Tag Archives: guilt

Overwhelming loveliness: when the nicest people are the most controlling

Do you know someone so overwhelmingly lovely that it’s unthinkable for anyone to say a bad word about them? Someone who goes out of their way to be selfless so consistently that you feel bad about yourself whenever you’re annoyed with them? Someone who is unfailingly considerate, to the point of near-martyrdom?

You might roll your eyes at their brave, sorrowful Facebook posts, and roll them again as others oblige with the reassurance that is so obviously demanded. Or maybe, despite the niggling feeling that something isn’t quite right, you offer your own words of encouragement. I mean, they’re just so lovely — surely it’s the least you can do?

You’re probably wondering if this person is too nice to be what they seem — surely it’s not possible for anyone to be that nice? — but no-one else seems to have similar doubts. So you keep them to yourself and carry on.

Maybe you’ve had to work with this person, and they’ve made trouble for others by doing something outside their area of responsibility without consulting the appropriate people. But, before you could figure out a constructive way to respond, they came to you, eager to explain. Their motives appeared to be selfless — beautiful, even. They probably apologised for doing what they did without discussing it with you first, and they almost certainly mentioned all the effort that was involved in doing it their way doing something that would be “helpful for everybody.”

You were still frustrated, with good reason, but now you had no choice but to appear grateful. The alternative was to be the asshole who made this hard-working, beautifully-motivated, lovely person desperately sad.

You probably couldn’t even blow off steam about what had happened, because no-one was willing to hear anything negative about their wonderful friend. So, you did your best to manage the damage that had been done, allowed the autonomy of the Very Lovely Troublemaker to go unchecked, and waited for it to happen all over again.

Maybe your significant other is one of these overwhelmingly lovely people. Maybe you feel uneasy or miserable around their olympic-level niceness, but can’t articulate why. The ways you’re being controlled and manipulated with a relentless cycle of generosity and guilt might be so ‘normal’ to you that you can’t even see what’s happening, especially if you’ve experienced emotional abuse in the past. It’s possible, for example, that childhood abuse has ‘programmed’ you to believe this is what you deserve.

Or perhaps you’re fully aware of your partner’s control-by-generosity, and you’ve accepted it. Perhaps you’ve decided their lack of insight into their own behaviour isn’t their fault, or that their motivations really are genuinely lovely, even when their actions are not. So you put up with it out of commitment, or obligation, or because the alternative would be too complicated, or because you know almost no-one will believe the truth about how things really play out behind closed doors (you’d be right about that, by the way).

Does any of this sound familiar? I’m sorry if it does, but here’s what I’ve discovered: it’s ok to distance yourself from the nicest people in your life. Sometimes, it’s necessary.

I wish I’d stumbled on a post like this before, say, early 2016. I wish I’d been able to recognise some of my own relationships in its vague hypotheticals. I wish I’d given myself permission to completely disconnect from some of the nicest, most controlling people in my life.

Instead, I’ve learned the following lessons the hard way:

  1. It’s not ok for overwhelming loveliness to be used against anyone as a weapon of guilt and manipulation. Not ever.

  2. Disconnecting from the control of ‘lovely’ people is likely to result in lost friendships. More of them than you might expect. It’s worth it, but don’t underestimate how painful these losses can be. Reach out to at least one true friend regularly. Find a good psychologist if you need one. It’s really important to take care of yourself.

  3. It’s normal to experience overwhelming unloveliness when the usual behaviour ceases to be effective in achieving control. The dark sides of ‘lovely’ people can be surprisingly awful, and the vindication you feel when they show their true colours might not be adequate compensation. Again: take care of yourself.

  4. Trying to understand the psychology of ‘lovely’ people is a monumental waste of time and energy. Is their behaviour deliberate or unconscious? Are they narcissistic or merely dysfunctional? You’ll probably never know. Respond consistently to their actions and stop second-guessing what might be motivating them. Nothing you say or do will change them, and you’ll be happier if you leave them to their own dysfunction.

  5. Your true friends will stand by you. There may not be many of them, and the friends who prove to be ‘true’ might not be the ones you’d expect, but they will be enough. You will make wonderful new friends, too. Be open to the unexpected.

Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but not all lovely people are controlling and manipulative. Many of them are as generous and thoughtful as they seem. I would never suggest treating selfless, caring people with baseless suspicion — but if their generosity is making you feel burdened, or uncomfortable, or controlled, maybe it’s time to start asking why.

Because in my experience, it’s the most controlling people who can also be the loveliest.