YOU are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

That’s a quote I came across the day.

It is one that I wish I’d come up with myself. It is one that has stuck with me and not only that, but has definitely given me a bit of a jolt.

It may sound crazy, a bit bonkers or even unbelievable to some of you reading this. But it’s taken me 36 years and 5 months to realise that I don’t have to be nice all of the time.

Not anymore.

That I don’t have to be nice to people who aren’t or who haven’t been very nice to me. That I don’t need to suck up people’s shit, ignore it and still be nice to them. That I don’t owe the world and everyone in it, my niceness.

Do you know what I mean?

All of my life I have lived by the motto, that it’s better to be nice than not. And I still stick by that, mostly.

But over the past six months I’ve found myself in two really unpleasant situations – with people whom I have genuinely cared for – and it’s made me realise that I’ve taken this wee motto way, way too far.

One experience? Well I guess you can chalk that up to bad luck.

But two? In such a short period of time? Well it has really made me question myself. And if there’s a silver lining to come out of these situations it is this; I’ve finally realised that by being ‘nice’ to those people who didn’t deserve it, I haven’t been very nice to myself.

Since being a tot, I have always been told to be nice to others. To be quiet about unpleasant behaviour and to keep my opinions to myself.

I can understand why. I’m sure you can too.

I think most of us get it, that you may give out these kind of messages as a parent, because you want your child to grow up being a good person. That you don’t want them to offend others or ‘be a handful’.

But I can see now the harm that this has done. I can see now how it skewed my thinking.

And these messages came not just from my mother, but from society too. Because women are always told to be nice, are we not?

To be quiet, obedient and look pretty. And if we don’t? Well, we all know what happens then…we suffer the consequences.

And so over the years, this ‘always be nice’ message has meant that I’ve tolerated some truly dreadful behaviour from others.

I’ve ignored slights, put downs and sarcastic comments. Silenced my gut instinct. Allowed others to cross my personal boundaries. And caused myself nothing but pain, drama and misery in the process.

How silly! How pathetic! How bloody sad ey?! To let other people treat you so badly, in the name of nice.

And the thing is, I absolutely do not blame the people who have purposefully gone out of their way to attack me or badmouth me to others.

I blame myself. Because the clues were there all along. What they thought about me. Who they are.

Their behaviour raised many alarm bells. Their words – both spoken and written – often raised red flags. Their intrusiveness and demands always made me uncomfortable.

But I ignored it all.

I continued to be nice.

I felt certain that I should always try to do the right thing.

I chose to see the good in them but to ignore the bad.

I wanted them to like me.

And so I let things slide. I kept the peace. I carried on trying, caring and putting their happiness and feelings above my own.

Until that is, my limits were reached.

Until, I realised recently that that I really don’t have to be nice to anyone or have anything to do with anyone, who makes me miserable or causes me pain.

That it’s OK to say ‘enough is enough’ and move on, as long as I do so kindly and with no nastiness.

It hurts when people go out of their way to hurt you, doesn’t it?

It’s soul destroying when you’ve trusted someone, only for them to turn against you. And it really, really stings when you find out that someone has been busy bad mouthing you to others.

But how much we put up with it, is down to us. How much we tolerate, is our call.

You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

It’s taken me 36 years to realise this truth. 36 years too long.

Yes, it’s nice to be nice, that is true.

But it’s also important to remember … that you and I? We owe the world no-one’s happiness, but our own.

With love,





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10 Discussions on
  • Sorry you’ve had to go through this upset and yes, I totally get what you’re saying. What I tell my kids, and what I try to do myself, is to keep a generous heart. I do my best to assume that people are good and caring because what I’ve found is that if I do that, then generally people react in the same way. What this does though is also allow me to be generous with myself which means if I’ve tried to be generous and open, and I get slapped in the face, those people will rarely get a second chance. Life is too precious to put up with people who aren’t good for us.

  • That was so powerful! I am with you totally. I too have realised it and working on it. Loved the quote..sharing it. Keep up the good work!!

  • Really interesting topic. I am sad that people have not valued your friendship. I don’t feel that I have many close friendships at the moment but I do get some “bad” feelings that my kindness is not always returned. Big hug beautiful lady.

  • I totally relate to this and often find myself offering to help people, without being asked for it, and even though it actually rather inconveniences me.

    But I can’t help myself! It’s out of my mouth before I have a chance to even think.

    Like the other week when a girl I’D JUST MET at an antenatal class said she had no-one to look after her daughter for one of the classes. ‘Well if you like, my niece is looking after my daughter so she may be able to take them both’. Whatever possessed me to even think it? What’s more, how dare I offer the services of my niece, who was kind enough to help me out in the first place?? I’d clearly not given any thought to her. Luckily my daughter got chicken pox….but that’s not the point.

    I tell myself repeatedly that being ‘nice’ to one person may mean I’m not being kind to another (mainly myself) and I still slip up like this.

    So I’m going to join forces with you from today and take on your new mantra!! I love it!

  • I often wonder how some people sleep at night, or where their ethics are, given the behaviour they deliver to others. But it’s taken me many years to realise that many people simply don’t care whether their actions hurt – because they always believe they’re in the right, and that they have no flaws.

    That you’re adddressing yours enforces the view I have of you: that you care, that you wouldn’t treat anyone differently to how you’d like to be treated, and that you have a good heart. If people choose not to recognise that because they have another agenda, so be it, that’s life (unfortunately).

    I always feel better when I think of how shallow these people’s lives must be, and that they clearly don’t enjoy developing their self-awareness (it can be such fun!). It’s also common that such behaviour stems from low self-esteem, i.e. they have to put others down (whether overtly or stealthily) to feel good about themselves, because they have little inner substance or mettle to rely on.

    Again, if I’m right, it only makes ME feel better – because the type of people I refer to STILL wouldn’t care, even if they knew and understood this comment!

  • Hi Kate, I’ve only just discovered your blog and I had to comment on this post as it is so empowering and quite simply ‘bloomin’ fantastic!’. Having been in a very similar position of many many years your article came as a breath of fresh air to me. Thank you xxx
    I’m looking forward to reading more in the future.
    Thank you xxx

  • I’ve not heard this quote before but I like it! I often use the one ‘you have to fill your up your jug first before you can pour for others’. I find negative people are always emptying my pot or poking holes in it to drain me. Like you suggest, you have to have those boundaries and dig your heels in and be a bit evasive/blunt sometimes so they don’t steal your energy. Even sometimes with folk who mean well yet are taking a bit too much of your battery power. It’s always a tough balance and the curse of nice people I think..

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