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On The Bookshelf: Anxious to Please

alec vanderboom

It's impossible to overstate how much I love Anxious to Please:7 Revolutionary Practices for the Chronically Nice. James Rapson and Craig English take the common problem of "people pleasing" and repackage it as "chronic niceness." Chronic niceness is getting stuck in one mode of relating to other people. It stems from an inconsistent attachment to a primary caretaker as an infant called "anxious attachment."

This doesn't seem like a big social problem, because who cares about a few adults who are always "too nice?" In my mind, this is why Chapter 2 alone should be required reading for all Catholics. In this chapter, the authors describe all of the cultural factors that are making anxious attachments epidemic among modern American Families.

I loved this book because it gave validation that anxiety about causing social conflict is a real problem. This book gave clear, easy instructions on how to become more authentic in your social relationships and less "stuck." This secular book is written on a purely psychological level--yet it really mirrored my Carmelite journey. Concepts like "going into the desert" (spiritual retreat), "warrior training" (spiritual battle), and "sisterhood practice" (community building) share a common focus with my Carmelite spirituality. 

I feel like reading such clear and accessible language from two psychologists who suffer from this same problem complimented everything I'm learning as a Carmelite on how to interact more honestly with others. Somehow having a secular take reinforced all the messages I'm receiving in prayer.

My goal as a human being is to stop being 'nice' and to start becoming kind. For me, when I'm stuck in chronic niceness, I'm faking closeness. I'm stuffing my anger. I'm distrusting my friendship with another human being. I'm sort of disrespecting God who gave me all these beautiful emotions for a reason.

In this book, the concept of a warrior is a woman who is emotionally grounded enough to feel her feelings, reflect on them calmly and then take decisive action if necessary. This is opposite my natural pattern which is "be nice, be nice, be nice" and then "explode in anger" after sustaining pattern of emotional injuries.

When "chronic niceness" stops becoming an unconscious pattern, I'm free to start becoming truly charitable. I can choose to be kind, instead of remaining terrified of all conflict. I feel like this book helped me put labels on common problems and provided interesting solutions to living a more authentic, less stressful life.