Nice guys often finish last because they're too nice

 Men need to focus on avoiding the “Nice Guy Syndrome. Photo: Can a guy be too nice?

FLORIDA, October 4, 2012 — Yesterday, Dr. Robert Glover, author of the runaway bestseller “No More Mr. Nice Guy: Getting What You Want in Love, Sex, and Life,” explained his views about  how men and women differ in expressing their feelings, whether or not chivalry is a thing of the past, and why verbal communication could be considered overrated in romantic relationships.

Now, in this second and final part of our discussion, he tells us about how men can become too focused on others’ needs, what can be done to avoid the “Nice Guy Syndrome”, whether or not a plan for success is needed early on in life, and much more. 

Joseph Cotto: You have written that men sometimes become too focused on the needs of others, neglecting themselves in the process. What do you suppose causes this?

Dr. Robert Glover:

Dr. Robert Glover

This isn’t true just for men and not true of all men, but is mostly true for the men I work with, whom I call “Nice Guys.”

This behavior pattern typically forms in childhood when a child seeks to get value from a parent by being needless and wanting less or when a child senses that a parent is sad, depressed, or burdened, taking care of the needs of a needy spouse or another needy child.

The young child develops a belief that if he is needless or wantless or if they put other people’s needs ahead of their own, then they will be valued and eventually get their needs met (even as they hide their needs and/or feel guilty when others do give to them).

I call these beliefs “covert contracts.”

Nice Guys have three fundamental covert contracts:

1. If I am good, then I will be loved and liked.

2. If I meet other people’s needs without them having to ask, then they will meet my needs without me having to ask.

3. If I do everything right, I will have a smooth, problem-free life. 

None of these contracts reflect the reality of the world or come anywhere close to working. Further, most Nice Guys are unconscious of their own covert contracts and because no one else knows about them either, Nice Guys often end up feeling frustrated and resentful. This often leads to some not-so-nice behaviors like lying, manipulating, pouting, withdrawing, passive-aggressiveness, and uncharacteristic explosions of rage and resentment I call “victim pukes.”

Cotto: How is the “Nice Guy Syndrome” defined? Can it be readily avoided?

Are nice guys merely a shadow of their selves?

Glover: Nice Guys are men who don’t believe they are okay just as they are. This is a core fundamental belief constructed in childhood as the result of inaccurately internalizing life’s events.

For if example, if a child experiences an angry or sad parent, the child inaccurately assumes that not only has he done something to cause this, but that there must be something wrong with him for causing mom or dad to be angry or sad. This is called “shame.”

To deal with this sense of inadequacy and shame and to manage their anxiety of doing something wrong or being unloved, Nice Guys develop the covert contracts detailed above. Therefore Nice Guys unconsciously walk the planet trying to become what they believe other people want them to be and avoid doing anything that might upset anyone.

I have found that when children develop a Nice Guy paradigm to feel loved, avoid abandonment, and manage anxiety, it can be very challenging to confront this road map in adulthood. With that said, I have worked with thousands of Nice Guys (of which I am one) who have learned to make their needs a priority, be honest, deal with conflict, pursue their passions, and soothe their anxiety.

Cotto: If a man wishes to be successful, does he need a sufficient plan early on? Or, is it better to, as some say, accept life as it unfolds?

Glover: I worked with a man in his thirties who told me that when he was in the sixth grade that he made a list of everything he wanted to accomplish by the time he was 30. He told me that he had accomplished most of the things on the list, but there were still a couple of things that he wanted me to help him achieve. I told him that I felt bad for him that he was allowing a 12-year-old to dictate his life-plan.

In general, I’m not a big fan of setting lots of goals or creating grand life-plans. Instead, I encourage men to do what they love and pursue their passions. Every significant thing I have accomplished or created in life was the result of either doing what I loved or being challenged and responding to some life situation – not some big plan or list of goals.

Goals can be great to get us jump-started, but they are only effective if they reflect and manifest our deepest desires, gifts, and passions.

Nice guys are their own worst enemy?

I encourage men to get up every day and lean into challenge, to pursue their passions, and honor their deepest intentions. For most men, it is much easier to set a goal than it is to live with the internal compass of integrity, passion, and courage.

Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you came to be such a noted voice about relationship issues. Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Glover: I am a recovering Nice Guy. I grew up with a critical, angry father and a dependent, caretaking mother. I grew up in an extremely fundamental Christian church and have two degrees in religion. I was a minister for eight years and have been in practice and business as a therapist and educator for about 30 years. I have a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy and have written a book, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” I have been married and divorced twice.

I’ve never considered myself an expert, guru, or anything out of the ordinary. I am just myself and see myself as just an average guy. I like to understand how things (and people) work. I like to make sense of things. I love teaching concepts and seeing people “get it.” 

I think if you asked the men who work with me, who have read my book, and who take my classes, they would say what they like most about me is that I am authentic and live what I teach.

I am a flawed person who often has to make the same mistake several times before I “get” that it doesn’t work. I am very open about my life, my mistakes, and my journey, and I think many find inspiration in that.

I teach what I have found to work. For many men, I think I’m the good father, coach, mentor, teacher they never had.


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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