“Your hair looks better down,” was eerily and unexpectedly whispered into my ear by a low, raspy, unfamiliar voice.
I literally jumped out of panic, confused and truly dumbfounded. I was at my workplace, training a client, and I whipped around to the smiling face of a tan, wrinkly, older man who I had never seen before; I had absolutely zero clue who he was, but apparently, he felt he knew me. He felt it was totally ok to sneak up on me, whisper in my ear, invade my space, and make my body seize with fear. Most days, I do wear my hair up while I’m training clients, but this day it was down…he felt entitled to whisper to me about it.
I was training an elderly client at the time, and even he looked confused and uncomfortable. He said, “Did that just happen?!” This situation had ICK written All. Over. It.
Deep down, I wanted to tell this man off. My client wanted to tell him off. The pop-up creeper was watching me from the machines with a smirk on his face. I wanted to explain what he did was out of line. But I didn’t, and to this day, I regret that. I think I was just caught off guard. I think I was in a daze. And I think the “nice girl” in me was telling me to just endure that kind of behavior; certainly, I couldn’t stand up for myself in my work environment, right? Wouldn’t I get in trouble “scolding” a member of the gym? Would that be considered rude of me? Would I be labeled the “b” word? Would I be viewed as dramatic or easily offended? Ugh. I also painfully realized I may not have confronted him if it was outside work, out of fear, out of being too NICE.
It was the following week when it happened again. This time, he snuck up on me while I was talking to a co-worker at the front desk and again whispered in my ear and called me “sugar,” and brushed up against me. I realized I was indeed being WAY too nice. I essentially jumped and ran from him. I could hear him say in a nearly maniacally happy tone, “Oh, she’s running away from me!”
I was essentially being a doormat. This stranger had no right to sneak up on me, to be in my personal space, to downright terrify me out of the blue. I was experiencing high anxiety every time I was at work and some days, I was leaving work in tears because I felt like at any time the ICK would return, this creepy stranger would sneak up on me and make me feel all the uncomfortable feelings that instantly emerge when something is not right. I was looking over my shoulder in the parking lot to and from my vehicle, was jumpy while training clients, always scanning the gym perimeter, and was overall plagued with worry I wasn’t ever going to feel normal again at my workplace.
A sweet client of mine had unfortunately also experienced a series of similar traumatic events at the gym. We leaned on each other and talked about how we were essentially programmed all our lives to just be kind and not rock the boat. Girls are sometimes raised to just go with the flow and to be accommodating, perhaps setting aside what should be fair to them. The beauty of our talks is we recognized it was time to stop being so nice in situations where our own personal safety, wellness, and overall mental health were being affected. Together, we reinforced the notion that being your own advocate and standing up for yourself is ok…in fact, it’s more than ok. She recommended I read The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel. I am forever grateful to her for that, as this book can truly prove to be impactful and empowering to anyone who needs the extra boost, the gentle nudge, or the courage to be brave amidst uncomfortable situations.
I highly recommend this book for any woman, any girl, wife, mother, or daughter who is a people pleaser and perhaps needs a reminder they are worth standing up for, that they don’t have to apologize to others when an apology is not needed, and they can be assertive and advocate for themselves without guilt when something is not right, that they can still be nice as they establish healthy boundaries with others. We can overcome the seemingly staggering pressure to please others and prioritize our own needs and identity. This book stands out as empowering, reinforcing the notion you can be nice, but you don’t have to be a pushover. You can be nice, and you can still establish boundaries. You can be nice, but you can also protect your body, your self-esteem, and your precious mental space.
The author truly perpetuates the ideal that always being nice to others doesn’t always mean you are doing yourself any favors…when you can identify your areas for growth, you can start to take steps to improve and take more control. This book not only teaches individuals to shed themselves of always being so nice, but it also teaches individuals why they are too nice.
Engel outlines the seven different types of “nice girls” and encourages you to explore and understand which type perhaps applies to you. She does strongly promote that no woman should feel able to settle to be a “nice girl” because the message can be sent they are easy targets, potentially leading to damage physically or emotionally.
Engel offers “Confidence, Competence, Conviction and Courage” as the “Four C’s” to transforming from a nice girl to a strong woman. Here are five tips the book offers for breaking free from the nice girl syndrome, taking control, and living a stronger, more authentic existence:
Stop worrying about what other people think of you.
The author reminds readers it is more important to know yourself, protect yourself, and take care of yourself than it is to look good to others. Learn you cannot control what others think of you, and within that, you are liberated. The most important source of approval is your own! Don’t let being nice override your innate need to feel good about your life.
Stop trying to be perfect.
Everyone is good and bad…everyone. The author reminds us that “nice girls” tend to have a strong need to be good and perfect. Yet, you don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful or to be loved or accepted. Stifle that inner critic, stop expecting perfection, and reclaim your confidence and assertiveness. The author purports to never allow others to demand perfection from you, as that is unrealistic, unattainable, and unkind.
Stop being gullible and naïve.
Adulting is never easy, but hey, it’s inevitable. If you recognize self-respect is critical, that taking care of yourself is essential, and that emotions are positive forces intended to help you process experiences, then you are positioning yourself to be in control. The author implores readers to recognize it’s time to grow up and face the truth and that although childhood is a time for innocence, being an adult means squelching illusions and embracing being realistic.
Start standing up for your rights.
“Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Engel reminds us we have the right to act on our own behalf as necessary and without guilt and that “no” means “no.” It’s not foreign to speak up when you don’t want something or when something feels wrong. Overcoming the fear of standing up for yourself is possible; face the fears, journal and reflect, set boundaries, and find ways to overcome areas of “learned helplessness.”
Learn how to handle conflict.
Although some may find it is better to avoid conflict no matter what, Engel promotes that conflict is a part of life, and we need to be ready to express anger or disdain and stand up for ourselves without guilt. It is not “bad” or “wrong” if you disagree with someone. It is not abysmal if you have your own opinions or beliefs. How we communicate matters; our tone, our delivery, and our ability to think beyond “either/or” and “black and white” thinking matters.
Just in case you were wondering…the pop-up man at the gym has stopped sneaking up on me after he was warned his membership would be revoked. I wish I could have told him directly how his actions impacted me, and although I never took the chance to do so, I know I am prepared if it were ever to happen again with him or anyone else. I definitely view that as progress amidst my people-pleasing tendencies.
I recognize some women have zero problem telling others how it is or standing up for themselves. And I admire that strength and courage; it gives me hope. Standing up for yourself and applying boundaries can actually prove refreshing. For those of us who are exhausted with being a “nice girl” and working towards being a little more assertive. We can do this. Let’s keep going.