book overview

THERE'S AN EPIDEMIC OUT THERE. The afflicted people seem normal enough. They may even seem nicer than most—friendly, sensitive, loyal, eager in their willingness to please. But underneath, these people are filled with anxiety and unrequited longing. They have lousy sex lives, failing relationships, stalled careers, and chronic depression.
The affliction is easy to miss, though it exists under our noses. Even the people who suffer from it don't recognize their symptoms.
At the company picnic, Tom loiters at the edges of a boisterous group, a grin pasted on his face, frequently interjecting an ill-timed quip or a too-long anecdote. Hannah is fussing around the food, making sure there will be enough for everyone and offering help where none is needed. Shelly has been talking for the past hour about Sean, whom she dated a year ago but can't get out of her mind. Roberto has found his familiar place, watching the kids and anxiously monitoring his wife's mood. Dozens more are appeasing, yearning, clinging, and fretting their way through this all-too-typical afternoon
If being nice means acting to make others happier and more comfortable, what could be wrong with it? Nothing...unless the real goal is to gain approval, to smooth away hints of conflict, to keep everyone happy so that the Nice Person won't feel rejected. Chronically Nice People are driven by their anxiety to be nice whether it's called for or not. They are nice when they're being ignored or even insulted. They navigate their world by accommodating and acquiescing, by trying to please. The result is usually the opposite of what they hoped for—disapproval, conflict, and rejection.
NATURAL HISTORY
So, where did they come from, all these Nice People? During the last half-century striking changes in the social landscape have converged to produce the conditions that foster this epidemic. These changes include:
  • Twentieth century wars—robbed families of fathers who did not return or who were physically and/or emotionally crippled
  • Industrial Revolution—moved fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other males away from the family and out of influential positions in the daily lives of their children
  • Dual career trend in families—reduced availability of consistent parenting
  • Dramatic increase in divorce rate
  • Death of community/tribe and the extended family—loss of diverse support; "nuclear family" bears entire responsibility for their children's development
These cultural changes have combined to undermine a healthy, balanced family structure and disrupt the bonding between parents and children. Mothers have become under-supported and overtaxed. As a result, children have lost their mother's availability and emotional vitality, as well as the masculine presence of their father. The family can no longer provide sufficient emotional resources.
But these powerful social dynamics are not enough in and of themselves to create a Nice Person.

THE HEART OF IT...
Anxious to Please is the first book to uncover the root psychological cause of the Nice Person phenomenon: anxious attachment. Understanding anxious attachment and learning to work with it is the key that enables Nice People to unlock their lives
The term anxious attachment comes from a branch of psychology known as Attachment Theory, which focuses on the profound effects of early bonding experiences between children and their parents (especially the mother). For children to feel relaxed and calm they must have a very secure sense that Mom and Dad will figure out what they need and be able to give it to them. If they don't have that sense of certainty, they will feel insecure. When a child feels insecure often enough, there will be lasting effects in the psyche of the child and, eventually, in the adult.
Nice People's anxiety blossoms into a myriad of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. This internal state is so common that they may not think it is unusual ("Everyone is insecure, right?"). Nice People are beset by feelings of guilt, worry, and longing mixed with thoughts of incompetence and unworthiness. They don't have a clear sense of who they are, and never quite get the feeling of belonging or "fitting in" that they yearn for. To make matters worse, they don't know what to do to comfort themselves or to get feeling good again.
Jeff grew up catering to a cold and controlling mother, then spent twenty adult years appeasing and idealizing his abusive wife. When the wife finally left him in his mid-forties, his deep insecurities and fragile self-esteem were exposed. He immediately sought salvation in a new romance, but it too blew up, and Jeff was left feeling shattered and desperately alone.
Today, Jeff is a radiant man. His ambitions have become focused and he pursues them with ease, power and humor. His changing inner world has led to dramatic differences in his romantic life, shown by his choice in partners and the compelling relationship he now shares.

Rita grew up adoring her high-achieving but distant father. Her introverted nature was a bad match for her mother's well-meaning but constant attention. Despite being a top-notch student, Rita floundered professionally, clinging to an unfulfilling but safe job. Her fear of intimacy meant that relationships were infrequent and short-lived. Secretly, Rita longed for an exciting career and a passionate romance.
Today, Rita is serene and self-assured. She has come to understand who her parents are, accepting their faults and cherishing their goodness. Because Rita is no longer in a state of constant anxiety, she has been able identify her career goals and has taken steps toward attaining them. Much to her surprise, she has enjoyed the journey. Rita no longer finds herself pining for romance and, paradoxically, romantic opportunities abound.

By applying the seven practices described in this book, Jeff and Rita have been able to construct the inner foundation they had always lacked. Their capacity for compassion, assertion, playfulness, sexual intimacy, introspection—the breadth of manhood and womanhood—grows daily.
The seven practices employed by Jeff and Rita are not quick fixes—they are life-long principles. Anxious to Please provides a clear and accessible guide to transformation, offering an abundance of exercises, examples, and stories. The seven practices are:
  • Awareness Practice—Sustained attention to thoughts/feelings, body & behavior
  • Desert Practice—Discovering the source of one's own strength through the practice of solitude (withdrawal from distractions and self-numbing behavior)
  • Warrior Practice—Taking considered action which integrates both heart and ethic
  • Brotherhood and Sisterhood Practice—Building same gender friendships
  • Family Practice—Making sense of childhood and the family experience
  • Disillusionment Practice—Deconstructing the Prince or Goddess—the illusion of a romantic partner who will magically cure all anxiety, fulfill all dreams, and make life meaningful
  • Integration Practice—Using daily life as a laboratory for transformation
RELATIONSHIPS
While, the seven practices described in Anxious to Please greatly benefit relationships with friends, family members, and co-workers, the most profound impact is seen in the arena of romance, from casual dating to long-term partnership. Intimacy with a lover or partner reaches deep within the heart and psyche of a person, engaging their most fervent hopes and evoking their most dreaded fears. This dynamic is greatly magnified for the Nice Person, whose anxious attachment was formed by a rupture in their first intimate relationships.
Ultimately the Transforming Person longs for a love relationship that is deep, passionate, and full of joy. Section 3 of Anxious to Please uses the seven practices to reconceptualize romance as a workshop for the evolution of each partner as well as the relationship. In this environment, conflict is no longer a crippling win/lose proposition, but a method for creative engagement. What finally emerges is a portrait of union—an exploration of merger, sexuality, spirituality, and companionship—that is the blossoming of a transforming couple.
THE WRITING
The authors of Anxious to Please are Transforming Men and recovering Nice People. James Rapson is a psychotherapist and educator. Craig English is a writer and workshop leader. Their style is straightforward, compassionate, and spiked with irreverent humor.
As guides, English and Rapson employ anecdotes, testimonials, and stories from their workshops, interviews, and their personal and professional lives. They feature concise and imaginative analogies and metaphors that both women and men can relate to. From sports to myth, from comics to classics, from culture to science, the authors provide a lively and clear-sighted book that is highly readable.

THE CURE
From the wreckage of the Nice Person existence, the reader can discover a powerful and meaningful way to live:
  • Happier and calmer emotional life
  • Reality-based optimism for the future
  • Fulfilling sex life
  • Satisfying relationships with both women and men
  • The ability to embrace the needs for intimacy, love, and sex, and to welcome the needs of a partner
  • Stable, patient, more masculine (men), more feminine (women). As a result, the Transforming Person is sexy and desirable
  • Resilient self-esteem, which originates from a capacity for self-validation and is supported by clear and incisive mirroring from the Sisterhood and Brotherhood
  • Greater sense of connection with family; increased safety and use of family resources; feeling of heritage
  • Stronger body through healthy emotional practice, and stronger emotional system through healthy physical practice
Anxious to Please: 7 Revolutionary Practices to Overcome Chronic Niceness and Live a Life of Strength, Joy, and Extraordinary Passion is the remedy for one of this generation's most misunderstood afflictions.

If Nice People are the epidemic, Anxious to Please is the cure.

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