6 Definitive Signs of Nice Guy Syndrome

6 Definitive Signs of Nice Guy Syndrome

BEING A NICE person means behaving in a kind, considerate, and generous way because it aligns with your values, and you genuinely enjoy being pleasant and helping others. You’re not expecting anything in return and don’t have an agenda for your kind behavior.

But, if you often feel resentful or disappointed that being nice isn’t getting you anywhere—like a second date or the professional success that you think you deserve—you could be dealing with “nice guy syndrome” (NGS).

“While you won’t find ‘nice guy syndrome’ in any diagnosis manuals, this term refers to a common pattern where men act kind and helpful, but expect that these actions will bring success either in their personal or professional life,” says Kevin Mimms, L.M.F.T., a marriage and family therapist with Choosing Therapy. “There are lots of opinions about this pattern and the people that fit into it.”

The term nice guy syndrome has been around for decades. It was the subject of the 2000 book No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover, Ph.D.

More recently, the topic has made the rounds on TikTok (#niceguysyndrome has been viewed 15.8 million times) and in a Geek Feminism Wiki post, which describes it as “men who view themselves as prototypical ‘nice guys,’ but whose ‘nice deeds’ are, in reality, only motivated by attempts to passively please women into a relationship and/or sex.”

Therapists say the behavior is rooted in “cultural expectations and personal insecurities,” says licensed psychologist David Tzall, Psy.D. “Society can reward men for being assertive, aggressive, or dominant. Qualities such as kindness or empathy can be viewed as a weakness as a result.”

NGS behavior can lead to feelings of incompleteness, insecurity, a lack of confidence, toxic relationships, and mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. Here’s a closer look at common NGS behaviors and how to break the pattern.

What Is Nice Guy Syndrome?

According to Glover, nice guy syndrome is based on three “covert contracts” that guide someone subconsciously:

  • Be a good guy and everyone will love you (and the people you desire will desire you back)
  • Meet other people’s needs without them having to ask and they’ll meet your needs without you having to ask
  • Do everything right and you’ll have a smooth life, free of problems

confident businessman leaning on wall in creative office

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The “covert contracts” don’t work for several reasons, but “nice guys are convinced that they should,” Glover writes. “Because most nice guys believe they have kept their side of the contract, they often feel helpless and resentful when other people (and the world) don’t keep their side of the contract.”

Individuals with NGS also often seek approval from others, try to hide their flaws, play the role of a victim, disconnect from other men or their own masculine energy, and fail to live up to their full potential, according to Glover.

NGS Differs From Truly Being a Nice Guy

The main difference between someone with NGS and a true nice guy is the motivation behind the behavior. A genuinely nice person doesn’t look for something in return for their behavior or operate with an agenda.

“A nice guy will not be afraid to be their authentic self because they know if they don’t please themselves they will resent those that want to change him,” says Karmen Smith, L.C.S.W., D.D., a licensed Talkspace therapist.

What Nice Guy Syndrome Behavior Looks Like

NGS is about the type of actions someone takes, but also the expectations that come with those actions, Mimms says. Typical NGS behavior might include:

  • Putting others’ needs ahead of your own to win approval or affection
  • Acting overly nice, friendly, or generous to gain favor with others
  • Assuming that being nice automatically entitles you to romantic or sexual attention from others
  • Feeling resentful or angry when your niceness isn’t reciprocated or rewarded
  • Expecting others to notice your niceness
  • Getting overly attached or dependent on a romantic partner or friend

NGS Behavior Can Happen in Any Situation

Most NGS behavior is linked to romantic relationships (or a desire to find a romantic partner), but Tzall says it can show up in any interpersonal situation, like friendships or professional settings.

businessman holding conference room door for businesswoman

Ryan McVay//Getty Images

“It may manifest as a tendency to avoid conflict, difficulty expressing one’s needs and boundaries, and a willingness to compromise too much in order to avoid upsetting others,” he says.

At work, it may show up as not getting promoted despite making sacrifices for your job, Mimms.

What Leads to Nice Guy Syndrome

The NGS behavior pattern may stem from how you were raised, along with cultural and societal expectations.

“Many men are conditioned to be ‘nice guys’ from a young age. They’re raised with a sense of over-responsibility to caretake the emotions of their parent figures,” Nicole LePera, Ph.D., wrote in a tweet recently.

For instance, you may have been encouraged to show a brave face, not seek emotional comfort, not talk about emotions, or receive praise for pretending to be OK, she says.

“Nice guy syndrome creates situations where men don’t understand their own needs and how to get those needs met,” LePera says. “This leads to manipulative or dysfunctional behaviors in an attempt to get needs met.”

Lack of confidence is a factor, too. If you think the only way to win a mate is by helping, you’ll set yourself up for frustration when helping doesn’t help you find a partner, Mimms says.

“Discounting other ways to shine—such as striving for success in your life or paying attention to your physical health or mental health—all lead to fixating on helping or ‘being nice’ as a tool to gain or deepen connections with others,” he says.

Long-Term Effects of Nice Guy Syndrome

Resentment and bitterness are common for people with NGS behavior, Mimms says. Relationships might be isolating or short-lived.

Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem or self-efficacy are also common, Tzall says. “They have no sense of self. They may consider themselves so flexible that they can’t identify who they are or what they like or stand for.”

People who exhibit NGS might feel that their nice-guy image isn’t being appreciated, but Smith says they rarely look inward for insight, which can take a mental health toll. “The continued blame of others can affect the way they see the world, which keeps them stuck in a victim paradigm,” she says.

How to Break Out of the Behavior Pattern

Those who struggle with NGS often don’t recognize the pattern in themselves.

“It’s hard to tell ourselves or anyone else not to be a nice guy,” Mimms says. “This is counterintuitive because being unkind or unhelpful isn’t a good thing.”

Breaking out of NGS patterns requires self-reflection, self-awareness, and a willingness to change, Tzall says. He suggests:

  • Learning to recognize and challenge underlying beliefs that equate niceness with entitlement
  • Setting boundaries and asserting yourself in healthy ways
  • Cultivating a sense of self-worth that doesn’t depend on external validation
  • Prioritizing your own needs and wants

“It is good to be devoted to our family and our friends, but the appropriate ways to do that are different depending on our role and how connected you are to them,” Mimms says. “If you want to be nice, do it because that’s what you want and not because of what they will do for you in return.”

preview for How to Create a Routine for Good Mental Health

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Erica Sweeney

Erica Sweeney is a writer who mostly covers health, wellness and careers. She has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Parade, Money, Business Insider and many more.

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