While not an actual mental health diagnosis, the term “Nice Guy” often elicits images of men who are eager to please, and perhaps even easy to walk all over. But did you also know that nice guy syndrome can refer to people who engage in people-pleasing behaviors as a form of manipulation?
What Is Nice Guy Syndrome?
Nice guy syndrome, or NGS, is more than just being a nice person. “Nice guys” are often viewed as having very little control over their own life, including having few boundaries. Always ready to help and known for rarely- if ever- saying no, they quickly develop a reputation as a nice guy. Often, this form of NGS is a result of having low self esteem or self confidence, and their people pleasing behaviors often leave them feeling unfilled and dissatisfied.
Some nice guys engage in this behavior in an attempt to be manipulative. They are often known for going above and beyond in an attempt to get something they want, such as an end goal of getting a date or sexual contact with a person of interest. These are the kind of nice guys that you would want to avoid.
Four types of not-so-nice ‘nice guys’ include:
- The down on his luck nice guy: At first glance, this guy often seems to just be going through a rough patch. Perhaps he is recently divorced, or lost a job, and is staying on the couch of a friend. However, he never seems to recover from this hardship. This type of nice guy will love bomb their partner and take advantage of their partner’s financial situation.
- Backstabbing nice guy: This guy is often seen as a hero, often well regarded or looked up to. Often they are owners of major companies or are powerful men, who appear to be a nice person, but in reality they are quick to stab others in the back for not doing what they want. An example of this is the powerful businessman who fires a new female employee for refusing to sleep with him.
- Expecting something in return: This is the guy who is very willing to help with anything you need, whether it be moving furniture or a shoulder to cry on. However, they expect something in return for this niceness, instead of just doing it to be a good friend.
- False persona nice guy: Often known as a people pleaser, this is the guy everyone goes to when they need something done. However, he is so intent on pleasing people that he will often tell you whatever you want to hear and you rarely get to know the real person behind the veil.
Nice Guy Syndrome Examples
Nice guy syndrome is about the actions they take and the expectations that come with those actions. There are common behaviors exhibited by nice guys, including lying, acting passive aggressive, or throwing a fit if they do not get what they want.
Common nice guy syndrome behaviors include:
- Put the needs of others ahead of their own to win affection
- Assume being nice entitles them to romantic or sexual favors in return
- Becoming angry or resentful if their niceness isn’t reciprocated
- Their drive to impress is fueled by desire to look good and to win
- Putting the needs of others behind the needs of those they are trying to impress
- Acting passive aggressive when their nice behavior isn’t noticed or complimented
- Lying or telling half truths in an attempt to people please
Causes of Nice Guy Syndrome
Nice guy syndrome is not only present in dating relationships- it is just as common in friendships, work environments, or other social settings whether the person is looking for validation from others.
Some people develop NGS due to lack of self-confidence and poor boundaries. In these instances, it is common for ‘nice guys’ to come from dysfunctional families, especially ones where their needs were denied, and they had to resort to other means to get their needs met.
Common causes of nice guy syndrome include:
- Low self-esteem or self worth: If you feel that someone will not be attracted to you unless you give them what they want, this could be a sign of low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence.
- Lack of social skills: If someone does not have experience in social situations, they might wrongly assume that they have to please everyone in order to be liked.
- Feelings of inadequacy: Feeling like you aren’t good enough can make you want to overcompensate in other areas, such as gift giving, people pleasing, or other nice guy behaviors.
- Feeling intimidated around women or potential sexual partners: Many people do not know what to do when they feel intimidated, so they will act overly nice and adopt a people pleasing persona due to this feeling of intimidation.
- Attachment trauma: Experiences of attachment trauma can cause NGS, due to the lack of opportunity to form healthy attachment to others. Thus, the person grows up into an adult who does not know how to get their emotional and social needs met in a healthy way, or they expect others to hurt them- and thus want to avoid this pain.
- Wanting to feel needed: Many nice guys struggle with not feeling needed, and never saying no, as well as having constant availability, is a way that they can compensate for this lack.
- Mixed messages from society: Although many women often report that they want to date a guy who is nice, it is a common stereotype that when given a choice, they will not pick the nice guy. However, this pressure to be a nice guy is common in our society, and a study done in 2003 showed that women are more likely to choose the guy who they assume is nicer, and that his other qualities can even be seen as more attractive the nicer he is.1
8 Signs of Nice Guy Syndrome
There are many stereotypes about NGS, and how the behaviors manifest in someone. Here are some signs for how someone can know if they have NGS.
Eight signs you have nice guy syndrome include:
1. You Always Give Your Dates Gifts
It is common for people with NGS to lavish their dates with armfuls of gifts from early on in the relationship in an effort to win their affection. Instead, focus your energy on making the date an enjoyable experience for all to avoid overwhelming your date and still show appreciation and kindness.
2. You Try to Please Everyone
Constantly trying to please everyone is a sign of NGS. If someone is to move past the nice guy routine, it is important to realize that this is not realistic, and it is an unfair expectation of yourself.
3. You Don’t Share Your Opinions
Sharing our opinion is vulnerable because it can turn people away. For this reason, many people with NGS tend to keep their opinions to themselves, but this keeps them from developing deeper relationships and emotional intimacy with their partners.
4. You Never Say No
Never saying no is a sign of poor boundaries, and shows that you struggle to put yourself first. While never saying no might make you feel important and needed in the moment, it can lead to feelings of resentment over time.
5. You Have Been Told You Are “Needy” or “Clingy”
Many nice guys worry a lot about losing someone they care about, and they can overcompensate by being needy. This can be a turnoff in dating relationships.
6. You Seem to Always be Available
Having constant availability is a sign of people pleasing behaviors, and also a sign of poor boundaries. This is often due to guilt or fears that they will let someone down if they are unavailable.
7. You Struggle to Stand Up for Yourself
Being unable to stand up for yourself is often a sign of low self-esteem or self-confidence, and is a common trait for people with NGS. This often comes from a childhood of being unable to stand up to bullies or unhealthy caregivers.
8. You Always Respond Very Quickly to Calls & Texts
Eagerness to respond is another sign of always being available– and can sometimes be seen as clingy or overly attentive, which is a common turnoff for dating partners.
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How to Recover From Nice Guy Syndrome
If you recognize that you engage in nice guy syndrome and are looking to improve this part of yourself, this is a good sign! Many people with NGS do not recognize they have it. Luckily, there are some tips available. You can take steps to ‘recover’ or stop being the nice guy.
Tips for breaking the pattern of nice guy syndrome include:
- Be open to learning: If you are not open to self-reflection and learning, then it will be difficult to break the patterns you have developed. Developing self-awareness is the first step.
- Accept the behavior by acknowledging it: You can not work to change or improve any behaviors that you are still in denial about. Taking time to acknowledge the behavior will allow you the self-insight to begin to make changes.
- Recognize and challenge underlying beliefs: Looking at the beliefs that motivate your behavior, such as believing that you are deserving of specific treatment or special attention, will help you to challenge them.
- Cultivating self worth: Often, guys with NGS engage in this behavior because it is the only way they know how to get their needs met. Working to develop and build confidence and self worth will help you learn that you deserve good treatment from others just by being yourself, and that you do not have to go above and beyond to people please just to be recognized.
- Prioritizing your own needs and wants: Although it might seem silly that prioritizing yourself will help to recover from NGS, it’s actually true! Learning that there are other ways to get your needs and wants met is a big part of the recovery process.
- Be open to feedback from others: Often, nice guys might not realize how they come across. Being open to feedback from friends and dating partners can help you develop self-insight.
- Work on your boundaries: Working on recognizing, improving, and setting healthy boundaries with yourself and others will help to avoid the people pleasing behaviors, especially if you struggle with saying “no” and then become resentful after when your efforts are not reciprocated.
How to Know if You’re Dating a Nice Guy
Sometimes it can be difficult to know if you are dating a nice guy, or a guy who acts nice in an attempt to manipulate you or a situation. Guys who are engaging in nice guy syndrome often engage in behaviors such as lying, or expecting something in return for their nice behaviors. You will notice that they act in passive aggressive or angry ways when they do not get what they want, and their “white lies” start to add up.
If you are in a relationship with someone who engages in this behavior, seek support to learn about what is happening, and to help avoid being manipulated.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you find that your “niceness” is preventing you from living a fulfilling life, or you are struggling to create and maintain boundaries, professional help is available. Therapy or professional support may be helpful for someone wanting to stop being a ‘nice guy’ or for someone dating a nice guy who wants to get out of a toxic relationship. Today, online therapy is a great resource for people who want help but have a busy schedule. Some tips for finding a therapist to work through these concerns are to look for someone who has an understanding of self esteem and how self confidence affects relationships.
In My Experience
In my experience, there are many reasons why someone would be a “nice guy.” The stereotype we see in the media is the guy who has little self esteem, who acts as a doormat to the pretty, popular girls at school who barely notice him unless they need something. These guys often find that they are living a life that is unfulfilling, and that they are being used.
Guys who act nice in an attempt to manipulate a situation often engage in behaviors such as lying, or expecting something in return for their nice behaviors. I find that it is often the only way they know how to get their needs met- but it is not acceptable.