Having been born and raised in Minnesota, I am very familiar with “Minnesota nice” and the expectations that go along with it. I have heard that he or she is “so nice” and knew from a young age that being “nice” was something important and valued in our culture.
We all likely know someone who presents as nice all the time – they are pleasing, agreeable, delightful. These individuals often have many friends and their kindness and selflessness is praised. Giving of oneself – often to the point of having nothing left to give – is seen as a virtue.
But what if we have this all wrong?
What if anger, dissatisfaction or other forms of unpleasant feelings are just part of the normal range of emotions and not giving them a voice or allowing them to be expressed can cause you harm?
Gabor Mate in this youtube video, speaking about his book “When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress” highlights the importance learning how to express our anger in a healthy way arguing that unhealthy emotional expression (particularly anger) can have disastrous effects on not only our emotional health but our physical health as well.
Mate describes that each individual has two vital tasks in life: to attach to others and to be authentic. Babies are able to pick up on the stress of their caregivers and if they determine that the caregiver is too stressed out to care for their needs they will shut down and suppress their feelings thus compromising authenticity for the sake of the attachment.
The problem is that as adults we continue this pattern. He argues that there are three ways to deal with anger:
1. Repress – which can come out as being nice
2. Giving in – which can be displayed by acting it out
3. Healthy processing of our anger – setting boundaries, talking about it and funneling the energy into healthy expressions
Mate outlines that our emotional systems mirror our immune system and when we do not take care of ourselves by setting boundaries and being authentic to our feelings it will show up in physical illness – autoimmune diseases and if you tend to repress, and heart attacks and stroke if you tend to give in. The risk of the healthy processing of anger, particularly in setting boundaries and saying “no” is that others may choose to not stick around but the costs may be even more disastrous.
It can be a helpful mental switch to view setting boundaries as an act of kindness since you are showing others that you value, respect and care for yourself. It seems time that “Minnesota Nice” applies to ourselves as well!