I’m sure if I ever did one of those Wordle diagrams based on the words I use most frequently in correspondence that the biggest number of ‘hits’ would be for ‘lovely’, ‘great’ and ‘fantastic!’ I am the nicest person I know. I am helpful, thoughtful, considerate and obliging. I will go out of my way to help anyone. I spend as much time on voluntary activities to help others as I do on my paid work. This has not always been then case. It was the result of a deliberate choice. I made a conscious decision some years ago to be the very helpful person I am now. There were a few reasons for this.
As many people know, I am Autistic. When I was a child I had quite a different experience of empathy to almost children. I didn’t used to have emotional empathy or logical empathy. Wheat I had instead used to terrify me. I believe my experience is now described as hyper-empathy. An example of this was when one of my friends at church lost her father I stood next to her in Sunday school and absorbed all her grief and despair. It was as if I had lost my own father. I wanted her to stop feeling that way for what were then quite selfish reasons – I was overwhelmed with her raw emotion when I was near her and this was very distressing for me. I went through life feeling everyone’s horrific emotions like they were my own. To counter this I became aloof and distant. I steered conversations away from anything remotely personal or emotive. That combined with my social awkwardness and strong opinions meant that people tended to think I was a rude and selfish person.
I grew older, moved out of home and met an evil man who I was too naive to be cautious of. We started a relationship and I discovered he was a violent and cold-hearted man. By then I was too involved with him to escape. We did terrible things and found our punishment in prison. The worst punishment for me was my inability to have an emotional connection to the violent things I had done. I couldn’t feel guilt in an emotional sense despite my knowledge that I ‘should.’ I thought that I must be a monster and a psychopath. I went into a shadowy life, trying to reconcile myself to crime and my apparent lack of connection to other people.
After a few lost years I made some changes. In twelve step programs there is an understanding that people get to a point where they can no longer continue – they either die or make dramatic change and start on the road to recovery. i decided I would stop my destructive life and understand how human beings ‘work’. I would be kind and positive and helpful. I learned that if you make the decision to do so, changing your life is very possible and changing your character is doable as well. I turned my character from being negative, destructive and detached to being the me I am now, The main catalyst was the change in my attitude. Your attitude underpins every facet of life. It can be hard to change your basic approach to life but I am proof it can be done.
I soon found being a positive and kind person was far preferable to being a criminal. I also found that my basic character actually was kind. All the negativity and destructive behaviour was a sort of overlay on top of a basically decent human being. The biggest challenge as ‘nice’ me was assertiveness. I could never stick up for myself and was terrified I would lose friends if I didn’t acquiesce to their every wish. I should note that my lack of assertiveness was not a result of my being kind and helpful. I am very assertive now but I still care for others. My lack of assertiveness was most likely a combination of being bullied all through high school and having a low self esteem and then having been in prison for some years where people were violent and dangerous and I was afraid to disagree with anyone.
I basically uncovered my core personality of ‘nice.’ I am very happy about this. And ‘nice’ has some applications through my life which enable me to get by. My ‘nice’ can head off prejudice and can help open conversations around Autism and mental illness. It also means that if I am angry people take it very seriously.
My ‘nice’ is not the solution to everything and it is also not for everyone. Some people have a load of righteous anger and indignation – which is often a very useful thing if their is discrimination happening, You are never going to see me storming the Winter Palace or anything like that but my approach is effective for me. And I’m 10000 times happier than I was before I put on my metaphorical yellow fluffy beanie of ‘nice.’