning of a slippery slope.

  9. the dotterel says:

    And all power, sir, to your elbow. I wrote myself out of years of depression then fictionalised the process in my novel called, appropriately, Writing Therapy. And believe me, it works! I suppose Catholics had/have confession; writing, though, goes further than merely allowing us to get things off our chest. Did you know in the United States stenographers (operators of lie-detector tests) record a massive reduction in stress hormones in prisoners once they’ve written a confession?

  10. Claire Bradshaw says:

    Thank you for sharing this, so much of this rings true for me. I am currently fighting a similar battle and have been seeing myself as weak for giving in to stress and depression. I shall be sticking the Tim Cantopher quote on my wall and reading it everyday and will keep an eye on your blog for further words of wisdom! Keep battling, you can win this fight!

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Hi Claire
      If there’s one thing that stands out above all other things I’ve learned about depression, it’s that it’s an illness that can happen to anyone – usually to the best of people – and is far from being a weakness. Good luck with the battle. Let’s declare war on our demons!
      Paul

  11. Sandy Calico says:

    What a fantastic post. You explain so well what it means to be nice. I’ve seen people on Twitter questioning how others can be nice all the time, with the implication being that nice people are boring. Well, it takes effort to be nice sometimes, but it is important. I love the expression ‘ill-fitting shoes’. I’m sure you will give the other fella a (nice) kicking and best of luck with the counselling.

  12. Emma says:

    Excellent Blog again Paul. Well done!

    I totally understand what you say regarding ‘niceness’ and strength/weakness.
    I too have a nemesis…Which causes me to hibernate both from myself, those I love, act grumpy, be selfish and generally be a grumpy, paranoid weirdo.

    When this occurs, all I can do is weather it…Wait until I ‘snap out of it’..Sometimes this takes a few hours, and sometimes it takes a few days…There is no warning of when it takes over, nothing specific that triggers it. It just rears up.

    I, too am a ‘nice’ person. In fact in relationship terms, I am so ‘nice’ that I get trampled on, taken for a ride, cheated on, and generally treated like an idiot.

    But, I totally refuse to not be ‘nice’. I am very trusting, mainly because I am very trutworthy myself, and so I expect the same from others. I am very honest about my emotions, my feelings and my life. I truly believe that the things we go through in our lives, good and bad make us who we are – and therefore, we should not change (unless it becomes unbearable to lead a vaguely normal life.)

    I have had a few ‘glitches’ with my mental health, and am not ashamed to say it. I suffered from post-natal depression after the birth of my first daughter(13 yrs ago!), and never really recovered. I was prescribed pills which made me feel detached from my emotions, so I threw them away. I even spent a rather bizarre ten days in Bootham when I was pregnant with my second child…Prescribed folic acid….Hmmmmm, diagnosis ‘a crisis at home’.

    Mental Health issues are so complex, but affect so many people. the numbers are staggering. It is so great that people like you are finally openly speaking about depression. It really is time to shine a mega beam on the dark corner.

    As for the ‘nice’ debate, I think that being nice is far harder than being nasty, as it involves being honest with yourself and true to your emotions…Most people can’t be that way. So NICE=SUPER STRONG. Nasty involves deception, lies, and ignorance – all the things I despise.

    So stay you, stay STRONG, and stay honest and true.

    Am thinking that your Nemesis will soon have met his match and will run to the hills! Well done, fight hard!

    Emma

  13. Suzanne Pickup says:

    Your pen certainly is mighty!! Your blog was a pleasure to read despite the subject.
    Good luck with your fight!

  14. Helen Doyle says:

    Just been reading your blog – and can relate to so much of what you say. I must read some more and hopefully use some of what you say to help in my fight with depression. Well done Paul – u r such an inspiration x x

  15. Kristen Shaw says:

    Hi Paul:

    People always say that I am so nice, and they make it feel like it is a weakness. And I always reply, first of all I am not that nice and I have also been humbled by life cause if you have not been, you may well be. Be careful what you say cause we are manifesting all day long.

    Bye Sir.

    KK

  16. Ruth Evans says:

    Dearest Paul,

    This blog brought tears to my eyes. Please don’t change your essential and wonderful characteristics (being nice, kind, loving etc ), just change how you think and see the world, if that makes sense. Most importantly put Paul Brook first, if that is possible given your life stage.

    Think very highly of you and believe in your recovery

    Ruth (E)

  17. […] putting yourself down. Stop setting yourself unnecessary targets and challenges. Work out what your strengths and qualities are, and remember them. Ask someone else if you don’t know what they are. I did. Write them down […]


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