Tyranny of Niceness: A Psychotherapeutic Challenge

Tyranny of Niceness: A Psychotherapeutic Challenge

by Evelyn Sommers

Dr. Sommers discusses the prevalent problem of cultural silencing called "niceness," and offers case studies and advice for addressing associated client issues of anxiety and helplessness.
For many people, niceness is the accepted way of being and interacting. In this article I express the view that rather than facilitating psychological and relational health, niceness stands in the way of personal satisfaction and healthy relating. This formulation of niceness in which I outline its inherent conflict with authenticity is useful for working with some people who present for psychotherapy with depression, anxiety, addictions and relationship difficulties, problems not typically associated with the tyranny of niceness.
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Evelyn SommersTaking a giant leap out of niceness and into authenticity at the age of 40, Evelyn Sommers left her 20-year marriage and entered graduate school. She completed her PhD in Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto, accumulating experience in challenging internships in a hospital crisis unit and "doing time" at a women's prison where she completed her doctoral research. Work in a variety of occupations prior to graduate school—teaching, business, and social assistance, as well as parenting—enriches her ability to relate to clients. She is a psychotherapist in private practice in Toronto, Canada, and is the author of two books, The Tyranny of Niceness: Unmasking the Need for Approval (Dundurn Press, 2005) and Voices From Within: Women Who Have Broken the Law (University of Toronto Press, 1995). Dr. Sommers can be reached through her website at www.ekslibris.ca.
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CE credits: 1
Learning objectives:

  • Consider perspectives on the relationship between 'niceness' and authenticity.
  • Learn to identify which client issues may be related to the oppressive qualities of being nice.
  • Increase awareness of therapeutic interventions to help clients explore issues underlying their niceness.
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