There's certainly nothing wrong with being a girl. Nor do most people think being nice is a problem. So what's wrong with being a "nice girl"?

As plenty of psychologists and authors have pointed out over the years, the qualities we value and praise in little girls--being kind to everyone, agreeable, quiet, and contented at school, etc.--rarely translate well when those girls grow up and go looking for professional success. Women who excelled in education find themselves too eager to please, too afraid of ruffling feathers, and too unaccustomed to failure and struggle to initially handle the rough and tumble business world.

Of course, being kind is a great quality for both genders, so how do you know whether you're a nice person in the healthy sense or a nice girl in the problematic one? Founder and writer Raluca Popescu recently shared her own struggle with this important question on Medium, confessing her struggles with "Nice Girl Syndrome" and outlining not only the symptoms she's come to recognize as hallmarks of the issue, but also suggestions on how to overcome each of these behaviors.

Some issues she identifies have to do with her personal life and relationships, but she also outlines five problematic behaviors she's learned to spot and stop at work, including:

1. Thinking being loved is contingent on being nice

The life of the Nice Girl revolves around "the idea that you have to be nice to everyone in order to be loved and accepted. Which is basically 'mission impossible,'" Popescu explains, and this approach often goes deep. "This idea is based on a deeper one that says 'you are not good enough'. So you have to do things and be in certain ways to be loved," she adds. So uprooting it can be a challenge, but the first step is awareness.

"Start with saying 'I love and accept myself now.' Notice throughout the day when you are scolding yourself and stop it. And then replace the scolding with a loving thought," suggests Popescu.

2. Struggling to say no

This is a common issue for both genders, so common, in fact, that we've covered it many times before on Inc.com. While both men and women can struggle with boundary setting, this is a profound issue for those suffering from Nice Girl Syndrome. What's the solution? "Start practicing with what you consider being a small 'no' whenever you feel like it. Be aware and take a few seconds before rushing to say 'yes' as you usually do. Then gradually you will gain confidence to add more 'no's,'" suggests Popescu. More practical advice is on offer here, here, and here.

3. Being terrified of upsetting people

You know the old expression that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, but when it comes time to make your professional breakfast, you just can't seem to do it. If that sounds familiar, you're suffering a classic symptom of Nice Girl Syndrome.

"The idea behind this behavior is that you are responsible for other people's feelings. And you treat them as if they were fragile crystal glasses that will break at the first wind blow," says Popescu, who again recommends starting small and building your way up to greater authenticity. "Some might be taken aback by your sudden honesty but that's their issue," she cautions.

4. Wearing a perma-smile

It's great to be happy and cheerful, but be honest: No one really feels like smiling all the time. Nor should you. "Smiling even when you feel like crying--it's a bit crazy. I know. I've done it many times," confesses Popescu, who advises those who can't stop smiling to "consciously choose not to smile if that is not how you really feel. Do this for a day. And if you are brave, do it for a week or more."

5. Feeling like criticism is the end of the world

Few of us really enjoy criticism, but for sufferers of Nice Girl Syndrome, hearing negative feedback feels like the end of the world--even if you rationally know it's a necessary part of improving your performance or launching anything even a little innovative.

To overcome your terror, "start looking honestly at your so called negative traits. They are all parts of you. Admit that sometimes it's useful to be bitchy, and bossy to get things done. Accept and embrace them. And then you can choose to change. Or not," suggests Popescu. Author Tara Mohr also has great advice on how to grow a thicker skin and stop taking every negative comment so personally.

Are there any recovering sufferers of Nice Girl Syndrome out there who want to share how they overcome their issues?

Published on: Nov 4, 2014
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