So Nice We Let Others Hurt Us

By Anonymous

Some people are so nice that they let others hurt them. I have been hurt. But I wasn’t nice.

I thought of this as I read a piece called, “Betrayed by the Angel,” by Debra Anne Davis.

When Debra was little, a boy named “Hank C” kept jabbing his pencil into her arm as she sat in her third-grade classroom. It hurt, but she didn’t want to be mean. When she finally got up the nerve to tell her teacher, she was told, “You go back to your seat and tell me if he does it again.” She sat mum.

At age 25 a stranger rapped on her door. She opened it a crack and immediately wanted to slam it. The man scared her.

But she didn’t want to be rude.

He forced the door open and pushed her against a wall.

I want to open the door and shut him outside and then slam the door in his face, rude or not, I don’t care now. Frankly, I don’t push him aside with much determination. I’ve made a mental choice to be rude, but I haven’t been able to muster the physical bluntness the act requires.

And she was raped.

When Debra became a teacher she asked her students what their parents taught them that they would not teach their children. One student said, “My parents always told me to be kind to everyone. I won’t teach my children that. It’s not always good to be kind to everyone.”

Debra wishes she had learned that lesson sooner. Now she knows she shouldn’t always be nice.

My story neither starts nor ends like hers.

I have a memory that I wish were only a bad dream.

I wasn’t feeling well and stayed home from school that day. Soon after my mother left to pick up my cousin from school, my uncle came home. It happened so fast. He bribed me to let him in my room. I was young and didn’t understand why he wanted to do that. So I let him. He pinned me to the bed and started kissing my neck. I told him that my mom would be home any minute. He stopped and bribed me not to tell anyone. I agreed just so he would leave me alone.

I had seen TV shows where children were raped and the rapist warned that he would kill the family if they said anything, but it never happened. So I did tell my mom what happened as soon as she got home, crying through the whole thing. My uncle never touched me again.

I believe that how I reacted had a lot to do with where I grew up, in East Palo Alto, surrounded by violence. A place where you must stand up for yourself.

Like Debra, I still find it hard to talk to men I don’t know. Not because I don’t want to, but out of fear. But unlike Debra, I do speak out loud and clear because I want to be heard.

I agree that parents should not teach their children to always be nice.

This post was written by one of my students, who asked to remain anonymous.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 30, 2012, in feminism, psychology, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Unfortunately, while reading these 2 stories I couldn’t relate more on the topic of regretting that I was too nice to the person who ended up sexually assaulting me. While I don’t want to go into detail about what happened, I do want to say that I am always rethinking how I could have escaped from the situation by being less nice and somehow putting myself first even though I was in an extremely dangerous situation. I notice that there is an underlying theme through the three of our unfortunately common stories. We all agree that parents shouldn’t teach their children to only be nice. I used to pride myself off of being nice to others but after becoming the victim of sexual assault, I find that being nice to people I don’t know can be challenging. Days after the assault, I began putting up a guard between myself and those I wasn’t familiar with. Now that I have a job where I have to interact and be friendly with customers regularly, I find myself learning how to interact with the world again. I’ve now learned that being nice shouldn’t be our top priority but instead, I believe we should all strive to put ourselves first and learn how to listen to our loved ones before it’s too late.

    • I’m so sorry that you had to endure that horrendous experience. But thank you for sharing about your struggles with being nice but also protecting yourself. We can learn from each other.

  2. It’s important for parents to teach their children to be kind and polite to other people.
    However, what is more important to teach is being kind is not necessary. We can be rude and honest to our feelings. What Debre should have done was to slam the door and slap the guy. By avoiding to be rude to the guy, she got a irrevocable scar in her heart. Of course, I understand Debre, as we’re expected to be kind and sweet all the time. I feel really sad.

  3. I would like to thank anonymous as well as all others for sharing their experience and starting this conversation. The message that many women get growing up is to be nice little girls; I will not argue against this because I believe in kindness. However, this teaching as the only acceptable behavior in any given situation may develop an inability to respond with aggression or anger when the times call for it. It may be difficult to imagine injuring or hurting another even in self-defense, I can testify to that myself. Also, knowing that we are never required to be nice at all times frees the person to react according to whatever the situation calls for, rather than from a limited expectation based on gender roles.

  4. Weiyi Xia (Klark)

    There is no doubt that we should be nice to other people, but the question is to what extend it becomes submissive? In the story Betrayed by the Angel, it is sad to see that “being nice” ends up being “easy for other people to do whatever they want”. There should be a line between “being nice” and “submissive”, this line is sacred and inviolable. A person needs to have this inviolable standard in mind to be independent and protected. I still remember when I was little, my parents told me that I should never bully other kids or start a fight, but if anyone ever challenged me based on no justified reason, I should fight back to stand my ground and let others know that “nice” does not equal “submissive”.

  5. Christina Gomez

    Something similar happened to me when I was younger. I had a mental break down and spent 6 months in an institution. I went through a lot of therapy there and we focused mostly focused on how this horrible situation made me feel and why it had happened in the first place. My therapist pointed out that being a latina and growing up in a hosehold where the men have power contributed to me not being able to defend myself properly. We worked on changing this mind set that I had learned and we even worked on changing my family’s way of living and interacting. I definitely agree that children shouldn’t always be kind. I know that I’m going to raise my children to stand up for themselves, have self confidence and know the difference between right and wrong. People can be very decieving and people, especially young people, need to understand that.

  6. I read this story for a class about six months ago and I thought it was really riveting the way the setting kept changing back and forth and it came off really eerie and I love eeriness.

    I think that people can be too nice but maybe I am biased because I believe people can be too much of anything. Personality traits can fall into a spectrum so someone could be either too nice or not nice enough or just nice enough.

    I consider myself nice but I am not that nice because I know that being too nice can lead to people being preyed on or perceived as an easy target or being taken advantage of and I am convinced that this is the moral of the story.

    I think it’s more important to raise your kids to be assertive and to not be victims than to be “nice and polite” because when people become victims, sometimes it hardens their hearts and then they won’t be nice to the people who deserve their kindness.

    THe ones that are too nice sometimes are people pleasers who are afraid of disapproval or maybe they’re manic or maybe they’re just on drugs.

    Sometimes drugs make people euphoric enough too act a little too nice.

  7. Cathy Nguyen

    Being nice and kind has been the social norm for women for decades. We must always treat people the way we want to be treated, with respect and politeness. However men have not been taught these same things, they are the ones who are allowed to be abrasive and/or outspoken. This type of conditioning really hinders a lot of women in the long run, making us unable to speak up for ourselves because we’ve been taught to put other people’s feelings into consideration before ours. It puts us into a bind because others may use this to their advantage. They take whatever they want from us while we let them.

    We as a society need to teacher our children, both girls and boys, to be able to say, “No.” Being nice may come first for some, but we need to teach them how to say no when things go too far. We need to teach them how to stand up for themselves and we need to teach them how to protect themselves if things ever go wrong. We need to teach them all these things because in this society there are some people who are set out to hurt others, and there are high chances of things going terribly wrong.

  8. Jennifer Ken

    This blog really reached out to me. I am disgusted by the fact that there are people who would do this to someone. I am glad that she was brave enough to tell her mother, but things like that is always preventable. I can relate to her story because when I was younger, I was at a family gathering at a campsite with my family and relatives. This older man, whom I did not really know, but I did know that he was related to someone of the family; he loved hanging out with the kids and playing with us. So then, we all decided to go swimming at the lake that was nearby. We were all playing and such and then I felt arms that were being wrapped around me from under the water, I turned around and I was shocked to see him. I didn’t know what else to do, so I got out and sat next to my parents. I felt violated and I couldn’t get his smirk out of my head. I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want to cause any trouble, so I kept it to myself. Later on, he kept looking at me and smiling at me with a creepy look. I finally told my mom and I was glad I did. She told me to keep away from him and that she would take care of it and she did. Word went around and finally someone said something to him. Ever since then, I never seen him again. I think that more parents should have a close and open relationship with their child because something like this could have gotten to a deeper and terrible situation. Who knew what could have happened. Children don’t know much and they tend to listen to an adult more. Children should be taught to not always be nice and kind to others. They should be able to speak up for themselves and not be afraid to.

  9. Assert yourselves! Most people would call me mean or rude. But for example when i go out on the weekends to bars or clubs to go dancing so many creepy men approach me and if you give them so much as a smile they think you would like to escort them home to bed. I say no immediately and they keep trying and it has been my experience that they will not leave me alone until you make it loud and clear. i am a waitress in a restaruant so of course us waitresses get harassed sexually all the time. Some girls say its just part of the job and keep quiet and flirt back, they will leave a good tip. NO! I deliver excellent customer service and ensure a successful experience and i dont need to sacrifice my intergrity at the same time. Being assertive is not the same as being rude. And unfortunately an assertive woman makes a lot of people uncomfortable, if a man were being assertive we would not be having this discussion.

  10. Maria Estrada

    This topic touches my heart because just like Debra i was taught to be kind and respectful to everyone. I know my parents didn’t think that i would take this as ” be respectful to everyone no matter what they do or say to you.”I got this message so engrained into my head that it caused me to go through many unpleasant situations. I remember that when i was younger i was bullied. When this would happen i wouldn’t defend myself; i couldn’t dare to do it because i didn’t know HOW to approach it. This made me be the “push over ” plenty of times. In addition to that, i believe that because of this “teaching” I became a very sensitive and naive person. I finally started standing up for myself the second year of high school and things have gotten better sense then. I still struggle but not as much as before. I have slowly built on my self esteem and I now believe in myself more. I believe that yes, children should learn to be respectful and kind but only to a limit, or when it seems like common sense. But it should be made clear to them that they shouldn’t let anyone disrespect them and that they need to stand up for themselves.

  11. There is nothing wrong with being nice to people around us. However, we should know when to be nice and when to protect ourselves. There are so many dangerous things out there, so besides parents teaching their kids be nice to people, they should teach their kids what to do in emergency, too.

  12. It is important to be nice to people and children need to learn about it. There is no need to be mean. “No” does not mean rude and mean. I understand why Debra feels bad for saying no because it can make others disappointed and hurt. But it is necessary to say no in order to avoid dangerous situations. To me, I feel bad to say no when my parents and friends need me, but I do not hesitate to say no to strangers and guys who I do not really know in order to protect myself. It is important to teach children being nice does not mean saying always yes.

  13. Me too, please. Thank God she was brave enough to tell her mother.

  14. Give your student a hug for me.

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