For the last 37 years, I have been exploring kindness and compassion. It has taken me down a road of mental health advocacy, volunteerism, abusers, toxic people and also rare exceptional kindness from very few, 5 to be exact. Kindness on one end is motivational, on the other end is used by abusers to keep victims trapped.
I have been a recovering nice girl for the last post awakening year or so. As someone who would constantly put others first for the last 36 years (before 2016), I was tired. An exhausted so deep, I have come to realise was a broken spirit. This brought me on a journey into darkness where I faced my own deepest wounds full frontal.
Even as I write this, I write with trepidation, it certainly would be far easier for me to just cater to the happy shiny nice girl concept and go "kindness is good" and "be kind". Rah rah rah. That's also not the authentic me, the questioning woman, the relentless truth teller and truth seeker.
Not addressing all the difficult truths is comfortable, it's safe, it's also why we stay trapped in our diminished selves, without a voice. Which is also why I'm writing this, to hopefully transmute darkness into light.
In a broken world, being kind is difficult. It's often seen as a weakness, foolishly idealistic, an excuse to cover up our lack of competitiveness. Kind people are often taken for granted, even suspect. It's also encouraged as the best way to connect with others, in your personal life or in business.
Amy Wilkinson, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, was struck by how consistently the founders of companies as diverse as Chipotle, Airbnb, and Under Armour looked for small ways to boost others. They made introductions, offered feedback, helped shape proposals, and opened doors. It was one of the six skills that emerged from my interviews with 200 top entrepreneurs.
For more than four decades, Psychologist John Gottman has studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. His conclusion is that kindness glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage as well.
Being kind is exhausting, it is. Even talking about it is mired in complexity. I remember quietly volunteering for tens of years and when I spoke excitedly that one time, I faced suspicion like never before. I swear if I complained about minute things like everyone else, I would have nods all around the table. Misery loves company, it's safe, it's not suspect.
I can't tell you how I told many people it's not that I can't dominate, it's that I choose to be kind. They all look at me in puzzlement, if you can, why won't you?
Has the kindness memo skipped some people? Or maybe they were the typical previously kind people who are sick of being stepped on one too many times. I'm sure we have all tried to be kind and then found someone pushing the boundaries continuously until we find it unbearable. When we decide enough is enough, we now face the messy aftermath of projection. We have somehow risen their hopes and dashed them as well. When if we weren't kind to begin with, we wouldn't have to face any of it.
It was last year when I launched this website that I listed my volunteerism experience for the first time, I figured I'm going to be my own and nothing else's. Rediscovering my voice meant owning all parts of me fearlessly. No way was I going to lose it to someone else ever again. No matter how hard, no matter how vulnerable, no matter how long.
This surprised many people, what I have been doing in my life. Even those who have known me for a lifetime.
It wasn't that I didn't want to tell the people around me, it's that previous experience reinforced repeatedly in this one year, has taught me that it's more trouble than it's worth. It's so bad that I feel myself even becoming defensive at some point. I would rather people not bring it up, so I won't have to explain the complexity of it. The very few times I did talk about it, three to be exact, I was seen as glorifying myself, insincerely gaining credit. This still puzzles me until today, do they think so little of me or so little of themselves? I suspect the answer is a little bit of both.
In a Buzzfeed article by Anna Kopsky, she listed 26 Undeniable Truths All Overly Nice People Know To Be True. Among them are
1. People think you're being fake because they're not used to your optimism.
6. Which makes people think they can walk all over you, because you've never been confrontational toward them.
Then there're those who talk about kindness as one of the top qualities they appreciate in a person. I would excitedly agree then realised as we dialogued further that they meant me to them, not them to me. EVERY SINGLE TIME. It's something they spot in someone and not something they exude themselves.
Talking about kindness is something that's part of being socially acceptable, something a decent human being believe in, yet we live in a world where basic respect often isn't even shown. There's definitely a discrepancy here, a huge gulf in reality and expectations. I hear this from many who're mentally ill and suffering desperately alone, where are all the kind people at now? I too experienced no support during my darkest times.
The worst thing about being kind is someone would now have tremendously high expectations of you, I'm talking about reach past the skyscrapers high, shoot down the stars high, get the moon high. If you're not emptying yourself up to put others first ALL THE TIME, you aren't kind. It doesn't matter what day you had, it doesn't matter the context, it doesn't matter if it's reciprocal.
Also from Anna Kopsky's Buzzfeed article above, is
20. Whenever you stand up for yourself, it shocks people.
22. People are always testing your niceness, and you have to act like they're not being an asshole.
23. Everyone always expects you to be a pushover, which is annoying AF.
24. When everyone else is in a bad mood, you feel like you have to provide the positive energy.
The irony is that if you were typically self-centred, it makes so much more sense to people. It's normal, you're normal, you now fit into the box of social conditioning. They can compartmentalise you and store you away quickly in their heads. You're no longer suspect, just ordinarily broken like everyone else.
Show even a show a morsel of doubt and they're disappointed in you. Even if they never volunteered for a day, never did anything for anyone that isn't self-serving, they now have the right to judge you. The irony of this situation is that you also want to be kind to them. Which was what I did in the past. zzzz....I know I know. Now as a recovering nice girl, I go *cough* toxic people. Yeah. No. Bye.
Another interesting experience is in a Facebook group. I experienced 90% of commentators who said volunteering is self-centred and many agreeing that all motivations are self-serving. Then my question is, if this is self-serving, what isn't?
My answer is none.
As an abuse survivor, an Empath and a person who use to have bipolar (misdiagnosed), I did amazingly well since I emptied myself out for everyone, all my life. It also highlighted to me how self-punishing and unkind to myself I was. This was something I started recognising last year and even after a year later, I haven't fully balanced back, that's how extreme it's for me, it's the same for many women who experience the systematic oppression of a patriarchy.
I'm still grieving my old life, all the wasted energy on toxic people, all the trappings of a diminished life. Which leads me to another question, why can't someone believe in kindness and have vulnerabilities at the same time? This is another common expectation - that people who're kind are invincible, happy at all times.
Being kind and having vulnerabilities isn't mutually exclusive. It's being human. Many kind people are motivated by suffering, suffering of self and suffering of others. All the wellness leaders have had trials most cannot imagine. Their core motivation IS their suffering, to prevent others from suffering. It's the same for me.
They need support like any other person, they are still human. Yes, humans who manage their emotional, physical or spiritual lives better than others. Humans who feel, bleed, scar like anyone else. Humans who live, learn, recoup and rise.
Humans like me, I am living whole and also a recovering nice girl. It's not in contradiction. All these indicate to me that most people lack balance, it's also somewhat comforting that my imbalance may have been on the people pleaser side but many are on the self-centred side, both sides will suffer, just suffer differently.
Also lots of people are trapped in fear, fear so deep that safety is only available when someone is people pleaser kind, bend over backwards kind. Anything less than that is suspect. All or nothing or it's suspect.
This is unproductive thinking. Unrealistic high expectations will guarantee disappointment for the person who has it, not the recipient of it. No one can cater to everyone this way and no one should have to. We all need to learn how to take primary responsibility of our own wellbeing and not depend on someone else.
The common dominator of every situation is yourself. I never did expect anyone to be kind to me at the expense of themselves. Not then and especially not now. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That's me being unkind to them so how can I expect them to be kind to me?
Also, safety is not found in someone being kind to you. True safety is found within. Someone's kindness will create a safe place for you to heal your own wounds. It will offer hope, a role model to aspire to, a light in a dark world. It will allow you the temporary safe place to heal, it's not a permanent safe place until you find it within.
Without reciprocal kindness, even the most well-meaning supportive people will be exhausted. Reciprocial kindness creates a safe place for both parties, it also creates meaning for both parties as well. This is the only way both parties can grow. Both studies above are based on reciprocal kindness, not unrequited kindness.
So kindness with the potential for reciprocity is the way to go, a balance of self-kindness and kindness to others. Kindness with boundaries, where you pace yourself, practice discernment, not an all in mentality from the start. A kindness where should you decide to renegotiate is flexible enough to honour your current circumstances without draining you. We aren't here to be torn down, diminished. We're here to live free, live large, live well and live abundantly.
When you take kindness too far, you're being an enabler, you aren't truly helping them at all, you are harming them in a different way. By taking on the responsibility of someone on your shoulders, you're not allowing them the opportunity to grow into all they can be. Similarly, you're exhausting yourself at the expense of well, NOTHING, really. All you provide is temporary, as long as someone doesn't take personal responsibility, no lasting change happens. This cycle is exhausting and to be taken for granted on top of that? No one deserves it. Not me, not you. NO ONE. This is particularly obvious when it comes to narcissists, who lay on the extreme end of self-centredness.
Sometimes there really is no choice but to let someone hit rock bottom and understand a change needs to happen. It's tough to watch, it's also necessary. I also know it's possible to rise higher after hitting rock bottom, that's what happened to me. So there is hope.
There are many reasons why indiscriminately kind people often find toxic people making a beeline for them. As a recovering nice girl, I have started standing up for myself and realised how much energy I have expended on being mindlessly kind when it all could have gone to self-care or building deeper relationships with my chosen inner circle.
Essentially you can't build a relationship with toxic people, being toxic requires a constant imbalance in their favour, they will also be the first to abandon you in your time of need. A total waste of time.
If you have lots of kindness to give, go volunteer, many charities rely heavily on volunteers to survive, those are the most underserved segments of society, they sure can use a kind heart like yours.
Love, light and peace,
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For why you feel exhausted - Are You A Recovering Nice Girl?
For how we lose our voices - Me Too, Stories Of Bodies Lost To Patriarchy
For more about Narcissists - I Hate Narcissists & I'm A-OK With It