What’s the difference between niceness and kindness? Humans socialized as women, in particular, are trained to be nice—to put others and their wants and needs ahead of our own, to self-sacrifice, to be the martyr, savior and saint, to be the fixer. There is also a very specific story about what Nice looks like that often gets conflated with polite, with “good manners” that comes from white settler colonialism, and seeks to continue to erase cultural practices by calling them not-nice like eating with your hand which is perfectly normal in so much of the world, as part of a push toward more and more whiteness in the guise of being polite.
So we learn to prioritize being a ‘polite’ nice girl, a good girl, going-along to get along, and when you pair that with codependent thought habits, especially when they’re modeled at home, it’s no wonder we lose touch with our own feelings, with our bodies, with our boundaries, with our internal barometers of what is and isn’t okay with us. No wonder it’s so challenging to know what we want for ourselves, to name it and honor it when we’ve been conditioned to play nice our whole lives, when that is what is expected of us, to put ourselves aside lest our existence, our wants and needs bother someone else.
Nice is about pleasing others, and it comes from our conditioning, to placate others, to look good in the world and be well thought of, which is rooted in codependently caring more about what others think of you than what you think of you.
And it’s not that I have beef with nice per se but the problem is that it’s often all about the optics, about how we believe others will read us and think of us if we do what we’re taught nice is, versus living in our authenticity.
Because when we are nice for the sake of it we are not acting from our realness, from our truth, and we continue to train our brains to put Nice above taking care of ourselves, nice above our boundaries, nice above feeling good about ourselves.
Because we’re performing Nice hoping someone else will say thank you and then we can feel good about ourselves, versus sourcing feeling good about ourselves from within our own hearts and bodies. And when we privilege Niceness, it makes it so much more challenging to speak up when we want to because speaking up often isn’t nice.
See, niceness is about attempting to grasp at certainty, at control, demanding niceness of ourselves and others is a way to attempt manipulate the world around us. If I behave this way that society taught me, I will get this result, this response from other humans.
Niceness leaves no space for individuality, for truth-telling, for real self-love for you or others because niceness expects us to behave, think and and feel in certain ways that often don’t align with our true needs and desires.
Kindness is in the acceptance and in the flow, in recognizing that we are all different and living from there versus from a set of stories that dictate how we should all behave. Kindness and thought work go hand in hand because the choice to be kind comes from kind thoughts, loving thoughts, intentional thoughts.
Kindness goes hand in hand with somatic or body-based work because the more in touch with our felt experience of being alive in our bodies, of being bodies not just having them, the more grounded we are in our sense of self, the more we experience having our own backs as a felt experience, which leaves so much space and energy to be in relationship from true kindness.
The call to be kind comes inside the house, it’s internally driven and comes from our big open hearts, from that wellspring of love for humans and all our relations that is within each of us, just waiting to get tapped into. Kindness is not about reciprocation. It’s about giving, about caring, about doing things for others or the world that maybe no one sees, no one notices, no one gives you a thank you for.
From your kindness, you want to do those things anyway, being of service in the world for the betterment of the world, giving and receiving love for the sake of love, and calling folks in and setting limits and boundaries when their behavior doesn’t meet our standards for how we will be treated. You know how much I want you to raise your standards my love!
Kindness is not about being a doormat. It’s not about letting people get away with mistreating us—it’s all about being real and truthful.
- It’s not kind to be dishonest by people-pleasing.
- It’s not kind to be dishonest by being codependent.
- It’s not kind to be dishonest by putting others ahead of yourself and then resenting them for it.
- It’s not kind to be dishonest by judging others instead of accepting them and making honest decisions about whether you want them in your life or not.
- It’s not kind to be dishonest by staying in relationships with family, your parents, partners, friends, work colleagues when you don’t want to be.
Being kind is not about being a doormat, it’s about speaking up, speaking your truth, and showing up in your honesty in all your relationships.
Kindness is part and parcel of our Essential Human Task, a term from my teacher Armand Bytton, which is to live from our authenticity, to express ourselves as fully as we can in each moment.
To not hide or conceal ourselves, to be fully present in every moment of life and to live from our big open hearts.
Kindness is living in our integrity, in radical honesty with ourselves and others.
Kindness says “I see you for who you truly are. I accept you and don’t want to change you, don’t want you to think, feel or act differently so I can feel safe. I will treat you with kindness, dignity and respect.” This is often the opposite of our subconscious codependent script that says “I don’t fully love and accept me, I don’t know how to source safety from within myself, so I project my anxiety, fear and worry onto you, and want you to change, to respond a certain way, to act a certain way, to be the person *I* want you to be so I can tell the story that I’m safe because I don’t know how to feel safe in my body otherwise.”
Kindness is embodied. It is felt, it is somatic, it is grounded and grounding, genuine and real.
Being nice means treating people with dignity and respect, and that’s a beautiful thing. Being kind goes so much further. Kindness is in your actions, the A-line of the thought work protocol. Kindness is in your behavior, the way you shine your heart outward into the world, holding space for yourself and others, setting, holding and honoring boundaries.
Being kind is a mindset, a way of being and moving through the world while being nice is a moment-to-moment choice to smile or be polite.
To hold a door, to compliment someone. Nothing wrong with those choices at all, they’re lovely. Being nice is a positive way we can choose to treat others, and being kind is much more significant because it comes from deeply valuing yourself and others, and goes beyond those external expressions. It’s based on a commitment to showing up in your realness, which is challenging when your mindset is codependent and people pleasing, when you value perfectionism over realness, when you care more about how your actions will look than how they feel in your body.
One of the hallmarks of being an externalizer is being really friggin mean to ourselves.
I know that default lives inside me for sure, and while thought work, coaching and somatics have helped me to quiet that voice’s desire to speak and has helped me to believe that mean inner critic, that gremlin in my mind eating pizza after dark, the voice is still there cause I’m also a human humaning along. That voice that wants me to judge me as harshly as I used to judge others, that voice that takes every mistake it sees me making or thinks I might make and makes it an indictment of my worth as an animal. That voice that beats me up and puts me down and hurts me time and again because it believes there is something inherently wrong with me. I’ve done so much work in the last 15 years to make peace with that voice, to befriend it, and it’s still there because it’s a part of me.
What I know for sure is that that voice is not the voice of loving kindness, it’s the voice of worry, fear and shame.
What I get to do, what you get to do, is to be in conversation with it, to keep giving that voice, that part of ourselves, that inner protector, so much love and care, so much understanding and grace, and to keep moving towards showing that part kindness. Kindness within yourself, kindness in the world.
I know when I got out of a relationship where there wasn’t much niceness or kindness, my standards were super low. I understood a new date or a friend being a responsible, helpful adult as a magnificent thing because I had come to expect so little in the world. For example, a date was over and we were cooking and I took the garbage out, and when I came back they had replaced the garbage bag and it was like they had parted the Red Sea! That simple act, which was so nice and came from a place of interdependent mutuality, from kindness, felt huge to me because I spent so long accepting crumbs and expecting to do everything myself. Not being met with kindness.
So that’s something to investigate.
What does it feel like to receive acts of kindness?
Are you open to receiving them and truly letting them in? Are your standards so low that the smallest act of kindness feels monumental? Are your standards so high, and this tracks with avoidant attachment often, that you brush off acts of kindness and don’t let the beauty in? Something to look at and witness for yourself my love.
As externalizers with our chronic thought habits, we do a lot of storytelling about others. See, the way our unmanaged brains work—this is your brain not on thought work—we project our own story of how we believe others should be acting onto them, based on how we act. This of course is guided by our feelings, and our feelings come from our thoughts.
When we live a life in which we chronically put ourselves out for others, put their needs ahead of our own, we do so because we secretly, or not so secretly, want other people to put themselves out for us.
To treat themselves with as little respect and care as we give to ourselves. And obviously this isn’t a conscious process, we just call it a belief system, because that’s what it is, remembering that a belief is a thought you’ve thought over and over and over until it feels like a fact in your mind.
We confuse niceness and kindness in all our relationships, setting us up to resent other people when we do things we don’t want to do from that story that being Nice is everything. And the beauty is, as always, that change is possible, my love. You really can break free from these codependent and people-pleasing ways of being so you can step into your own capacity to live from kindness and to expect kindness in return.
Reciprocity and mutuality are beautiful things, and are the bedrock of healthy, interdependent relationships.
So here is the invitation, the way we do: awareness, acceptance, action.
So it starts with watching yourself, with gentle kindness.
Noticing, in your mind and so importantly in your body, when you’re acting from the energy of nice, of people pleasing, of looking good to others externally,
When you’re living from kindness, acting nicely, living with kindness, allowing kindness to resonate in your body for you and all of humanity, not to make someone think or feel or act the way you want them to.
Notice when you’re moving through the world in a way that aligns with your integrity, your truth, a way that honors your needs and invites others to express and own theirs, meeting them when and where you can, and saying no thank you when that’s what’s kind to you.
Notice when your unkind inner critic turns on and give that voice love and care.
Reassure it instead of pushing it away—love it up. Be kind to that unkind voice. You can’t heal hurt with more hurt, right my darling? So choose kindness and compassion instead. That voice loves you even when it doesn’t sound or feel like it does. It thinks it’s protecting you, it thinks it’s being kind and you get to both acknowledge that it’s not, and love it for trying in it’s own way.
Remember, we act from kindness because it’s who we are, not to try to gain anything, not with the goal of our kindness being reciprocated.
We chose kindness because it is part of our Essential Human Task, and that is something worth living into as you move further away from your codependent thought habits and into greater and greater self love.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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