Over the years, I’ve suggested many of my coaching clients seek warm, kind, safe people. I have my clients notice when they feel relaxed and at home with others and when they do not. Ultimately, they spend more time in settings and with people who make them feel at ease. The idea being the more warm and kind the people around them, the more they can relax and grow.
An interesting thing came up today while talking to a long-time client. She said her experience with warm, kind, supportive people has not always been positive. Often, she has connected with them and then been burned. It turned out their kindness and warmth were only an act. As soon as a disagreement or distress arose, they got mean or self-serving. She finds it hard to trust a sweet nature.
Years ago, I dated a man who fed my ego with his kind, supportive words about my writing. He was warm and teared up at beautiful scenery or when talking about his kids. I loved being with him. His rich voice and thoughtful words filled up my empty spaces.
I helped him with his new business. I donated money to it. I worked on advertising. I did physical labor in the warehouse. I even bought groceries for him and his kids.
He would make plans with me for the weekend and then bail on Friday. He did that several times. I told him I wanted to be able to rely on him. He eventually told me he could not commit to a long-term relationship with children involved. He didn’t want to be trapped in the suburbs.
I could not rely on him. I felt used. I think he genuinely liked my warmth, but now I question his. He did make me feel inspired and empowered at first, but later deflated and used.
As I type this, I realize I sound victimized. I hate that. My intention is to show that all kindness and warmth is not genuine or enduring.
We’ve all known someone who was sugary sweet and warm with their words and even their gestures, when times were easy and good, but when the going got tough or there was effortful work to be done, they checked out.
In Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Lindsey C. Gibson PsyD, calls this kind of parent a Passive Parent. “Children wisely know not to expect or ask for much help from these parents. While passive parents often enjoy their children, have fun with them, and make them feel special, the children sense that their parents aren’t really there for them in any essential way.”
These parents are nice and kind but don’t do the hard work of taking responsibility to protect their children. They don’t discipline because they want to be admired and adored by their children. They don’t teach their children how to navigate the hard parts of life because they don’t know how. They just put their heads in the sand. But they are so thoughtful, warm and kind…
I can see where this kind of passivity would also wreak havoc in adult relationships. Perhaps you have a partner who avoids conflict at all costs. They may come across as gentle and sweet, but there is never any resolution to disagreements. Your relationship is a lot of walking on eggshells. Intimacy is tough when you silently resent each other or withdraw to your own lives.
I admit, I’ve acted passively in parenting and in partnering, to the detriment of both. The last seven or eight years have been years of learning how to back up my warmth with actions and effort.
How to know if they are genuine?
One test to see if someone is authentically kind, is to see where they are when there is hard work to be done or when emotions run high. Is their empathy only backed by words? Do they take action or ignore the difficulties?
I don’t want to blacken the true power of kind, supportive and genuinely warm people. If you are fortunate enough to have one or more of these people in your life, notice how they empower you. Their steadfast kindness and openness gives us the security to reciprocate such warmth and do the hard work.
Have you been fooled by false sweetness? Do you need to follow up your kind words with kind actions?