The Difference Between Being Kind and Nice 

difference in kind and nice

It’s common for people to use the words nice and kind interchangeably because they think they mean the same thing. But it’s possible to be one and not the other. 

You may think in order to be nice you have to always agree with people and never upset them.  But that means there will be times that your feelings and opinions are disregarded and that can have a negative impact on you and your relationships with others. 

Minaa B., licensed social worker and mental health educator explains, “You can be kind and uphold your boundaries at the same time. If being nice means tolerating mistreatment then it’s time to reassess your definition of what it means to be nice.”  (B, Minaa [minna_b]. “It’s time to reassess what you define as being nice”. *Instagram, March 15, 2024, https://www.instagram.com/p/C4iRhzfu7HR/?igsh=ZDE1MWVjZGVmZQ==)

Let’s explore what is really going on when you are being nice at any cost.

Being a People Pleaser

If you are always trying to make sure other people are satisfied and happy, even if it means you are uncomfortable or it goes against your own values, that does not mean you are a nice person, it means you are a people pleaser.  

In a past blog post we explained how if you are constantly trying to keep up and make sure others like you and are getting their needs met, you will eventually become physically, mentally and/or emotionally exhausted.  It just becomes too much to handle and you will not have the energy you need to take care of your personal needs or stay focused at work or other activities.  

You can be nice without going over and beyond to always cater to that person and hold to your boundaries when it comes to what is important to you.

Being Passive

Sometimes people lash out when they get hurt by someone else, and sometimes people just let it go and ignore what happened because they think that’s what they have to do in order to be nice.  But this is not being nice, it’s being passive.   

“Passive behavior can be a common response when faced with difficult situations or uncomfortable emotions. At its core, passive behavior is generally a form of psychological defense that can lead to feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, and even depression.” (Better Help Editorial Team. “What to do when you recognize passive behavior in yourself or others”. Betterhelp.com. January 24, 2024. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/behavior/what-to-do-when-you-recognize-passive-behavior-in-yourself-or-others/)

If you are passive, you are just letting things happen to you without taking action which can indicate that you are not willing to advocate for yourself. Sometimes people think speaking up for themselves means they have to approach the other person in a negative way that is unkind.  But it’s absolutely possible to speak up and advocate for yourself in a positive manner while still being a nice person.

Acknowledging your own feelings and addressing them with the person in a calm, positive way is how you can show kindness towards them and yourself. 

Enabling Behavior

If someone is being disrespectful to you or always expecting something from you that you cannot give, like large amounts of your time, attention, money, etc. then allowing this to continue is not a result of your kindness, you are actually enabling their negative behavior.

This is a situation where it’s important to set, and stick to, your boundaries.  Setting a boundary with someone is not mean, it’s actually a kind thing to do because it is there for your well-being and theirs. If you continue to tolerate their problematic or codependent behaviors, then you are insinuating that it’s acceptable and you agree with it.  

When you care about someone, the best way to show them kindness is to encourage them to practice positive behaviors.  Instead of allowing them to treat you poorly and enabling their behavior, explain to them how it makes you feel and the negative effect it is having on your relationship.  

Healthy relationships can be compromised by being “nice” if it means you don’t have boundaries and you allow yourself to be hurt and disrespected for the sake of being nice.  And that leads to unsustainable relationships with friends, coworkers, partners, and family.

If you are dealing with relationship burnout or work burnout, we can help.


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