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Adverse Childhood Experiences

The Mr. Nice Guy Syndrome and Adverse Childhood Experiences

Understanding this syndrome and its links to ACEs can benefit all.

Key points

  • Mr. Nice Guy compensates for hidden childhood wounds by struggling to do everything right.
  • Though returning certain benefits, the syndrome’s limited gains come at a cost.
  • The gains can be preserved, while correcting flawed strategies.

Psychologist Robert Glover’s intriguing book describes the Mr. Nice Guy Syndrome. The syndrome sheds light on how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can carry over into adulthood and suggests corrective strategies that lead to more satisfying relationships.


On the surface, there is much to like about Mr. Nice Guy. Wanting to be liked, loved, and appreciated, he tries to be good and do things right. He wants to make people happy, and he feels good when giving to others. He often decides at a young age to be different from his father, whom he viewed negatively as absent, “unavailable, passive, angry, abusive, philandering, or alcoholic” (Glover). He prides himself for treating women respectfully. So far, so good.

However, things often go wrong for Mr. Nice Guy, particularly in intimate relationships. His partner becomes his emotional center. Everything is calculated to obtain from her the approval he craves. He tries so hard to please and is often surprised and resentful when his giving is not reciprocated—putting uncomfortable pressure on his partner.

Fearing rejection, Mr. Nice Guy avoids rocking the boat. He avoids conflict, asserting his needs, setting limits, or expressing unpleasant emotions—so problems don’t get resolved. He’s also often passive and reluctant to lead when necessary.

He often looks for love in the wrong places, being drawn to partners who are fix-up projects that distract from his own insecurities. Seeking comfort with the familiar, he’ll often choose a partner who is unavailable emotionally, as his parent(s) were. He might project his parents’ negative traits onto his partner (such as untrustworthiness), even when this is not warranted.

His likable traits, combined with his tendency to play it safe (sticking with the familiar, striving to control the uncontrollable, being cautious in decision-making for fear of failing), means he is often relatively successful—but not fully alive. And his lack of self-confidence prevents him from achieving his highest goals.

Mr. Nice Guy typically applies dysfunctional thoughts learned in childhood, such as these:

  • “If I am nice enough and do things the right way, people will like me.”
  • “My partner’s needs are always more important than mine.”

The Roots of the Syndrome

Childhood adversities, such as mistreatment, neglect, or abandonment, lead to toxic shame—insecurity, self-doubts, and fear that one’s inadequacies will be exposed. Shame typically carries over into adulthood and drives the syndrome.

Unable to meet his own needs, the overwhelmed child had to depend on others, while feeling like a disappointed, helpless victim. As an adult, Mr. Nice Guy often thinks, “You’re not helping me and giving back. It’s not fair.” Dependence on another’s validation, blaming, and victimhood reinforce his powerlessness.

Thought patterns learned in childhood persist:

  • Since my needs are not important, neither am I.
  • I’m not good enough as I am.
  • I’ll gain my parents' approval if I’m nice enough, do everything right, and don’t make demands or mistakes. (Perfectionistic, controlling, needy, or hovering parents moved Mr. Nice Guy toward perfectionism, mixed with the feeling, “I can’t please my parents.” In adulthood, Mr. Nice Guy continues to seek approval, but now from his partner.)

Glover notes that Mr. Nice Guys often present in two extremes (or some combination thereof): Either “I’m bad (and must hide my innate badness),” or “I’m good (but don’t see or accept my flaws).”

Mr. Nice Guy typically depends on females for approval. Due to societal movement away from farms to cities and rising divorce rates, men are less present in the home today. Being raised and schooled mostly by women, boys become more dependent on women for approval. Lacking bonds with his father, Mr. Nice Guy might form unhealthy bonds with his mother (“mother’s little partner”), while finding it difficult to bond with men.

Corrective Strategies

Understanding the syndrome can facilitate productive change. Mr. Nice Guy might try the following:

1. Cultivate a sense of inner wholeness. Take the time to heal and grow a wholesome sense of self-esteem (see, for example, Schiraldi 2021, 2017). One who becomes secure within, recognizing his unique blend of strengths, is freed from needy dependence on another’s approval. The recovering Mr. Nice Guy can then interact with his partner from a position of strength, sharing his gifts with no strings attached.

2. Take responsibility for meeting your own needs. A dry well gives no water. Fill your well to feel fully alive. Glover recommends taking some time to be alone to tend to your own needs. Self-care signals that you matter. Figure out a balance between “What do I want to be happier?” with “What do you want to be happier?” Sometimes it’s me first, and sometimes it’s you first.

3. Cultivate positive relationships with men. Around male friends, Mr. Nice Guy can practice expressing authentic feelings with no pressure, embracing strengths (like courage, protecting, providing, integrity, and confidence), and feeling fully alive as he enjoys activities men tend to prefer.

4. Check your self-talk. Practice thoughts like the following:

  • I'm worthwhile and lovable just as I am.
  • I’ll generally try not to do things that make me dislikable, but I won’t expect or need people to approve of everything I do.
  • I won’t be afraid of honest disagreements.
  • My value comes from within, not externals like the approval of others.
  • I’ll be satisfied with my best effort, without demanding perfection.
  • I’ll ask for what I want clearly and specifically, understanding that I won’t always get what I want.
  • I’m quietly confident.

5. Select partners wisely. Be secure in what you bring to a relationship. Don’t settle or assume a healthy person wouldn’t be attracted to you. Look for a happy, emotionally intelligent, and emotionally available person. Although it’s unwise to depend on a partner for validation, look for one who is generally supportive and encouraging. Risk an argument while dating to see how the person responds. Glover advises to stay out of bed while getting to know a prospective partner.

6. Manage your intimacy expectations. Every partner is imperfect. If a partner is chronically controlling, critical, angry, cold, or never satisfied, Mr. Nice Guy is wise to accept that he probably can’t change her. Perhaps moving the dial a little is a more reasonable expectation.

7. Stop trying so hard to make her happy. Be supportive without feeling responsible for all your partner’s wants and needs. For example, you might view her unhappiness as a result of childhood wounding. You didn’t cause it, and you can’t fix it. For intolerable treatment, do set reasonable boundaries needed to preserve your sanity (for example, “If you want to stay married and have a good relationship, you can no longer do X”). Understanding that partners won’t respect those they can walk over, state what you want clearly and directly. State your opinions without necessarily expecting agreement. Apologize for and correct mistakes without thinking you must do heroic things to make amends.

8. Manage sexuality. Mr. Nice Guy often presses for sex, which he feels he needs to satisfy his craving for validation and love. Healthy sexual intimacy involves trust, emotional openness, and full presence. Glover, therefore, advises against "addictive" sexual behaviors, such as pornography and affairs, which are unhealthy substitutes for healthy sexual intimacy. These counterfeit pleasures sap Mr. Nice Guy’s energy for his partner, create unrealistic expectations and "addictions" to bodies, and distract from his shame in a way that often compounds shame. Instead, Mr. Nice Guy can focus on enjoying healthy, mutually satisfying sexual intimacy. If he is telling himself that he must have sex to feel love, Glover recommends a sexual moratorium of several months to persuade him that he can live without sex and still be happy. Then, he can resume intimacy with a more wholesome perspective.


Glover, R. A. (2003). No More Mr. Nice Guy. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Schiraldi, G. R. (2021). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook: Heal the Hidden Wounds from Childhood Affecting Your Adult Mental and Physical Health. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Schiraldi, G. R. (2016). The Self-Esteem Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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