“I want you to know that I’m really uncomfortable with that thing we talked about last week.”
Lars, an anxiety-filled executive, began his second session of counseling with this statement. Lars had come to see me on the encouragement of his wife. He reported being generally depressed and unhappy for as long as he could remember. In recent months he had found it difficult to sleep at night and was experiencing migraine headaches on a regular basis. Even though everything in his life seemed to be “fine” — good job, nice home, family, etc. — he never seemed to be happy. In his first counseling session, Lars revealed that he had constant fantasies of “chucking it all” and disappearing to somewhere else in the world. These thoughts made him feel guilty, so he kept them to himself.
In that session I asked Lars what he did for himself. He gave me a puzzled look. “What do you mean?” he asked.
I repeated the question.
After a pause, he answered, “Not much, I guess.”
For the rest of the session, I shared with him the importance of making his needs a priority and taking responsibility for finding ways to meet them. This discussion was met with both fear and resistance from Lars. The same hesitancy was repeated as he began his second counseling session.
“Which part of our discussion last week made you uncomfortable?” I asked.
“All of it,” he responded. “That part about making my needs a priority really made me uptight.”
I asked him what part about taking responsibility for his needs made him anxious.
“Everything,” he responded. “That seems like that would make me selfish and self-centered.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
Lars looked at me with amazement. “What’s wrong with that,” he replied, “is that being selfish would make me too much like my old man. All he ever thought about was himself and the rest of us suffered as a result. I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t be a self-centered S.O.B. like him. I’ve got a wife, kids, a job, a mortgage, and bills to pay. There’s no room for me to start behaving like my father.”
Low Maintenance Kinds Of Guys :
Lars is a fairly typical Nice Guy when it comes to his needs. Nice Guys generally focus their attention on meeting everyone else’s needs while trying to be “low maintenance” kinds of guys themselves. When I talk with them about making their needs a priority, their response is similar to that of Lars.
This ubiquitous pattern among Nice Guys is the result of childhood conditioning. When a child’s needs are not met in a timely, healthy manner, the child may come to believe he is “bad” for having needs. He may also think that it is his needs that cause people to hurt him or abandon him. Typically Nice Guys respond to these inaccurate interpretations of their life events by developing a number of survival mechanisms.
- Trying to appear needless and wantless.
- Making it difficult for others to give to them.
- Using “covert contracts.”
- Caretaking — focusing attention on other people’s needs.
While creating an illusion of security in childhood, these survival mechanisms only increased the odds of their needs going unrecognized and unmet.
Trying To Appear Needless And Wantless Prevents Nice Guys From Getting Their Needs Met
For Nice Guys, trying to become needless and wantless was a primary way of trying to cope with their childhood abandonment experiences. Since it was when they had the most needs that they felt the most abandoned, they believed it was their needs that drove people away.
These helpless little boys concluded that if they could eliminate or hide all of their needs, then no one would abandon them. They also convinced themselves that if they didn’t have needs, it wouldn’t hurt so bad when the needs weren’t met. Not only did they learn early not to expect to get their needs met, but also that their very survival seemed to depend on appearing not to have needs.
This created an unsolvable bind: these helpless little boys could not totally repress their needs and stay alive, and they could not meet their needs on their own. The only logical solution was to try to appear to be needless and wantless while trying to get needs met in indirect and covert ways.
As a result of these childhood survival mechanisms, Nice Guys often believe it is a virtue to have few needs or wants. Beneath this facade of needlessness and wantlessness, all Nice Guys are actually extremely needy. Consequently, when they go about trying to get their needs met, Nice Guys are frequently indirect, unclear, manipulative, and controlling.
Making It Difficult For Others To Give To Them Prevents Nice Guys From Getting Their Needs Met
In addition to using ineffective strategies to get their needs met, Nice Guys are terrible receivers. Since getting their needs met contradicts their childhood paradigms, Nice Guys are extremely uncomfortable when they actually do get what they want. Though most Nice Guys have a difficult time grasping this concept, they are terrified of getting what they really want and will go to extreme measures to make sure they don’t. Nice Guys carry out this unconscious agenda by connecting with needy or unavailable people, operating from an unspoken agenda, being unclear and indirect, pushing people away, and sabotaging.
A good illustration of this dynamic is the way Nice Guys commonly try to get their sexual needs met. Many of the Nice Guys I’ve worked with have expressed a heightened interest in sex, yet they frequently feel frustrated in their attempts to get these needs met. This is usually because their actions pretty much guarantee that they won’t get what they believe they want.
Nice Guys have an uncanny knack of picking partners who, because of childhood sexual abuse or other negative experiences with sex, tend to have a difficult time being sexually expressive. When these partners do make themselves available to be sexual, it is not uncommon for Nice Guys to do something that further ensures that they don’t get their needs met. The Nice Guy may respond by taking control rather than letting the sexual experience unfold. He may focus on his partner’s sexual needs before she has a chance to pay attention to him. He might start a fight by making a comment about her weight or her past unavailability. All of these strategies pretty much ensure that the Nice Guy won’t have to experience the fear, shame, or anxiety that might get triggered if he actually allowed someone to focus on his needs.