Stop Being Nice: 5 things I learned from the High Conflict Person in my life.

 

When we’re little, we’re taught to be nice.

“Be nice to your teachers; Be nice to the doctor; Be nice to your friends; Be nice to your neighbors.”

But what does being nice really mean?

Obviously, everyone will have a different definition for being nice.  But the general definition would similar.

Being Nice: Use your manners, don’t ruffle any feathers, smile, don’t complain, help others – or put others needs before your own.

I was a rock-star at being nice – if there was an award to be won for being nice, I would have won it.

I said all the right things at parties, acted the part I was expected to play, smiled at the right times, avoided conflict, put others needs ahead of my own.

People looking in on my life from the outside would have said I had a pretty charmed life.  Beautiful family, successful career, loving husband.

 “Andrea is SO nice!”

Which is what I think got me into the mess I was in.  Being nice also made me a target.

High Conflict People target nice people.

By nature, nice people are nice, to the core.  It’s our natural instinct to be kind, to give 100% of ourselves to care for others.  And when we find someone who acts nice, we’re attracted to them.  Nice people attract nice people – the Law of Attraction says so.

Unknowingly, nice people also attract High Conflict People.

Huh?

I define a High Conflict Person as someone who likely has an undiagnosed personality disorder – they aren’t just conflictual – they are OUT OF THIS WORLD confictual.  They blame others for everything, lack insight into their own behavior, twist words to support their perceptions, charm and manipulate themselves into nice people’s lives and then turn on them – slowly (and sometimes quickly) doing everything in their power to destroy the nice person.

But how does this happen?

How does a nice person, someone who is genuinely kind, loving and supportive end up in a relationship with someone who manipulates, lies, cheats and controls?

I’ll tell you firsthand how it happened to me.  “Andrea is SO nice.” also meant that “Andrea is SO passive.”

I nicely and passively gave my heart to someone who I thought shared similar values and goals.  Looking back, I realize that there were warning bells.  But when you’re nice and you think you’ve finally met someone who is just as nice as you are, you become deaf to the warming bells.

Make no mistake; I’m not a dummy.  I’m trained in high conflict separation and divorce mediation – I KNEW what the warning bells would be, what to be alerted to, how to protect myself against ever becoming involved with a High Conflict Person – and I nicely and passively ignored them.  Not for a second did I think I could be manipulated and charmed into entering a relationship with a High Conflict Person.  That only happened to other people.  Not me, not with my skills.

And then, 18 months into the relationship, crying on the kitchen floor, I realized I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.

I was in a relationship with a High Conflict Person.  And I thought I was screwed.

I thought I was screwed because I knew you didn’t just walk away from a High Conflict Person.

High Conflict People either hold you on a pedestal or they are hell bent on destroying you.

And all that went through my mind was that I was never going to be nice to anyone ever again, that being nice had gotten me into the mess I was in and I was never going to let myself be vulnerable like that.

I went to a counselor to try and process how I’d been so blinded – how could I be so DUMB?

It was the counselor who told me being nice was the same as being passive.  I’d never made that connection before, but it made sense.

By being nice I was putting others needs before my own – which meant I wasn’t really living my life, I was living the life others thought I should be living.  By not ruffling feathers, smiling instead of screaming – I was being passive in my life, in my choices – ensuring I was being nice – so that other people would feel comfortable.

Fast-forward 10 years.

And this is what I’ve learned:

Stop blaming yourself: Everyone and anyone is fair game to a High Conflict Person – if you’ve been conned or manipulated into a relationship with one – don’t blame yourself.  You were being nice and someone really charming and controlling took advantage of your niceness.  High Conflict People are so skilled, so talented, so over the top awesome at their game that you didn’t have a hope in hell of protecting yourself from their charm.

Be kind, not nice:  Being nice = being passive.  Instead, choose kindness.  Kindness comes from a place of self-love – choosing to be kind because it the gesture resonates with your character and your value systems rather than being nice because it’s what you “should” be.

Being in a relationship with a High Conflict Person does not mean you’re screwed:  But it does mean you need to create firm boundaries to protect yourself, consistent communication strategies and a clear understanding of the importance of not reacting to the manipulations and threats that will continuously be thrown at you.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel:  I had to dig deep, do a lot of learning, researching, reflecting and purposeful planning – but it paid off.  If you are ready to commit to changing the dynamic between you and the High Conflict Person in your life – REALLY READY – then there are strategies you can implement TODAY to help you take back control of your life.

What didn’t kill me, did make me stronger: Ya, ya – it’s a cliché – but one I live by.  Without a doubt, learning how to disengage from the drama, implement boundaries and FOLLOW THROUGH ON THEM (even when I really wanted to crumble) was the hardest and most challenging experience of my life.  But also the most liberating.  I have a skill set second to none – I have the ability to empathize and strategize during a crisis; I know how to communicate with High Conflict People and get results; I know that being nice, is not a trait I want my kids to learn, instead I want them to understand the value of kindness.

You can survive your relationship with the High Conflict Person in your life, but you need to stop being nice, and start taking action to stop the manipulations and create a different dance moving forward.