Identifying “The Good Guy Contract”

I recently read a revelatory article in Psychology Today by a Dr. Alex Lickerman (a Buddhist Physician). It is titled The Good Guy Contract. It spoke volumes to me about many of my own interpersonal stumbling blocks. It identified some of my challenges in ways I had never considered or heard verbalized before.

I’m hoping to use it as a spring board to work on finding ways to address some of the issues it pinpoints for me. And, before you think I’m touting myself as a Good Guy…trust me, it’s not an admirable or happiness-inducing habit…as you’ll read.

Perhaps this is all a bit too confessional, but there is some very valuable meat here that could benefit many other Good Guys…perhaps you? Although I encourage you to read the entire article, here are the most relevant highlights:

The Benefit of Tearing Up the Good Guy Contract

1. Stop suffering when people don’t like me. I can’t control how others respond to me, and being freed of the need to write Good Guy Contracts has freed me of the need to try to influence others to like me as well—which has freed up an unbelievable amount of my time.

2. Become an effective leader. If your primary concern is to please everyone, you won’t be able to make good decisions for the right reasons.I could never have taken on the leadership roles I have had I not eliminated my need to be a People Pleaser (another name for a Good Guy).

3. Establish more genuine friendships—friendships based on mutual interest, free of the underlying agenda in which I would use the goodwill of another to support my self-esteem.

4. Be compassionate. Freed of the need to be liked, I can now contemplate compassionate action motivated only by the desire to add to the happiness of another person and not by the imperative to sustain my self-esteem, making it far more likely my actions will be wisely compassionate, the importance of which I discussed in a previous post,What Compassion Is.”

5. Avoid explosive expressions of pent up resentment. Being unable to say no leads to resentment toward oneself that often gets projected onto others but that’s paradoxically rarely expressed (becoming angry at someone would violate the terms of the Good Guy Contract)—until it builds up to the point where it must be expressed and then often is in explosive and damaging ways.

6. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by too much responsibility. What a relief it’s been to be able to own what’s mine and not what belongs to others.

HOW to Tear Up the Good Guy Contract

If you’re a chronic People Pleaser who can’t stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. First, how can you confirm that you sign Good Guy Contracts in your relationships (both romantic and platonic)? Try asking yourself the following questions:

1. When you disappoint someone, anger them, or cause them in some way to dislike you, does it create disproportionate anxiety for you?
2. Do you have difficulty enduring even a mild degree of conflict with others?
3. Do you become obsessed with manipulating how others feel about you?
4. Are your actions predominantly motivated by how they’ll cause others to view you?

If so, these are reasonably good indicators you’re working too hard to be a Good Guy.

What, then, can you do to stop? Other than taking up the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the most effective method I’ve found is to practice disappointing people. That is, when disappointing someone is genuinely necessary, I approach it as practice for developing my self-esteem. If I fail, that’s fine. After all, it was only practice. I get back up, dust myself off, and make a determination to try again next time, reminding myself as I do so that violating the Good Guy Contract and setting appropriate boundaries doesn’t usually lead to being disliked as we People Pleasers fear, but rather to being respected.

Dr. Lickerman has a lot of other valuable things to say on his blog: Happiness in this World.

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