How to reverse the curse of being lovely
No more Mrs Nice Guy... it's time to make a stand and stop being a doormat
DO you avoid complaining in a restaurant? Or do you never take goods back to a shop or disagree with anyone in a debate or argument? Or perhaps you never say no to a request or ask someone to stop doing something that is annoying you?
AREN'T you lovely? Well, no, actually, what you are is suffering from low self-worth and self-esteem. You're dependent on others for approval to make you feel good about yourself.
You're caught up in anger avoidance and seeking the approval of others, and will seek to keep the peace at all costs. You desperately want to feel good about yourself and for other people to like you.
This need to avoid disapproval can manifest itself in you mollifying and flattering and sympathising, doing good deeds, being accommodating, being caring, kind and polite, and utterly unselfish.
Psychologist Jacqui Marson in her new book, The Curse of Lovely, says that 'Lovelies' also have a sense of empathy – they don't want to disappoint others because they know how it feels to be disappointed. They feel guilty when they feel responsible for someone else's hurt feelings.
A Lovely will take phone calls at inconvenient times or is an ever- available shoulder to cry on, and often puts other people's needs before their own and rarely feels that they have the right to say 'no'.
They will smile while helping others, while inside they are seething with anger, resentment, rage, exhaustion or boredom.
Lovelies suppress these feelings of anger for fear of getting into conflict with others. But this is, of course, ultimately unsustainable and anger will out in a seemingly uncontrollable way – scaring and shocking both Lovelies and their friends and families.
According to Marson, who writes a column for Psychologies magazine, Lovelies have a tendency towards 'all-or-nothing' thinking. They feel that if they're not completely compassionate and give people what they want, then they're mean, selfish and bad.
She calls this burnout 'compassion fatigue'. Because if you believe you're only a good person if you try to help the world's needy and say yes to everyone's requests and desires, then you will, inevitably, become overwhelmed, resentful and burnt out.
So how do people become Lovelies? Well, Marson gives many examples of the messages Lovelies receive when they're children, along the lines of if they don't do what they're told to do, then they will be ignored, isolated or punished.
Take Monika, for example, whose dad was a travelling salesman and who was away a lot and whose mum became lonely and unhappy. Monika's mum would often fly off the handle in a temper and give her a hard slap if she ever made a mistake.
Monika found that if she sang and danced and was entertaining then her mum would cheer up and call her her best friend and say that no one else could calm her as much
as she did. Monika's childhood was spent avoiding her mum's anger and disapproval and trying to break tension in a home that was not of her making and for which she had no responsibility.
It's why Monika is a Lovely and why even though she is an adult, she still tenses whenever someone looks at her disapprovingly, and almost to the point where she subconsciously expects they will reach out and give her a slap.
So how can a Lovely break free from this cycle of denying their own needs for the sake of keeping other people happy and start being lovely to themselves instead?
Marson, who specialises in the psychology of women and happiness, suggests Lovelies should start to release themselves from the trap of putting everyone else's needs before their own by being 1pc less lovely each day.
She suggests 1pc less lovely because of the intense fear she believes Lovelies feel when faced with offending other people or hurting other people's feelings.
Marson dares Lovelies to disappoint someone daily so as to test out their hidden fear that they will be met with disapproval from loved ones or have friends storm out of their life in disgust.
She encourages Lovelies to overcome their fears by saying 'excuse me' loudly when someone pushes in front of them, or to stop apologising whenever they bump into people.
Lovelies need to say no to difficult friends and to start being 'real' in the company of others, and to stop feeling under pressure to entertain people when in fact they're feeling grumpy or depressed.
Yet Lovelies who have found the courage to stand up for themselves can expect some resistance, writes Marson.
They will need to be prepared for the eventuality that people will try to make former Lovelies turn back to their old Curse of Lovely ways.
The Curse of Lovely: How To Break Free From The Demands of Others, and Learn To Say No, by Jacqui Marson, published by Piatkus, price €18.60