This article is part of the series
This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.
What exactly is the difference between being a "nice guy", and being a "good man"?
There's a massive confusion that modern humans have in how we behave & interact with each other socially.
We value people who are "nice" to us, and we believe that it's good to be "nice" to others. We believe that we'll win social approval, and attract more "nice" people into our lives. We expect that we'll be appreciated, and avoid uncomfortable conflicts.
And... we'll be thought of as "good people," right?
It looks like a solid win from every angle...
"If I focus my attention on making other people happy, then eventually, I'll be happy too."
On the surface, this seems so self-evident that we struggle to understand a key distinction...
Being a "good man" and being a "nice guy" are not the same thing at all.
Understanding the Difference
Let's throw down some terms for this article.
I'm going to lean towards masculine gender terminology, since a this problem was first framed in a masculine context in the book No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover. However it's important to understand that this problem is fundamentally known as "people pleasing" and is an equally significant problem among women as well.
Let's start with these definitions of these two mindsets;
- A "Good man," or good person, or good human- refers to a nice, kind, respectful authentic, mature, and socially-aware adult. They are usually thought of as friendly and are generally respected and appreciated by the people around them.
- A "Nice guy." or people-pleaser refers to someone who identifies with "being nice" as a core aspect of their identity. They seek to be nice to everyone, no matter the situation. They actively seek the approval of others, and avoid confrontation, as it appears to be unhelpful towards that goal.
Why this Distinction Confuses Us
On the surface, both mindsets look very similar.. but under the surface, they are nothing alike at all.
On the surface, people of both mindsets appear to be...
- Socially Aware
- Responsive to the needs of others
- "Good citizens"
However here are some of the key differences that I see between the "Nice Guy" mindset, and the "Good Man"...
Spend some time here to examine these comparisons carefully, and reflect on your mindset regarding these things.
No matter whether you're a man or a woman, where do you fit in each point of this comparison?
Where do other people in your world fit in this comparison?
The more clearly you can see this mindset distinction in your own world, the more clearly you can see the problem, and what needs to change.
Where Do Our People-Pleasing Tendencies Come From?
Except for a handful of psychopaths and sociopaths among us, we all crave good social relationships.
Indications are that "people-pleasing" behavior has roots in our evolutionary psychology and can be traced all the way back to when our earliest mammalian ancestors first appeared on Earth.
In modern times, cultural impacts play a big role too.
In fact, since the 1970's it has become unfashionable to exhibit many of the characteristics we'd identify as masculine...
- High levels of self-confidence, which are often viewed as over-confidence.
- Dominance behaviors, for example, direct eye contact, a powerful voice, or sitting comfortably in a spread-out, open body position ( often referred to as manspreading ).
- Very direct expressions of honesty, interest, or intent.
- Aggression, or the pursuit of victory.
However above all else, I see one single reason that modern adults practice people-pleasing...
The fear of rejection.
If you look at your life from the time you were an infant, you learned to make your mother and father happy, because the risk of rejection created an intense sensation of fear for you.
The fear of rejection is a very powerful because to a child, "being liked" is the difference between life and death.
We grow up with this mindset, and entrench ourselves in it.
We learn to be nice to everyone... our brothers and sisters. Our teachers. Our friends, romantic partners, neighbors... co-workers, bosses, governments... Everyone. Even people we don't like... simply because somehow, we feel safer.
We feel dependent on the people around us for our survival and if we manage to piss them off, we feel very vulnerable.
Why "Good Men" Can Not be "Nice Guys"
That Fear of Rejection is central to the "nice guy" mindset.
Let's revisit our two mindsets, with this new perspective...
A "Nice guy"
A "Nice guy" is motivated to maximize his security and external validation - which he does by seeking to maximize social approval and to minimize rejection.
People-pleasers seek to behave in a way, such that others will "like" them- or at least won't disapprove of them too strongly.
Fundamentally it's a form of manipulation, designed to seek attention, approval, and security - just like a baby's smile.
A "Good man"
A "Good man" is motivated to be their best, most powerful, and most authentic self, regardless of what others think.
"Good men" take full self-responsibility for their successes or failures, their emotions and their dreams. These things belong to them personally, and are not given to them by other people.
"Good men" enjoy the company and companionship of others, but do not use it as validation, or expect other people to make them happy.
"Good men" do not seek the approval of others. They simply live their lives openly, and let others decide for themselves whether they want to join the party.
"Good men" will unhesitatingly confront, set boundaries, or cut people out of their lives if necessary in order to remain 100% authentic. There is simply no other acceptable option.
"Good men" respect and look after others, but expect those people to be independent, mature, and responsible for their own happiness too.
Developing Emotional Maturity & Self-Reliance
I think it's fair to say that the distinction between the "nice guy" and the "good man" is all about emotional maturity.
These two mindsets can not exist in the same human, for the same reason that a caterpillar can not be a butterfly.
Let's be clear... people pleasing is an incredibly valuable survival skill... when you're 3 years old. It just becomes progressively less useful as you mature, until by puberty, it's getting the way of real adult relationships.
Developing the "Good Man" Mindset
Ok, I see the goal! Now how do I get there?
The process of developing maturity means that as we change, our interface with the world changes too. Here's what you want to focus your attention on, in developing maturity in your own mindset.
Your core values are your best friend. When you know them, and live by them authentically, you deeply impress the most important person in your life... yourself.
Once you learn who you are, at a core values level, suddenly, you know what's right for you, and you don't feel the need for other people to approve, or even understand your choices.
Even better, you'll seek your own internal approval because it's 100% consistent and far more satisfying than anyone else can give you.
Be 100% self-responsible
Take full self-responsibility for your goals, dreams, emotions, and your future. No one else really cares like you do, so stop waiting for approval, or for help from others.
It's up to you to chase your own dreams... let others focus on chasing theirs.
Take full ownership of your own future, and build it every day.
Be 100% ok with rejection
What other people think of you is none of your business.
Someone disapproving of you, or your life choices is not your problem- it's theirs. Recognize that, and simply allow them to exit your world gracefully. Right now, they see the world differently, and that's great to discover, because neither of you would add anything to each other's lives.
The experience of rejection is a great time to reflect, and to re-examine your values, and why you're living your life the way you are. It gives you invaluable clarity of purpose, while at the same time freeing you from people who would hold you back, or just be excess baggage on your journey.
Embrace rejection, it's a beautiful thing, and your life is better with it.
Never change yourself for the approval of others. Neither of you will benefit from that.
Be 100% ok with confrontation, and setting boundaries
People are great, sometimes. They can add huge value and fun to your life. However people can also be equally draining, difficult and demanding.
Some people will even derail your train if you allow them to.
It's up to you to set boundaries with people when you experience misalignments and conflicts with them.
The people around us affect us hugely - it's up to you to decide who to allow into your life, and in what way.
Define your own social world. It's your party, so host it well.
Reviewing Your Options & Making an Informed Choice
Let's step back for a moment.
We've discussed what people pleasing is, and why we do it. We've discussed how an emotionally mature "good man" mindset is different, and why.
We've even gone into some detail on how to develop that emotional maturity into your own mindset, by shifting how you approach your life and the people in it.
But even with all of that understanding...
People-pleasing is a deeply ingrained part of our world-view, and is very difficult to shake.
A lifetime of people-pleasing means that at a subconscious level, all of your habits, behaviors, reactions- even your perception of the world around you- have been molded around that mindset.
This will take time to rebuild, but if actively pursue the "good man" mindset, the "nice guy" will simply melt away and be replaced with something far better.
It's Entirely Worth it
If you suffer from a people-pleasing mindset, then chances are you're unhappy with your life. You feel unfulfilled, mired in weak relationships. You regularly experience friction with other people, and frequently suppress emotions such as anger, frustration, depression, and resentment.
You feel "not good enough," and feel as though self-approval is impossible... because you don't know yet what authenticity feels like.
And all of that's OK...
There's nothing wrong with a caterpillar. But you have the capacity to become something far greater than who you are now.
I'd like to try do describe what the difference was like for me between when I identified as a "Nice guy"... versus where I am, and who I'm becoming now.
The "Nice Guy" Experience
Here are some of the pros and cons of I experienced of being a "Nice Guy";
- Few confrontations. I had little to no conflict, because I always gave others what they wanted as much as possible. I'd go out of my way to make others happy, and in return I got a kind of momentary, fragile peace in my world. Those people were there, but I was coping with them.
- Reasonably comfortable. I rarely felt pushed outside of my comfort zone, because I continually seek to stay within it.
- Feeling of acceptance. I mostly felt "accepted enough" by the people around me. Yeah it was weak tea, but at least I had tea, and that felt like a good thing.
- No respect. I had really no authority, or leadership ability - because it's impossible to follow someone, who is always following you. I couldn't confront, or risk rejection, which meant I was always following the herd, rather than leading it.
- Bullying. Because I refused to confront, I couldn't set boundaries- and I was often walked on, and easily bullied. Sometimes I felt like an asshole magnet.
- Unsatisfied. My life was at 20% strength. I'd only pursue the things I thought others would understand and applaud. The things I really cared about were "out there" too far, and I wouldn't get social credit for them. This make me inauthentic, as I wasn't pursuing my own values, and building my own life on them.
- So damn frustrated, especially in romantic relationships. This happens because because - just like dancing - relationship dynamics are hard for men when you can't lead.
- Low honesty, because saying what I actually think might not be perceived as "nice." I'd generally keep my opinions to myself.
- Over-invested & unfulfilled. I'd seek to make others feel good first, before myself. I'd invest huge amounts of time helping other people, for social credit, rather than investing in things that were important to my personally. Generally I wasn't appreciated for that sacrifice.
- Weak friendships. I suffer from a lack of deep and meaningful friendships because honesty and vulnerability were severely restrained.
- Weak romantic relationships. I suffered even worse in romantic relationships, because the masculine/feminine attraction dynamic is not there when initiative, vulnerability and deep honesty are lacking.
- Self-limited. I continually made choices to limit my own success- as others might feel "less than". In most situations, I would often rather lose, than win when I was in competition with someone.
There are dozens more. But let's stop there.
The "Good Man" Experience
Here are some of the pros and cons of I've experienced since I began pursuing the more emotionally mature mindset of becoming a "Good Man".
- Deep sense of self satisfaction. I can't tell you how different life is. since I began fully & openly living by my own core values. Without the fear of rejection, I finally get to be 100% me. By comparison, my past life felt like I was always holding my breath, saying "no" to the things that seemed important to me, because others didn't prioritize that. I often said "yes" to things I disagreed with, because others wanted it. Living authentically felt like the first time I'd ever taken a breath of air.
- Pursuit of my best self. I'm able to pursue being the best that I can be, with no restraint. This is known "limiting beliefs" or the "upper limit problem," and it affects every part of your life. I'm free now.
- No more bullying. I simply don't allow it. Now someone crosses a boundary of mine, and they'll know about it fast.
- Compassionate. I still get to be fully caring and kind to people but without desiring anything in return. I do it for me, because it aligns with my own values. Other people don't even need to know.
- Creative freedom. My blog contains lots of things about me and my life experiences that I used to fear criticism or rejection over. People might not like what I'm saying, or who I am. They might challenge me or call me out. They might critique my writing style or grammar. But do I care? Nope... zero fucks given.
- Strong, high-value, meaningful friendships. I'm not sure how this happened, but now I have hundreds of unbelievably incredible friends. Compare that to my high school years, when I had 1 or 2 "good" friends, a handful of "ok" friends, and a whole bunch of "people who mostly seemed to like me." I feel sad for my high-school self, I had no idea how great my social life could be.
- Incredibly deep romantic relationships. For the first time in my life, I know who I am, and what I'm looking for, and I'm unwilling to settle for anything less. I meet more and more incredible women every day, and at some point, I'm pretty sure that I'll find a woman that I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I never feel needy about that, or needy about relationships- because I already feel so fulfilled in my own life. I'm just me, 100%. Take it or leave it, up to you.
- Confidence, increasing every day and in every part of my life. Authenticity means that I feel clarity and certainty about my path and what I want. If I want to, I notice that I'm also able to form new friendships and relationships easily, because I don't fear rejection, and I'm straight-up-honest about attraction.
- Some people won't connect with me, as they have different values, or they aren't comfortable to come to my depth of honesty and vulnerability.
- When I encounter conflict, I feel the need to face it straight on, as quickly as possible.
- I have to be willing to let go of friendships & relationships that are not a good match.
But, honestly, these "cons" don't feel like "cons" at all, since every one of those things makes my life better immediately.
You be the judge.
We're all wired to seek comfort, but in the end, pursuing instant gratification has an enormous cost...
We trade our future.
Eating lots of junk food feels great now- but if this is your lifestyle, you'll suffer and loathe yourself long term.
If your goal is to feel good now, to avoid conflict and feel liked by those around you, then you should absolutely devote yourself to the "nice guy" mindset.
But, if your goal is;
- To be the best person you can be - both for yourself and for your society
- To be able to give your full value into your relationships in your community
- To allow other people to decide whether or not they align with your core values....
- To be respected, and never bullied
- To have only real, deep, meaningful, authentic and vulnerable relationships
Then ditch the "Nice Guy" and be a Good Man.
This article is part of the series
This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.
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It's intriguing to see some of the shifts society has gone through over the past 40 years, and where elements of masculine shaming that have arisen.
Notice that you don't see this dependency among adults in the animal kingdom. Look at a bear cub, versus a bear. A lion cub versus a lion. An eagle chick, versus a grown eagle. The behavior shifts.
At some point, the maturation of mammals results in the adult being;
- Far less dependent on the group
- Far less interested in social approval- particularly those at the top of the pack hierarchy
- Far less restricted in their range of behavior
This is what it means to emotionally mature, to become an adult, to become a man or a woman psychologically and socially.