The Good Guy Contract

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More than twenty years ago, the first woman I ever loved broke my heart. Like many break ups, the end came in stutters and sine waves rather than as an abrupt but mercifully irreversible amputation. However, for reasons I couldn’t understand yet quickly began to resent, my ex-girlfriend continued to ask favors of me. And I continued to grant them.

Then one morning while chanting (meditating), I found myself ruminating about how inappropriate it was of her to keep asking, and the more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. My indignation continued to intensify after I’d finished chanting and began showering, finally reaching a peak as I rinsed the shampoo from my hair, causing me to make a sudden and angry determination that the next time she asked me for a favor, I’d refuse.

At that exact moment, the phone rang. I knew it was her calling—and sure enough, after I’d finished showering, one of my roommates confirmed it and added that she’d asked that I call her back before I left for school.

As I walked toward the phone I told myself that when she asked me for the favor for which I knew she’d called, I’d refuse. I called her up, and—sure enough—she asked me if I would record a television show for her on my VCR (again, this was more than 20 years ago). In my mind I said, “No.” But then I heard my mouth say, “Yes.”

I hung up—and laughed out loud. I was as powerless to refuse her a favor as I was to run through a brick wall.

So I decided to begin chanting (meditating) with the determination to free myself from my inability to refuse her favors. And one day, months later, while chanting, I had an epiphany. The reason I remained unable to refuse her requests was that I’d established a Good Guy Contract with her.

Until that moment of epiphany, I had no idea what a Good Guy Contract was, much less that it was the standard contract I consistently signed with almost everyone in my life. But in that startling moment of clarity I understood not only what it was but why I kept signing it: my self-esteem, which I’d previously believed to be built on things solely internal, was in fact entirely dependent on something external—the good will of others. The Good Guy Contract was simple: I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you, to care about you—and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, excellent as a human being in every way, and finally and most importantly, you would like me.

This was the contract I’d signed with my ex-girlfriend, the only difference being I didn’t just expect to be liked; I expected to be loved. And for a while, I was. Unfortunately once I’d had a taste of that love, it became my ego’s addiction, and when she took it away from me I became profoundly depressed—not because, as I originally thought, I’d been left by someone I thought was the love of my life, but because I genuinely believed without that someone I couldn’t be happy. Why, then, did I keep doing favors for her after we’d broken up? Because I couldn’t shake the Good Guy habit. Some part of me believed if I continued to fulfill my contractual obligations to her, she’d start fulfilling hers again to me. To say I was shocked to discover my self-esteem had been built on such shaky ground would be an understatement.

I didn’t realize at the time, but at the moment I had the epiphany about my propensity to sign Good Guy Contracts with everyone in my life, I stopped doing it. This was proven to me three months later when my best friend came to me asking me why I had recently become such a jerk to all my friends. My first reaction was to become defensive and deny it. But then I stopped myself, realizing that he was absolutely right. I began to wonder why I had in fact become so dismissive of so many of my friends and realized that I’d somehow stopped needing their approval to sustain my self-esteem and had somehow torn up all the Good Guy Contracts I’d signed with them (these were people, it turned out, with whom I had little in common to bind us together in genuine friendship). I’d somehow discovered a way to love and value myself without feeding off the love and esteem of anyone else. And most fascinating of all, without my ever discussing this with my ex-girlfriend, she never asked me for another favor again.


I’m not arguing there’s anything wrong with wanting to be liked. Nor am I saying I no longer care if I’m liked or not. What I am saying is that in freeing myself from the need to be liked—in learning to derive my self-esteem from internal support—I can more easily let go of the dissonance that (still) occurs when I’m disliked. Ridding myself of the need to sign Good Guy Contracts has brought me tremendous benefits, including enabling me to:

  1. Stop suffering when people don’t like me. I can’t control how others respond to me, and being freed of the need to write Good Guy Contracts has freed me of the need to try to influence others to like me as well—which has freed up an unbelievable amount of my time.
  2. Become an effective leader. If your primary concern is to please everyone, you won’t be able to make good decisions for the right reasons.  I could never have taken on the leadership roles I have had I not eliminated my need to be a People Pleaser (another name for a Good Guy).
  3. Establish more genuine friendships—friendships based on mutual interest, free of the underlying agenda in which I would use the goodwill of another to support my self-esteem.
  4. Be compassionate. Freed of the need to be liked, I can now contemplate compassionate action motivated only by the desire to add to the happiness of another person and not by the imperative to sustain my self-esteem, making it far more likely my actions will be wisely compassionate, the importance of which I discussed in a previous post, What Compassion Is.
  5. Avoid explosive expressions of pent up resentment. Being unable to say no leads to resentment toward oneself that often gets projected onto others but that’s paradoxically rarely expressed (becoming angry at someone would violate the terms of the Good Guy Contract)—until it builds up to the point where it must be expressed and then often is in explosive and damaging ways.
  6. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by too much responsibility. What a relief it’s been to be able to own what’s mine and not what belongs to others.

People sign Good Guy Contracts all the time. It’s especially common in younger people, less so as people mature naturally into independence. Yet it persists in many—as I believe it would have in me had I not confronted the suffering my signing a Good Guy Contract with my ex-girlfriend caused me.

If you’re a chronic people pleaser who can’t stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. First, how can you confirm that you sign Good Guy Contracts in your relationships (both romantic and platonic)? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. When you disappoint someone, anger them, or cause them in some way to dislike you, does it create disproportionate anxiety for you?
  2. Do you have difficulty enduring even a mild degree of conflict with others?
  3. Do you become obsessed with manipulating how others feel about you?
  4. Are your actions predominantly motivated by how they’ll cause others to view you?

If so, these are reasonably good indicators you’re working too hard to be a Good Guy.

What, then, can you do to stop? Other than taking up the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the most effective method I’ve found is to practice disappointing people. That is, when disappointing someone is genuinely necessary, I approach it as practice for developing my self-esteem. If I fail, that’s fine. After all, it was only practice. I get back up, dust myself off, and make a determination to try again next time, reminding myself as I do so that violating the Good Guy Contract and setting appropriate boundaries doesn’t usually lead to being disliked as we people pleasers fear, but rather to being respected.

In all honesty, even now, more than two decades later, I sometimes still feel the tug of the need to please. Though the wisdom I activated all those years ago has never stopped functioning in my life, sometimes it functions less strongly than others, depending on my life-condition. Sometimes I still have to remind myself consciously not to be overly affected by the opinions of others. But the ability to let go of my need to be liked, even if it sometimes requires conscious effort, is one of the greatest bits of human revolution I’ve ever accomplished and absolutely worth every bit of suffering it required.

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  • While it sounds kind of crazy that a person ought to actively disappoint other people, I am definitely in agreement with you here about the Good Guy Contract. I dated an extreme “people pleaser” for a while, and he was the kind of guy that everyone claimed was “the nicest guy ever”—he was the most popular person I’ve ever known. But it always shocked me how superficial many of his relationships were and how readily he would say yes to other people (or how obsessively apologetic and worried he would be if he had to say no). He was always trying to make time for everyone and spreading himself so thin that ultimately the relationship suffered because of it (a bit of twist on your Good Guy story, though you didn’t say if it affected your actual relationship).

    In my case, I felt that it was hard to have a truly genuine relationship with him, and I have since been a little wary of the super good-guy syndrome. I think many people mature out of this need to please others (as it’s really just a special kind of peer pressure) and turn into caring and independent adults. However it’s the people that take advantage of these Good Guys (ahem, your ex-girlfriend…?) that really ought to reevaluate their actions.

    Carolyn: I think you’re right on. Many people do mature out of the need to please others. Interesting, too, how people who tend to be people pleasers often attract people who are more than willing to take advantage of others’ willingness to please (not that I’m accusing you of that!). And just to clarify my point about actively disappointing people, it was more about using those instances in which it’s actually appropriate to disappoint someone as a way to focus on learning to let go of the need to please.


  • This article just made me realize that being the Nice Guy is a type of disease. It is amazing when you finally say no to someone, they never ask you again just like you experienced.

    Great article!!!

  • Hey,

    Your post really fits for me. I recently wrote one called “What is Sacred to Me?” which carried this quote: “Depression is the reward for being good.”

    I practice Nonviolent Communication which offers tools to live your heart rather that being a Good/Nice/Dead Guy. 🙂

    One tool that comes to mind that helps pave the path to Real “guy-ness” (versus Good Guy-ness) are the three Steps from Emotional Slavery to Liberation from Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: Language of Life. Step one is “people-pleasing” which you sound very aware of. Step two is the “obnoxious stage” where you rebel against stage one (which you elude to). The third step is emotional liberation where you take responsibility for your emotions and actions!

    It sounds like you are well on your way toward freedom! Yay!


    Dave: Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I really liked the most recent post, “Three Freedoms” on your blog. I suspect my tendency to be a people pleaser began in childhood, too. I learned to use it as a strategy to manipulate my parents into not arguing, which caused great anxiety for me. So glad to have put that behind me.


  • I think it is as simple as, “No strings attached.” In other words, IF we do something for someone, we should do so freely and without expectation of anything in return. (The “giving” is the end, not the beginning of an equation.)

    Jacqueline: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for stopping by to comment.


  • I’ve read this three times and I’m still confused. When is “disappointing them appropriate?” And when your friend told you you’d been treating your friends like a jerk, were these genuine friendships? I’ve always thought of friendship as a very special gift. Could this be a gender thing? Last week I told my doctor that often meeting a female friend for lunch would leave me exhausted (I have chronic fatigue syndrome) and he seemed surprised. Then I asked him if he noticed the difference in interaction between two women as opposed to two men. He couldn’t stop laughing. On a lighter note, I don’t think any strategy I used could have manipulated my parents into not arguing; you must have been REALLY adept at whatever you did.

    Andrea: My wife gives a good example of appropriately disappointing someone: when she was in college, her roommate was constantly asking her to write her papers for her, which she appropriately refused. The friends to whom I was being a jerk (really more like ignoring) weren’t entirely genuine friendships but rather friendships I’d entered into (unconsciously) mostly to bolster my self-esteem. Truthfully, I couldn’t even begin to evaluate these people as friends because I was so invested in having everyone think of me as wonderful that it blinded me to their positive and negative qualities both. Eventually I did gravitate back toward some with whom I actually did have genuine connections. And I was only partially successful at finding ways to stop my parents from arguing—just enough to keep me trying. 😉


  • For me, really it was and is a simple a thing as “civility.” Can we both be elevated to the level of civility at least?

    That is, within a social contract can we simply ascend to seeing our emotional disabilities as a factor of our humanness—in the other? Enlightened thus, can we proceed to quiet dissolutions of those contracts?

    I went to fly a kite with all the expectations that there would be a wind to keep it aloft. When I finally arrived at the spot, there was simply no wind.

    Curse that there was no wind? Use the same rationale to empty the ocean using a teacup.

  • It always amazes me how words and thoughts will reach us at the time we need it the most!

    I’ve practiced Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism for seventeen years. Even though I have known the pattern you describe in your post rationally for a long time, I’m only now reaching a point where I simply cannot go on with my “good girl contract” anymore. The people who truly love me have asked me to throw it away for a long time but I haven’t been able too, found it too scary.

    Your post is sharp and encouraging; thanks a lot!

    Camilla: I’m so glad you found it helpful. Throwing my Good Guy Contract away was one of the hardest, best things I’ve ever done and what freed me to be able to feel genuinely compassionate toward others.


  • Definitely agree with what you’ve written here. It’s so important to be able to feel compassionate towards others and it sounds like you’ve really done that here.

    Positively Present: I try. 🙂


  • Wow, amazing, Alex. When I started chanting I realized my need to please and a few friends went out of my life because I no longer picked up the bar tab, bought dinner, gave endless rides to the airport with no gas money, etc. When I created boundaries one complained I became a bitch. Thank God for that. I can’t imagine continuing living my life without that awareness.

    Mary: Me, either.


  • Sorry, Alex; I still believe you are a good guy. People have described me in the past as being too “mothering,” and it was not always said in a complimentary way. At some points in my life I wanted to think I was “tough,” not mothering. Now I value that trait, although I know that i can easily go from mothering to smothering. Right now I feel I have lost the quality and my ability to love along with it. I say no to requests because I just CAN’T do or give; it is not really even a decision. If people get angry at me, I am too worn out to really care. I do feel a tremendous loss of a part of myself that, I hope, gave something good to the world and now feel I am only a drain. Certainly I have also gone totally over the edge doing anything and everything to get certain people to like (hopefully love) me, did considerable damage to myself in the process, and of course, it did not work anyway! Let’s hope I don’t go THERE again! Also learned a lot in Al-Anon about this kind of stuff. I get so much from your writing and everyone’s contributions—thank you.

    Meredith: So glad you found this post useful. Being a Good Guy or Girl is certainly exhausting, as you say you’ve experienced. Before breaking through this tendency in my life I also would have moments of utter exhaustion that gave me the ability to stop caring about what others thought of me temporarily and enable me to say no to them. But once I truly let go of my need to please, I found I could still give something good to the world without feeling that the world was taking all the good I had. I really hope you find your way back to the part of yourself you feel you’ve lost that gave good things to the world (which you certainly haven’t really lost—it’s just gone underground for a while). 😉


  • The quality of clarity of your thoughts is so bracing. I am grateful for the insights but find the practice of making appropriate judgments about when the Good Person Contract needs to be jettisoned and when not. It seems there are relationships where a mutual Good Person Contract or perhaps a limited GP Contract are essential for civilization or civility as one of the posters suggested. We have to choose carefully where we want to invest that GP Contract relationship status, though…it seems to me that negotiating this territory is worthwhile, essential, and humanizing.

    Christine: I agree we should all try to be good to one another, surely. But if our prime motivation for being good to one another is to be liked, to support our self-esteem, we risk behavior that may appear good but in reality fails to have another’s true best interests in mind.


  • Alex,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I used to be a good guy but eventually grew out of it as I have aged. I find it amazing how much I can relate to your scenarios. I’m writing because my brother has such a big good guy contract that he is almost completely broke from being “the better person.”

    He is recently divorced and let his ex have whatever she wanted, against the advice of his attorney, because he wanted to be “the better person.”

    For whatever reason, he feels the need to have a girlfriend; it’s like he is desperate to prove to himself that he is a good guy; do much so, that he is currently involved with a married woman who has him wrapped around her little finger. He is so intent on being the good guy that he buys her whatever she asks for. It is ruining his life and I have tried everything imaginable to help him out of this good guy state that he is in, to no avail.

    He obviously has low self esteem and doesn’t even recognize that he is trapped in his good guy contract.

    Gary: Glad the post resonated with you. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch people with low self-esteem turn to various unhealthy strategies in attempts to bolster it. Learning to love and accept oneself without requiring the love of another is just a really hard lesson to learn for many. I really hope your brother learns it soon.


  • Dear Alex,

    It is indeed remarkable how apt coincidences are. I am right now going through the realization you had, that my acts of kindness towards others often had a lot more to do with my fear of “being difficult” and my desire “to be liked” than anything else. I grew up in an environment where people were proud, easily offended, and fought with each other over small things, so I wanted to make things easier on everyone. But what I didn’t realize was that letting others walk all over me would result in their lack of respect. I have slowly been gaining respect over the years, and now I think I’m ready to jettison the “good girl contract” for good.

    But there are two things I’m still struggling with—the people I often allowed to “walk all over me” were often seriously damaged themselves, and my relationships with them are those of deep, lifelong love. Ignoring them is simply not an option. What is the best way to help others with compassion while still setting boundaries? Also, I’m worried about the implications this has for my professional life. I’ve never been good at “playing politics,” and I’m afraid of getting eaten alive if people don’t like me. I don’t know what other tools I can use to claim my place in the professional world. How can I defend myself against inevitable attacks without resorting to the level of others?

    Thank you very much for writing.

    Dealing: Thanks for reading. Helping others with compassion while still setting boundaries is actually really difficult (at least, it still is for me even after I’ve jettisoned my tendency to sign Good Guy Contracts). I wrote about it in an earlier post, What Compassion Is, you may find helpful if you haven’t already read it.

    I would say, however, that even if someone may appear, or even be, seriously damaged themselves, they still have the capacity to heal and are in fact likely to be more resilient than you think. One of the things that also kept me trying to be a Good Guy was my fear that if I didn’t step in and provide help when it was requested that the the person doing the requesting would break/have no other option/etc. How arrogant of me to think I had all that power to set their lives right!

    As for playing politics to survive in your professional arena, I’ve found that setting a boundary doesn’t have to happen as a harsh blow. The manner of delivery is key, as is the determination behind it to maintain the boundary you’ve set: you can send a firm message gently and still have people like you because of your character and competence. If you find yourself the subject of attack, one strategy that’s worked for me is to first try to understand why I’m being attacked. Does there exist a legitimate complaint against me or is the attack more about the attacker’s dysfunction? If the latter, have compassion for them and let that compassion guide you to wisdom about how to handle them.

    I hope you find some of these ideas useful.


  • Great insight. We become addicted in so many ways, to so many things—either “good” or bad. It is the addiction which brings sorrow. Freedom is joy.

    Waking up is to be free of contracts, and that is freedom. In free will lies generosity and every other good thing, for no action is contingent then. Generosity is not only material performance but as you say, compassion, which is love.

  • I find it rather amusing that you sign off so many of your responses to readers comments with “thanks so much for your comment!”

    Seems that you are still struggling to relinquish being the “good guy.”

    Jynx: Nope. That’s just genuine appreciation that anyone would read my posts, much less comment on them. I never said I stopped wanting to be liked; I said I stopped needing to be liked. I still try to be a good guy—just not because I need people to like me to buoy my self-esteem. And thanks for your comment. 😉


  • I love this post. It’s especially apt for “love addicts” like me. I’ve been practicing being “the bitch” and yesterday I realized that I’ve made a breakthrough. It’s taken me years to get the message and that makes me a little sad. I sacrificed a lot in order to be liked by people who had no respect for me and it held me back in so many ways. I just hope I can make up for lost time but, like most addictions, you can’t get those years back. Anyway, thanks for this post.

  • I was a U.S. Air Force brat, frequently being pulled up like a potted plant and reported somewhere else. On average I think we moved every two years. Constantly playing the role of “the new kid” I developed a people pleasing personality. Later in life this worked well in a sales and marketing career which I finally dumped in 2001. There are more serious things in life to pursue that being other people’s doormat (e.g. how much did you sell last month?), which is what often happens when people perceive someone to be a people pleaser. And yes, with the girls I often was the “nice guy” and could absolutely not understand why “bad boys” drew so much attention from girls.

  • Why should we need self-esteem at all, if we have self-love and self-compassion?

    Of course, we can still reflect upon our actions, and learn from them, and resolve to do better in the future. But none of that requires judging our own self-worth—which is what self-esteem implies—or applying a “good” or “bad” label to ourselves.

    When the aim of doing better is freed of any need to shore up our self-esteem, then it becomes a more truly liberating spiritual discipline. We aim to do better out of our love for the world and our love for ourselves; not from a perceived lack of self-worth that we’re continually striving to fill in with self-approval.

    The craving for self-esteem that so many people seem to have is in reality an attachment to ego that gets in the way of liberation.

    Liberation from ego means loving yourself with compassion, no matter how “good” or successful you think you are.

    We love our children and our pets without judging how “worthy” they are of our love. Why not love ourselves that way, too? That’s not ego; that’s freedom from ego.

  • I had a similar revelation after my big breakup, but I called it the hero complex. After searching the web, it turns out it isn’t uncommon (but it isn’t an actual disorder). Although, I’m not so sure it was about being liked OR loved, since it seems it would hold true even in the face of persecution. I think it’s more a compulsion to do the “right thing,” to help people, to save people, etc, though I couldn’t say WHY. It could be an overcompensation for guilt, maybe.

  • It may be that women in general want to control by what ever means (be it sex, harassment, or what ever works) other people? Evolution has made women generally 30% smaller than men. That means purely physical control is usually unachievable. Thus the challenge and often associated with biological challenges mental rewards for resolving those challenges in the organism’s favor. Therefore a woman who desires control will not necessarily wish to stop exercising that control even though the relationship foundations may have changed.

    Face it, you are just a tool for someone else’s satiation.

    Lee: Except I know many men who want to control, too (just through different mechanisms), and many women who do not…


  • From reading this I find it interesting and could use it as a base if I find myself in the same situation. Now, I don’t consider myself a Good Guy; I’ve been an underdog all my life and learned to live on my own. A mistake which would make a close group of people dislike me would be devastating to my social life, something I try to avoid.

    It’s really easy becoming the Good Guy. I’ve had that happen a number of times. Last time I did it more out of pity and ended up getting hit by my now ex-friend. The other friend I pitied was too depressed; there was nothing I could do. She also was part of the same social group as my ex-friend and we had had some really heavy stuff happening within that gang so it was just time to give it up and just relax for once. I did it for me, and it felt good releasing the emotional load which my girlfriend had been loading onto me.

    I’m a loyal friend, but I will never stay if it doesn’t benefit me; a nice guy, but I won’t take anything.

  • Though I’m only in high school, I really connected to this. Three days ago, my (first) girlfriend of almost four years dumped me because she just didn’t feel the “spark” between us anymore. She didn’t act any differently before she dropped the bombshell, so I didn’t even begin to expect the rejection. I was completely heartbroken, and every moment since then felt like a burning hell.

    To make things worse, prom was two days ago, and I went with her because she still wanted to be friends. I’ve never been so crushed before, and prom was like having my face rubbed in what could have been. I wanted to hate her and never talk to her again, but she was just so nice to me and so understanding and so beautiful at prom that it broke my heart over again. After prom, I decided not to go to our afterprom party with a close circle of friends because I didn’t want to ruin the evening for her (she was at that afterprom party for two days, and I haven’t heard from or about her yet. In my head I keep seeing her making mistakes with alcohol and men and though that’s pretty ridiculous, I can’t get rid of the images). I took a cab home that night, and I secretly thought I would feel good about sacrificing my own joy for hers. Well, I didn’t. I felt terrible, and I felt that I was missing out. I had no idea why until I read this article.

    I was a Good Guy. I felt that my self-sacrifice would let me feel loved again, but that love is gone forever. I spent two days at home in the worst pain I’ve ever felt, wondering if she was okay and if she was having more fun without me. I had to constantly remind myself out loud that she left and she wasn’t coming back, but I constantly regressed into thinking about what I could do to make her love me. I couldn’t tear up the Good Guy contract I had with her because it was to deeply engraved into my way of life. Instead, I tore up my contracts with all of my other friends who tried to help me and cheer me up because I was so addicted to the love I felt with my ex.

    This has been my first experience with heartbreak of this level. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel or how this is supposed to work. I am traumatized by the way I felt at prom, and I felt like the entire universe had conspired against me for the past few days. That is, until I read this article.

    I stumbled on this article through, and I took it to be a sign that there are others that understand what it’s like, and that I will be okay with time. I realized a part of myself that’s been holding me down that I wouldn’t have realized without reading this, and thus I offer you the most sincere “thank you” that I can convey. Perhaps, with the Good Guy Contract in mind, I can begin to move on.

  • I followed your link from a comment on…and honestly, I’ve never read such an enlightening blog entry!

    My (mostly former) need to be a Good Girl started almost at birth, when my argumentative parents repeatedly scared me with violent arguments which I’d hoped to stop with “goodness.” Of course it didn’t work! A few years ago, I had a sudden parting of the ways with two so-called friends, which I still feel pangs of guilt over…though I realize my guilt is ridiculous. My former best friend took me for granted and called all the shots, and when I discovered my backbone and showed her, she agreed to my “don’t call” request and suddenly disappeared. Another friend was always complaining about unemployment and an empty bank account, and I’d take him out to dinner—which didn’t stop him from lashing out at me and breaking off our friendship. It’s all for the best. C’est la vie.

    Ever notice how social groups attempt to reinforce the idea of being a Good Girl or Guy? A couple of people in my group of friends betrayed me, and yet no one seems to think I’m within my rights to be “un-good” to them. But I’ve realized that my feelings are important, more important to me than theirs, and click—I’ve unfriended and blocked them on Facebook. Oh, how good it feels to finally be free of the Good Girl expectations!

    Good Girl No More: I think my need to be a Good Guy stemmed from my desire to stop my parents from arguing as well. I guess it worked well enough for me to continue to apply it throughout my life until I deeply realized what it was costing me. It’s not too surprising that some of your friendships would be fractured by your awakening to your backbone: the friendships you describe sound like they were formed originally when you weren’t expressing your feelings; when you changed, your friends (at least, the ones you lost) simply didn’t change with you (presumably because they liked you better without a backbone…).

    As the essence of the Good Guy or Girl contract is allowing people to walk on you to get you to like them, it makes sense that social groups might want to reinforce this, constructed, as they are, on the principle that people in the group must like other people in the group—or maybe there’s just a lot of Good Guys and Girls out there. I would add, however, ceasing Good Guy or Girl behavior doesn’t, in my mind, mean being mean or disrespectful to others (not that I thought you were saying that). It simply means no longer allowing people to take you for granted.

    Glad you found your own voice!


  • This finally explains why I’m freaked out when guys are proud to be on good terms with all their exes. Some situations (being cheated upon, betrayed, etc.) require a breaking of the Good Guy Contract to not only protect one’s feelings and dignity, but also to shield one’s self from further abuse.

  • The essence of the Good Guy Contract is sexism. The idea that men are supposed to appease in exchange for being chosen.

    And whether or not this idea stems from a basic genetic need is irrelevant, because so is the idea that I should kill my competition’s children to deny their genetic progression.

    I for one will not be a slave to expectation.

    Bravo on writing this article.

  • Absolutely loved this. This holds so well with my own beliefs and experiences. Your references to the foundations of ego were spot on. I’ve tried many times to convey this to others with similar issues and will refer them here. The Good Guy Contract applies to so many people I know as well as what I’ve heard referred to as “enabler syndrome.” Sharp and understandable. Well done.

  • I totally agree with this article. I haven’t been able to say no for years; it’s good to know I’m not alone…

  • Being a Good Guy is cool; being a pushover and a lackey is not.

    As to the Nice Guys that have superficial relationships: duh. But Good Guys and Nice Guys are very different things and have very different goals. Nice Guys are not interested in being Good Guys, they are interested in people pleasing by becoming a literal tool.

    Being a Good Guy means you are consistent in your behavior with people. You help them when it is reasonable, and when they are unreasonable or they ask for too much too often, a Good Guy has no problem telling that person as much. The result is that the real superficial people—the people who just want you to do stuff for them—soon realize that you will not be abused, and the cool people—usually other Good Guys and Good Girls—respect you more and like you in a non-Nice Guy way.

    You should not go beyond yourself to prevent disappointing people, like a Nice Guy, but a Good Guy welcomes the opportunity to help someone out, but he will not allow himself to be abused.

    Chris: I agree with the distinction you’re making. I just happened to choose the term “Good Guy” rather than “Nice Guy” but the principle is the same.


  • Great article!

    I’ve been a Good Guy for all my life—I’m 32—and I’m only now starting to change that, in part by working with a psychologist. I grew up with alcoholic parents, so I think that’s where it started.

    I have social anxiety to some degree as well. That makes it a bit harder to deal with, since it makes me more nervous of what other people are thinking of me. For me, I think my need to be a Good Guy basically stems from low self-esteem and the resulting fear of rejection.

    The turning point for me was being dumped by my girlfriend of three months. She has Borderline Personality Disorder and I had been desperately trying to help her through a dark depression in the last few weeks, after which she suddenly had no feelings for me at all. She still wanted to remain friends, which I just couldn’t do…but I kept coming back to help her because I didn’t want to see her suffer and dropped all of my basic needs to “be there.” Also, I hoped we would get back together, because I feared I would never get another girlfriend (that was the low self-esteem talking).

    That was four months ago and it really opened my eyes to the fact that I need to change radically. I suppose that’s the silver lining of the breakup.

  • So to summarize—don’t be a pansy and stand up for yourself and you’ll feel better, no? I think you’ve a ways to go yet judging from your use of the language.

  • Thanks for writing this article. I knew this about myself, but I didn’t understand the details.

  • A truly excellent post. I was aware of this but not in such an excellently organized manner. Definitely great way to put it.

  • Great article. This confirms that the path I had always choose was the right one!

  • […] […]

  • It’s interesting to read the discussion on this topic. I can say that the practice of “not expecting the results of your action” (i.e. would I be liked/disliked if I do/don’t do this, will I get X if I do Y, etc) is one of the foundation of Vedanta (Hindu philosophy) for achieving happiness/contentment or to be precise, “experience bliss.”

    The moment you stop worrying about or expecting the results of your action you are freed from a lot of anxiety, stress, and disappointment. It becomes a lot easier to do your part to the best of your abilities and move on.

  • This is my first trip to your site. I got here from The Happiness Project. I shall be back. Thank you.
    Adam Tan

  • Thank you so much for the article! I’ve been recently told by my health care provider to put my needs before other people’s unnecessary wants before my health suffers more because of it. So I got myself a backbone & did a good girl contract tear up…without overwhelming guilt for the first time last week and it feels great! Reading your article has further cemented my resolve. I’m now off to read more of your articles! 😀


  • I loved this post! What I want to know is whether any women out there have tried this without becoming known as “bitches.”

    I suppose Alex would say that it does not matter and that is the whole point of tearing up the contract — if people think that, who cares?

    I was about to lament how unfair it is that women are frequently forced by social conventions to appear nice, when I just imagined what it would really be like not to care if anyone thought that I was a bitch. This possibility has honestly never occurred to me before and it is like finally catching a breath of fresh air after being trapped in a trash can for 25 years.

    I can’t imagine actually doing this, but the thought of it is invigorating. It feels like that line from Pablo Neruda — “just the same, it would be delicious to knock a nun stone dead with one blow” or something like that.

    I was about to politely thank you, but I no longer care what you think. So there!

    You may have unleashed a monster. 🙂

    Anonymous: Yikes. I find the idea of being freed from caring about what others think about me invigorating too, but that wasn’t exactly what I achieved. Tearing up a Good Guy or Good Girl contract doesn’t, in my mind, mean freeing yourself up to be a bastard or a bitch, or even no longer caring what others think about you. Rather, it means freeing yourself from the need to be liked. I still want to be liked. The difference now is that when I’m not, I can accept it without my self-esteem being injured. It has been as incredibly freeing as you describe, but if it only freed me to be a selfish jerk, I’d have considered that a step backward rather than forward. I still sometimes do aim to please but now not because I have to in order to maintain my self-esteem but rather because I want to, most often out of a sense of compassion. The difference now is I can choose not to please if that’s the more appropriate action where before I couldn’t.


  • It’s inspiring to know others battle and have conquered this. I have been dealing with this my entire adult life. I stood up to my family for the first time about a month ago and they are all upset. In fact, I was actually screamed at by my mother’s husband even though I took a direct polite tone when I stood up to something I felt wasn’t right. I think it is hardest to break this pattern with your family as they are used to us in this role.

    GF: I think you’re exactly right. People get used to us as people pleasers and often literally revolt when we attempt to change our pattern. But if your heart tells you you’re action was right, stand your ground. Sometimes the process of establishing true independence of thought from your family is horribly painful and may result in a split. But if they got used to you as a people pleaser, they can get used to you as an independent thinker with a backbone.


  • I’ve printed your article for my husband, who is legendary in these parts for being the ultimate Good Guy. And, as you suggest, I have been the willing recipient of his good-guyness, mollifying my guilt with the justification that as his spouse, I’m uniquely entitled to reap the benefits. Nevertheless, I’ve always suspected this subliminal, unhealthy motive on his part. Can he make the change, at 57? And if so, can I adapt, after 25 years of his servitude? Stay tuned.

    Married: Good for you for making your husband’s best interests the more important thing.


  • Hello from Switzerland,

    I just read a post on your blog from Gretchen’s Happiness Project & came to visit. I really liked your article.

    I’ve been in a Good Girl Contract for far too long & when I was recently told to stop being such a People Pleaser I was vexed.

    But everything is absolutely TRUE! Reading your article has really made my day! I am not alone!

    Now, after so many years of such an attitude, it is difficult to stand alone on your feet, without depending on others’ opinion to build your self-esteem. These days I am always scared to slip again into this bad habit. I keep reminding myself that at least I have identified the problem!

    Thank you.

  • […] a comment in Alex’s blog about The Good Guy Contract. Posted by shewhosees Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]

  • […] Secara alamiah, orang pada umumnya ingin disukai dan/atau dicintai sehingga, pada akhirnya, kebanyakan mereka memilih menjadi orang baik agar disukai dan/atau dicintai. Hal ini diperparah dengan kenyataan bahwa disukai dan/atau dicintai juga menjadi satu kriteria orang baik sehingga hubungannya jadi seperti lingkaran setan yang tidak ada habisnya (circular). Keinginan orang agar disukai dan/atau dicintai serta keinginan menjadi orang baik melalui disukai dan/atau dicintai membuat banyak orang,  dalam istilah lain, menandatangani apa yang disebut sebagai “The Good Guy Contract” (link: […]

  • Yet another article of yours that really resonated for and with me. I thank you for that.

    I am a 45 y.o. man and have been living with my girlfriend for 1 1/2 years now. My girlfriend has been married before and has children by previous husbands. My mom—to put it delicately—does not “buy into” my now-five year relationship.

    Mothers tend to set the temperature of families I’ve noticed. As mom goes, so goes the family. Notwithstanding this, fairly recently I have become “okay” with her setting the mood tone of our family.

    As you write, I no longer “need” her approval, though I certainly do “want” it. Were I to have it, so many exchanges between my siblings and parents and girlfriend and me would be easier and more pleasant. Unfortunately—for my family, very likely, and for my girlfriend and me—this does not seem likely to happen in the near future.

    I think and feel that (1) I have been clear to my mom about the long-term nature and depth of my relationship with my girlfriend; (2) of my unwillingness to participate in family gatherings where she is not welcome or even cordially tolerated; and (3) assume my mom has done the relational calculus and determined she is willing to see less of me as a matter of her position.

    The result is my mom doesn’t make the three-hour visit to our home; my dad is hesitant to make the trip (though he has on occasion) for concern of upsetting his wife (my mom); I am reluctant to visit them without my girlfriend, as she is unwelcome at their house; I sense my siblings are hesitant to “rock the boat” by insisting or even choosing to spend time with my girlfriend and me; and, as a result, when family comes in from far-flung places, I choose to be absent since my girlfriend is not wholly welcomed.

    The upside? I’m okay with this. This is how my mom (and to a lesser extent others in my family) has chosen to liver her life. I still love (and like) her, though I do not agree with her.

    Life is filled with trade-offs. This one seems most natural to me.

    Thank you for the clarifying discussion.

  • […] The Good Guy Contract […]

  • I stumbled on to your post. I just want to thank you because as I started to read it felt like I was the one who wrote the top part…having the exact same experience in college and beyond only I’ve never put the term “good guy contract” onto my actions and I’ve never learned how to tear it up. Thanks for your wise words.

  • Thank you for this post. Looks like I have some work to do.

  • For practice in not pleasing people, try becoming a manager in an organization. No matter how compassionate, wise, and just you try to be, someone you supervise will come to dislike you, even hate you. People simply have different ideas about fairness. It’s an amazing challenge for a person who wants to be liked and thinks of himself as kind and good. You have to grow up, own who you are, and accept the fact that in living and working with other human beings, conflict is inevitable.

    Mary: I could not agree more. I had the exact experience you describe when I was running a primary care clinic.


  • I find this whole post which can be summarized as “nice guys finish last, so don’t be a nice guy” (isn’t that original?) fairly simplistic. As a practicing Buddhist your main goal is to achieve detachment and hence it seems you’ve discovered that that also includes detachment from people. I’m glad you find happiness in that, but I find much more happiness from my social networks. Nurturing those social networks includes building social capital and being civil (which I would translate as “being nice”). As most anthropologists would agree, we are innately social animals that live entirely through, and by means of, social networks. Society and social networks work for most people. For a few unhappy people, “the other” becomes the subject of angst and depression. Detachment is a possible solution to their problems, but I would never suggest that it’s the only one. Building social capital (i.e being nice) can help you find a job, meet new interesting people and most importantly in my view, makes you a good person.

    Laurent: I’m afraid you’ve mischaracterized my position entirely. As a Nichiren Buddhist my aim is exactly the opposite of what you describe: I struggle daily to continuously enlarge my compassion and connect with others more deeply (the detachment you describe seems more in line with what I know about Zen Buddhism). I didn’t mean to imply being “nice” is a weakness. The issue for me had been why I was being nice. It wasn’t out of a genuine interest in or compassion for the people to whom I was being nice, but rather to get them to like me to feed my ego. Having freed myself from that need, I found myself far more capable of accurately judging the true compassion, or lack thereof, of my actions—in other words, I found myself motivated to be “nice” not out of the need to be liked but out of a genuine feeling of caring about others. On the outside, in fact, my actions often remained the same. On the inside, however, they’ve since been coming from a much healthier place.


  • I understand and have been this Good Guy/Girl. It was only after 11 years in a bad marriage that while being screamed at over the phone (for the hundredth time) I was able to say in a calm, strong, quiet voice, “We have important things to talk about, but if you yell at me again I am going to hang up the phone” and then I did it. And it never happened again. Who knew it could be that easy??!! I think that was my epiphany moment.

    In defense of people-pleasers everywhere, I would like to add that I think people can be raised to be that way—I know I was. And I can fall back into it so easily I believe it will be a lifelong struggle to (as my husband says) “become a little more bitchy.” I love learning how to say no and still feel good about myself. It is really an enlightened way to live that I was unaware of for far too long.

    As Mary van Valkenburg mentioned above, becoming a manager is very good practice at not pleasing people (okay, I still struggle). Becoming a supervisor was very frightening to me and that was probably the main reason I did it—sort of a continuing internship in tearing up the contract every day.

    Thank you for shedding light on these topics that can isolate people when left in the dark.

  • In your post you say: “…when disappointing someone is genuinely necessary, I approach it as practice for developing my self-esteem. If I fail, that’s fine.”

    What does it mean to fail at disappointing someone? Does that mean that they weren’t really disappointed? Should I try harder to get them upset?

    Or does it mean that I blindsided them, they were crushed by my behavior, and that they’re never going to speak to me again?

    Mary Ellen: In using the phrase “when disappointing someone is genuinely necessary” I didn’t mean that we should seek to disappoint others as a primary goal. I meant more that sometimes it’s appropriate to disappoint others when what they’re demanding is unreasonable, inappropriate, or significantly conflicts with an important need of our own. It was meant to contrast with my previous habit of saying yes to everyone without considering anything other than my need to be liked.


  • I guess this is me.

  • Thank you for the feedback. I see what you mean now. You mean that in a situation where it is necessary for the purposes of a higher good to disappoint someone, and it is in my mind that that is what must be done, but when I pick up the phone I fall back into nice guy/nice girl behavior, then I have failed at my task. That clears it up.

    This post has been very helpful. I’ve shared it with my husband whose job is to essentially disappoint people. He is not so much a “nice guy,” but your ideas of how to approach the problem have helped him be more at peace with the process.

    Mary Ellen: Certainly the opposite of the Good Guy, someone who delights in disappointing others, isn’t desirable either. Even for a non-Good Guy, someone who knows his or her boundaries and enforces them, disappointing people shouldn’t be done out of malicious delight but rather because sometimes disappointing people is actually necessary to do one’s job properly or to be genuinely compassionate.


  • There is one word (I guess an “official term”) for the Good Guy Contract. It is called co-dependency. The following link is one of the best books I have ever read, as someone who struggles every day with co-dependency (hopefully will be recovered soon).

    Co-dependent No More—see the Amazon link below.

  • I really enjoyed reading this post; helped me through some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head. Keep up this good work, and remember it’s best to keep things in mind about “subjective” and “objective.”

  • Being a good person isn’t about being liked; it’s about liking to be good.

  • I understand not NEEDING to be liked (BTW, I happen not to have this issue myself, though I see it everywhere), but shouldn’t you be nice regardless? Having all your old friends think you’re a jerk doesn’t seem good either. You should be nice WITHOUT relying on the “Good Guy Contract.”

    Malcolm: Agreed. The key point I was trying to make is that there are different reasons to be nice and that being liked isn’t a good one. We should be nice, in general, because we generally care about the welfare of people around us. My old friends thought I was a jerk because of the rapid shift in my attitude toward them—that is, because I wasn’t bending over backward to please them anymore—not because I started treating them poorly. Tearing up a Good Guy Contract doesn’t mean becoming mean! It just means you’re no longer motivated to be nice to get people to like you.


  • I learned to say “NO” only 8 months ago. Other than saving time, I benefited in the health department. Saving time means employing it to generate something worthwhile; it could be earning money, spending time with family, building relationships, etc.

    I like this article. I am overtly spiritual and compassionate. Buddhism has had it’s share of influence on me over the last 8 years. Though I have never heard about the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Great article! I really enjoyed reading this post and I stumbled upon it. Thanks!

  • This is a very important thing to realize but even more is that people need to ask themselves why they try to become a good guy. If they feel they need to become a good guy then they have the right to choose. They need to realize the pros and the cons of it and make a decision. Understand why you do something.

  • Hi there,

    I read your blog and I have to say, it hit home with me. I was seeing a girl for 3 years and I had blatantly made the Good Guy contract. I went through some pretty rough times in that relationship when it was ending. Even when I found some…how should I put it?…obvious evidence of how much “fun” MSN file sharing could be between a female and a male. I dismissed this evidence and continued to live through this arduous relationship, being as nice as I could be.

    Even though we had broken up, she still had the power to make me say yes.

    I should clarify that we broke up a month or so prior to this meeting. She had suggested we get to know each other again, and me being the Nice Guy, went along with it even though I knew at the time it was just a power thing for her. But even though I knew it, I wanted to hope that the contract would eventually be fulfilled once again.

    It wasn’t until I came across one of those moments of clarity.

    I was out with my friends in a local club having as good a time as anyone does when they’re out with close compatriots. I was at the bar when I felt some sort of swirling feeling in my stomach. I turned to lock eyes with a beautiful dark eyed female sitting to my left. I don’t know what it was, but as strange as it sounds, she seemed to be staring into my soul. It was such an overwhelming sensation that I completely forgot where I was.

    I eventually spluttered out what I wanted to the bar man, and walked to where she was sitting.

    I started to converse with her (not about my current status as that would be a conversation killer) and it turned out that we had the exact same birthday, down to the year. I was completly amazed. She was intellectual but not condescending. She was beautiful, but not on her high horse about it. It was then that I realized that these were the types of people I was missing. Being completly consumed with this bad relationship I was still being put through.

    It was at that moment, somewhere between the ice swirling around the lime floating in my glass that I got the resolve to put this to a stop. I thanked the girl for the conversation and she smiled then said, “It looks like you have made up your mind about whatever it was that was bothering you.” I answered somewhat surprise, “Yes, with your help my eyes are open again.” I gave a final smile and went to re-join my friends.

    After that one moment, I told my ex that we couldn’t keep this up as it was making us both miserable. There was no way it could get back to being good times again, and I tore up the Good Guy contract. The feeling was great; I didn’t have the worry and stress of trying to be everything to her when it was a completely one-sided set of feelings.

    To this day I have not made anymore of these contracts, and I have the friends that matter in my life. The ones that will stick with you through the metaphorical fires of hell.

    It is the saying “nice guys finish last” that sums it up perfectly.

  • […] April 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm (Uncategorized) inspired from “The Good Guy Contract” @ […]

  • Hello,

    1st off: Stumbled Upon.

    2nd off: A few weeks ago I decided to stop being the “Nice Guy” & was having a little bit of anxiety about it. People that once thought they could rely on me for things (without much in return, mind you) were becoming distant after I decided to stop “providing.” This article makes another valid point about finding out who your true friends are.

    Thank You.

  • I WORRY a lot. About the future. I open the door literally for other people when they don’t ask. This may be the problem.

  • […] an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract, I described feeling indignation over my ex-girlfriend’s continuing to ask favors from me […]

  • […] by means of your obedience and appeasement results probably more from a misplaced confidence in The Good Guy Contract than it does from a well-reasoned strategy to keep you safe.  Once a kidnapper has you away from […]

  • […] your own biases.  Are you more interested in being liked than you are in giving honest feedback?  “Good advice grates on the ear,” the saying […]

  • […] finding themselves even incapable of it, having somewhere along the line inadvertently signed a Good Guy contract.  But caregivers ignore their own needs not just at their own peril but at the peril of the people […]

  • Thanks! Recovering from the end of a love affair, mercifully cut short by my partner and his wisdom to see it wasn’t working; I understand that in trying to be the person he thought and I thought he wanted me to be—thus being the good guy, looking for being liked rather than standing in my self esteem—my power as a person was beginning to erode, followed by my sense of humor. Only what I thought he wanted me to be, not what he thought, is the truth! Truths and perspective such as this are coming while feeling fully the loss. Forgiveness, compassion and recognition and appreciation follow. Thanks, Alex, for suggesting this article and the others.

  • Thanks. I generally do not care what people think of me. After reading this though, I realize now the mistake I make in some of the relationships I have. I can’t make someone like me more just by being nice to them. They might, I suppose, but it’s more real if they like me on their own terms?

  • […] from my need to be liked and thus my inability to say no (which I described in an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract), I realized I hadn’t changed enough.  I could say no in a way I couldn’t before, […]

  • Hi, Alex,
    I have always been a “people pleaser”—usually very anxious/uncomfortable with disappointing anyone or having someone dislike a decision of mine. I’ve always thought it was to some extent a result of a very punitive/critical upbringing…I was ALWAYS wrong / thoughtless / dumb / stupid / etc…

    Though it has worn off to some extent over the years, it does continue to be a significant part of decisions I make. I will need to make a concerted effort to do better…I have in one respect in a personal relationship (engagement) that I have that my family is ignoring…and somehow that has taught me how to continue to improve.

    Thank you for your article.

    Liz: Glad it resonated with you.


  • I did this just tonight. My ex-girlfriend and I were…essentially continuing as if we had never broken up, in all ways. We were texting non-stop, spending time together, being intimate, and I’d do things for her. Tonight was Thursday night, trash night. She got home from work at about 2:30 and I got a text message from her saying “Thanks for taking out the trash. Don’t worry about it from now on.” How absurd to be expected to take care of that when earlier tonight she claimed she hated me and it was evident that she had no intentions of our getting back together. I expressed to her that I would like to be together in a committed relationship again and then I will take care of her. If she’s going to play the “I’m single” card then I will too. I’ve torn up my Good Guy Contract tonight and I don’t feel a thing about it but right.

  • […] surrender their microneeds to the other—perhaps because they’re constrained by a Good Guy contract—that person often develops a feeling of resentment over time, which can lead to a sudden […]

  • Wow, this article is awesome; all my life i have been a people pleaser, not wanting any conflict and trying to be everybody’s friend. In fact a girl that I had a huge crush on (now my best friend) helped me see what you’re saying. Me and her got into a fight and she told me that I have friends that love me for who I am and I should only care about that and reading this has made me realize I have a good guy contract with a lot of people. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Hi Alex,

    Thank you for this wonderful post…though it applied to me in a completely different manner & context.

    I think I have signed a “Good Guy” contract with my bosses/workplace. I slog, I work hard to deliver the best I can…much more than often required, I am very nice, sweet all-accepting colleague who does what she is told. And I expect to be treated fairly & rewarded because of this. In spite of my refusal to play “office politics” & other essential corporate essentials.

    That doesn’t really happen in real life, does it? There are far more forces, parameters based on which things happen in the corporate world.

    When I am unpleasantly surprised, I get resentful & angry basically because they have not honored my Good Guy contract…and have knee-jerk reactions.

    This I realize now is plain stupid. I am taking things personally when I shouldn’t, if I want to win, I need to play the game & finally I must to do what is right by me but not react personally/emotionally in work context.

    So I am going to tear up my contract and understand better consequences of my actions. And practice detachment.

    Now I just hope I can take this thru!

    But thanks again…this post has helped me understand myself more & recognize a pattern.

    Sowmya: Glad the post helped.


  • […] […]

  • Hello Alex,

    I have never read anything in your blog before. This post was posted on facebook by a good friend and it is one of the most eye opening things I have ever read.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • This post: friggin awesome.

    Somewhere early on we learn to hate feeling hated, to despise the disapproval. If love has been conditional for us in the past, there’s some instinct to try and EARN the approval we equate with love.

  • Wow, this post blew me away. It described how I am exactly. This helped me make a change.

  • I will take one epiphany to go…LOL.

    I am teasing as I have been waiting a very long time for a single epiphany and…nada!

    I am tired and feeling silly.

    I have enjoyed reading this but I suspect that I shall read it again at a later time.

    Thank you.

  • Hi Alex,

    This is an insightful blog, thanks for enlightening me. In the AA sense, I would like to admit that I am a people pleaser, and I engage in good guy contracts continually.

    I recently suffered a breakup with my wife and I was very fortunate enough to meet a person who helped me see I have these issues and a web search brought me to your website.

    I basically love to be needed, and I seek out relationships with people who have issues so that they can depend on me, and subsequently love me. This makes me feel good about myself. I put others first and am always keen to help them resolve this or that issue, drive them to help them accomplish a job or whatever, provided that they need the help and are not self-sufficient.

    I believe this behavior stems from when I was a child, and my father died early in life and my mother was left raising a bunch of kids whom she resented. On a daily basis she would repeat: “Kids, who’d have them?” I believe the constant repitition of this phrase led me to believe I was not valued, and I had low self esteem. I was not aware of this at the time, but it is something I have come to see over time. Your article has made me more aware and will help me deal with the issue.

    I took the first step today and cooked breakfast only for myself, in a house of four individuals, rather than waiting til they were all up to see if they wanted some, desperately hoping to earn their respect and friendship (when chances are they would not want any food in any case).

    Moving forward, I plan to make the most of my life, I want to shape who I am and follow up on my dreams. I plan to be an independent person, and if in the process I bump into a nice young lass who is also strong and independent then who knows what may happen, but one thing is for sure, I will not be jumping into bed with the first woman I meet who has some issues I can help her with… This is a big change for me, I feel that until today I could have easily started a relationship with a needy person, only to set myself up for failure again…

    Andy: Good luck! It isn’t easy changing such a deep-seated character trait, but it absolutely can be done, and without leaning too far in the other direction (disregarding the needs or feelings of others in a callous way).


  • Wow, more than a year since this article came out but people still have the same problems.

    Every problem you listed are huge problems in my life and reading this article made me feel like you might be psychic. I hope to rip up my good guy contract and get rid of the contractual niceness in my life. But we can still be genuinely nice right?

    Brandon: The issue isn’t whether or not we’re nice; it’s why we’re nice. Is it to get others to like us (often leading to pathological behavior on our part) or is it because we feel genuine compassion for another person’s life (action that enriches us)? So, yes, absolutely, we should still be “genuinely” nice. Just keep a constant watch on why you’re being nice. And keep in mind people rarely do anything for only one reason. It’s quite easy to be nice both because you want someone to like you and because you think it’s the right thing to do. The question is, can you refuse a favor when that’s what turns out to be the right thing to do?


  • […] I would argue for this reason that when trying to make a difficult personal decision the wisdom of crowds can be exceptionally useful.  Many of us already try to use it to a limited extent when we ask opinions of our closest friends and family members.  Should we take this job?  Should we move to that city?  Should we marry this person?  Should we have another child?  Though most people might argue there are no right answers to many of these questions—only answers that are right for us as individuals and therefore answers that only we as individuals can find for ourselves—in asking these questions of others what we really have to gain is insight into our own thought processes and biases of which we’re not aware.  Thought processes and biases that often affect our decision making adversely but over which we have no control because we simply aren’t aware of them.  It would be quite a useful thing for us to know, for example, that many of our decisions are powerfully influenced by our desire to be liked. […]

  • […] My need to be liked.  As I discussed in an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract. […]

  • […] of maintaining a balanced life:  learning to say no.  I touched on this in a previous post, The Good Guy Contract, and will only add here two additional points.  First, you don’t just have to learn to say […]

  • Wow, thanks for that. I am really struggling with this myself and it has isolated me so much. Like a lot of women, I was raised to be submissive. My parents told me that any time there is a conflict, I must always apologize even if it clearly wasn’t my fault. I should always step aside and let the other person pass. I should always offer to do any work that needs to be done and tell everyone else to sit back and relax. I should always take the burned cookie for myself and leave the good ones for others.

    Like you, I think I attracted all the wrong people. Boyfriends quickly learned that they could make me do anything just by manipulating my guilt. I became a slave pretty much. I even stayed in a relationship with one guy because when I told him I was breaking up with him, he simply told me “No, you aren’t” and it took a few months of staying with him before I even realized that he can’t decide that for me. Even longer before I got up the guts to do anything about it.

    Nowadays, my strategy is pretty much to distance myself from everyone, because any time I stop running around trying to please everyone I feel overwhelmed with guilt. The only way to escape it is to keep to myself. I want to follow your advice, but just thinking of it is so scary I don’t think I can do it. 🙁

    Anna: It’s extremely difficult to change this tendency, but realizing you have it is the first step. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to change it today, but aim for little steps toward that goal. Practice saying no to little things. It just may open up your ability to say no to big ones. Allow the process to take time.


  • This article sounds like me. My ex-husband with whom we share two children divorced me one year, four months and eight days ago due to my lack of running our house as he wanted it ran. Until I read your article I have been that person. I wanted him to know what he had lost; in my mind he would if I had listened and followed what he thought to be best. I was doing this to prove I was important and let him know he threw it away. This article made me realize I was really doing this to try to please a man that was unpleasable. I could do a 1000 things right but they would never be enough. As of now I am no longer the good guy, I am simply me. No more saying yes because I will upset him, because it upsets me to say yes when I want to say NO! Thank you.

  • […] to more people and include:  being liked or loved by others (described in an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract), doing the right thing, helping others, or making some kind of important contribution to […]

  • Yet another wonderful post—thank you Dr. Lickerman! I, too, have been that “nice guy” for much of my 38 years. Looking back to the beginning of this bad habit in my life, I see what so many of us have said here: the problem began for me at home when I was a child with one abusive and one enabling caregiver. What I was learning at those knees, I now realize, was how to provide quality service in exchange for nothing more than pure emotional extortion. Nothing I did ever calmed the abuse, even temporarily, but I sure did learn to believe that it was smart to keep trying anyhow. And the illusion that my service was purchasing love or appreciation or loyalty or anything other than my own abject emotional slavery was just that: illusion. But the habit, and the belief that being a “nice guy” was a successful way to manage all of my relationships with others, persisted for decades.

    About three years ago, while dog-sitting for someone I then considered to be a friend, I suddenly began to change. The dog was a big, fat, stubborn basset hound that was absolute torture to take on walks. He’d take a few steps, eat the disgusting forbidden thing in the gutter, refuse to move *at all* until his interest dragged us both to the next discarded food item….though he lived just across the street from a great park, we’d never been there together, because we’d never managed to walk that far. I had been sitting for him a couple times a year for about five years, when the remembered comment of a passerby finally sunk in: “Are you walking that dog or is he walking you?” Right then, alone on the sidewalk with the dog, I grew a backbone. After that, refusing to move got his paw stepped on. And the dragging me around got cut short by a choke collar. The forbidden “junk” food got cut short too, and we finally spent our walks together in the park, where we belonged. Later the next year, when “Muttley” was put down due to severe illness, I made sure to be present for his departure. Sad occasion though it was, it still felt right to be there to pay my respects: learning to walk with him had been a real rite of passage for me, and I remain truly grateful for the learning experience.

    Most fascinating to me in the ensuing three years since our first walk in the park was the revelation that the backbone I had grown with Muttley was not at all selective; I promptly began defending my interests, for the first time, in every single relationship I was in. More than a few former relationships, including the ones with Muttley’s owners and with my abusive/enabling parents, came to an end. While I see these changes as being for the best, I remain willing to start over again in all cases—but absolutely not on anything approaching the old one-sided terms.

    In fairness, my recovery has not been complete: as the saying goes, old habits die hard. I have mastered the basic concept, however: those who do not provide value in exchange for value are not my friends and must not receive the benefits of my friendship. Those benefits, I’m happy to say, are now reserved for real friends only.

  • This article resonates with much of my life.

    I think I was raised, in my home and in school, to be nice to those around me—to have compassion for other people; you never know what struggle they are going through! What this post rightly points out is that it is appropriate to disappoint people in some circumstances, and that’s something that I’d often overlook in my “compassion” for others.

    I read this entry about a year ago, and since then I’ve made a conscious effort to be more confrontational when necessary. Just recently, I had a friend who wronged me by doing some underhanded things to steal away a girl that I was talking with. Instead of just letting him off, I confronted him and let him know that he was in the wrong. The defense of “Oh, those are just my morals” didn’t slide, and I called him on that as well.

    Thanks for this post.

  • […] I tore up my good girl contract. And I’ve been ungood ever since. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); […]

  • […] been humbled to discover things about myself I didn’t want to know:  as I wrote in The Good Guy Contract, that I believed I needed other people to like me to be happy, and as I wrote in Keeping Romance […]

  • Hi,

    I stumbled upon your blog yesterday after a serious breakdown, unable to cope with the world’s negativity and my own sensitivity to the problems in it. I’ve always been curious about Buddhism, and I like how your posts are from the perspective of a practicing Buddhist with similar values. The People Pleaser behaviour is something I definitely identify with and have come to realize, but it was nice to read about someone else feeling the same, a sentiment I share with many of your posts since these things are not commonly discussed. I have been fighting depression on and off for about a year now, and your blog seems to be the perspective I need to push forward. Thank you.

    Cat: So glad you found some of my posts encouraging.


  • Thank you.

  • Hi Alex,

    I am in a state of confusion. I don’t know what I need. I am not happy with my present life…. I hope you can help me… I want to know about myself… I want to live for myself…. I have many friends, but none whom I can really depend upon. I can’t find the true friend in them… I become friends with people not that easily…. not everyone whom I meet I consider as friend… I need time to know the person and then only I decide to go forward or not. Right now I have few friends which I filtered out from the many…. but am I expecting too much from them? What are my expectations??? I am not able to understand that itself…. I try to be good to everyone… but I feel that no one likes me…. Can you help me?

    Rohit: You sound quite confused about the way you want and expect relationships to function for you. Unfortunately, you don’t provide enough information for me to have a sense of what the problem might be. If you haven’t tried therapy, I’d suggest it might help you find the answers you seek.


  • Alex,
    This really a great post. I read it the first time about 3 days backs. While initially I tended to agree with your viewpoint, that the Good guy contract is essentially about me being nice to you so that you will consider me wise and compassionate, on some reflection I realized that there is something deeper about the need to be a nice guy.

    This is also based on your other post “How to Know Yourself.” We tend to be nice to others for the reason you mention above but also because in our heart of hearts we know that if people think well of you then they can decide in your favor if ever there was a choice for them.

    We want to be in others good books so that they do us a favor, do something good for us. It is almost like organization—customer relationship. We must keep the customer happy so that he will award us another contract.


  • […] want, which often isn’t at all what they need. Further, as I wrote about in an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract, we’ll also put ourselves at risk for needing too much from them: when their wants […]

  • Hello,

    My boyfriend is a people pleaser. He will bend over and sideways to help people. Over the last year, I have grown resentful and mean towards him.

    He works overtime every Saturday because he can not stand saying no to his boss.

    He managed to spread himself so thin, there is not much left for me or our children.

    I love him. He is funny, smart, a great cook, good with his money, generous, faithful and so much more.

    However, I can not tolerate his boss calling my house at 5am asking him to come in at 7 and him saying yes. The anger that I have towards him is crippling us.

    His uber-laid back attitude is killing me. He went out Sunday to help a friend install a hot tub. Our pool is still covered and empty. He never has a minute to do anything around the house, he’s cell is always ringing with a new “friend” that needs something.

    Just once I’d love for him to say “So sorry Kenneth, I can not cover this shift” or “So sorry dude can’t do it tonight, I am taking Lore out tonight.”

    He helps people move, he fixes their PCs, he drives them to the airport,repairs their sinks, is a soccer coach (our kids are too young to play!!)

    Still not one of those people showed up to visit when he had surgery in March.

  • Hi!

    Just read this and found it quite relevant. I can certainly answer “yes” to all of the 4 questions in the article, have noticed this tendency for a while now, still trying to learn how to deal with it.

    But I always come back to this—if I’m not basing my own value in my eyes on other peoples’ opinion, what DO I base it upon? How and why should I feel worthy and good? Or shouldn’t I? I feel there is an emotional necessity for some kind of worthiness, which isn’t necessary a bad thing.

    Maybe Alex or someone else has an advice. 🙂

    Lauris: Perhaps the following will help: The Importance Of Having A Mission and When You Don’t Like Yourself.


  • Thank you so much for this…It has oppened my eyes in so many ways…Thanks again…

  • Thanks for the article, Alex. It reminded me of why I stepped away from many relationships. Those that were real have endured. I found this while trying to help another friend work through this issue for their self. Good words to live by.

    Thanks again

  • […] * I couldn’t resist a blog called Happiness in this World: Reflections of a Buddhist Physician, of course, and I was particularly intrigued by this post about The Good Guy Contract. […]

  • Wow. Great article! What you wrote is so true!

    I had this problem when I was a child. I recognized it in high school and was able to slowly change myself by using step-by-step the method you described: saying “No.” At that time it was easier for me to do because I was transferred to another school. New school, new people, new rules.

    Because of my People Pleaser nature, I was bullied continuously in my old school. Somewhere I read that when something is going wrong continuously in your life, you should take a good look at yourself, find what is wrong with you and try to correct it. I was able to realize that I was a People Pleaser. It was very difficult to say “No” at the beginning, to refuse. I had to tell myself that I don’t care any longer if you would like me or not. As you suggested in your article, I started to practice saying “No.” I even developed a test for people who called themselves “my friends”: if my saying “no” will cause this person to become angry at me, he or she is not my real friend. I based this test on realization that if I am a real friend, then I care about you, and it means that I understand that you can have the specific circumstances that cannot/will not allow you to do whatever I need you to do.

    It became easier and easier to stay the ground. And interestingly, after one year in this new school, I found my real friends. We are still friends after so many years.

    Great article! You were able to express yourself so well. I sent your article to my children with request to read.

    Thank you,

  • This post has been up on my screen all week and it is with a sense of embarrassment that I recognized myself ~ but in a different way. Due to early loss of a mother, I have selected friends through the years who were entertaining, fun, had chemistry and yet needed me, too, as they had big voids in them. I was aware of that as they were wounded kindred spirits. I always felt that my devotion to friends was a form of making a sibling ~ someone who would be with you with the unbroken acceptance of a beloved family member. I longed for a sister, a brother, a mother, a father, who I could re-form a family like connection with.

    I have always been available, would walk through fire for them, never let them down, yet I have been let down more than I can remember, and with some people, endured a hot/cold type of “friendship” that I thought was more about accepting their emotional lack of development than mine. I always thought of my love and friendship as unconditional, etc.

    Yes, my friends did not abuse me with outright abuse, like my dad did, but they abused me with this lack of direct communication about what they would be upset about. I always justified it as THEIR lack of insight, not mine. I stuck with these longtime friends out of a loyalty and commitment to a “for better or for worse” type of attitude, and could never find friends who could measure up to my definition of devotion. No doubt, the kind of devotion that would be expected of an emotionally unhealthy and unconditional parent or spouse or sibling.

    Having had friends and family with bi-polar, alcohol, drug dependence and other conditions (and now married to a psychologist), I am familiar with the hidden side of people’s suffering, so I loved them all through it. I never had children, so I had surrogate siblings, parents, children, but was scared and not attracted toward the risk and responsibility to form my own family. I never saw the liberation one might have for actualizing the joy in that, though now I do.

    Now I find myself at 58 understanding that nobody can fill the voids that I have felt, and the romanticized hopes of those relationships are just that ~ romanticized. It is an unrequited wish. I can say, though, that my marriage has been far more wonderful than I could ever imagine a good marriage can be, so in that, I have been fortunate.

    I guess I have had a “good girl” contract, and at this late date, must affirm my value solely within, though I thought I was doing that already, and just learn to recognize the reality of what people really do offer. I can widen my friendships and learn to not overvalue the history of these 30+ year relationships and share more love and care into the world abstractly instead, and RELEASE THE ILLUSION that others will love me to a deep degree just because I love them so much, or that I can model unconditional love and hope it is mutual. If it is, it will be evident soon enough.

    My contract has been my own framework, I have just not been able to see it. I hope this helps me to be freed from the sadness I have felt about my unfulfilled wishes. Thank you, Alex.

    M ~ CA: You are welcome.


  • After reading this I could say many things about the situation but I can only thank you. Troubled times they. Thank you for the words.

  • […] to more people and include:  being liked or loved by others (described in an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract), doing the right thing, helping others, or making some kind of important contribution to […]

  • This sounds like a textbook description of me. My mother used to say every day before I went to school, “Make everybody like you.” I realize it was absurd and that certain people just aren’t going to like me, it has nothing to do with me.

    But this attitude is hard to shake—I’d do this for homeless people, and got bilked several times, til I just stopped giving to people on the street. And I also did this for romantic relationships, too, where I would grovel, abase myself, give food, clothes, money, just because I thought it would make people love me. One of my good friends called me on that and said, “You let them think you have no respect and they use you.” This is also related to being disabled, overweight and gay, and having fear that if I’m assertive to others, I will be all alone forever. I guess I really don’t think I have a lot of value. Oh well.

    Dragon711: If you don’t think you have a lot of value, you must discover how you do.


  • Thank you very much for the entry; I really enjoyed it.

  • I come late to your posts, and this may have been mentioned before, but a book I recommend to my men clients (I’m also a psychotherapist) is No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover.

    It speaks clearly to all these issues and conflicts and contains some brief exercises useful for considering one’s behaviors and motivations in this particular struggle.

    I believe that more men than most imagine wrestle with this conflict and are left feeling bad no matter what their decision. We want to be loved; as Auden wrote in his poem, “September 1st, 1939:”

    “The error bred in the human bone;
    not to be loved, but to be loved alone.”

    Thanks for your good support of all through your writing.

  • […] My need to be liked. As I discussed in an earlier post, The Good Guy Contract. […]

  • I just realized why people on my work front disliked me so much, irrespective of my being a successful man in my field!! I keep disagreeing with them and probably love to be at war all the time!!! With all this I still keep being sought out by potential customers!!!

    Whether the same holds good in my personal life needs to be discovered.

    It is therefore good to know that the spark of wanting all to love you, that exists in all of us, needs to be snuffed or we must at least become aware of it.

    After reading this probably the war zone may spread to daily life as well 🙂



  • Alex, I found myself laughing heartily out loud at your discovery that your obsessive goodness to others wasn’t based after all an independent internal motivation—that it was your self-esteem, your reliance on being liked by others. I saw myself instantly and I laughed out loud! Thank you for these very good articles, and I’ve already read several of them. I just came across your web site as I was researching karma, and one of the web sites, “Psychology Today” had your article, “An Explanation of Karma.” I liked what I read, so I continued on to your web site. Your book The Undefeated Mind looks very good—I’ve already recommended it to a friend and I’m about to purchase it myself. I’m a Buddhist practitioner with Thich Nhat Hanh and I also immensely enjoy all kinds of Buddhist studies. I find Buddhist psychology right-on to give the foundations for the directives of standard Western psychology. I wish you well, and again I thank you!

  • Very insightful. The Good Parent Contract, The Good Husband Contract, The Rock Contract! No wonder I am worn out. Time to regain control.