Kindness! It makes the world a better place, and it doesn’t cost you anything other than a few seconds of your time.

Empathy, warm smiles, listening to others and saying “thank you” when you don’t have to — these things go a long way and make you and others happier.

And in general, there isn’t such a thing as being too kind, just like there isn’t such a thing as being too beautiful or too successful.

The issue is toxic kindness, in which genuine acts of generosity, politeness, and affection are replaced by an artificial, insincere mask.

At best, toxic kindness is manipulative; at worst, it stems from low self-esteem and fear of judgment (this is actually the most likely scenario).

What is toxic kindness?

Kindness in general doesn’t have to be totally spontaneous — it’s perfectly acceptable to force yourself to be kind from time to time.

So, what defines toxic kindness? It’s not a lack of spontaneity. It’s not how often you are being kind to others, either.

If you are honest with yourself, you’ll find that the common denominator of all actions and behaviors driven by toxic kindness is fear.

For example, fear of judgment, fear of disappointing those around you, fear of someone’s reaction, or even fear of being your true self.

See? The person who suffers from toxic kindness isn’t motivated by a genuine desire to help others and make the world a better place, but by the negative emotions of fear and anxiety.

Kindness ≠ Weakness

Kindness, just like generosity, should always be a sign of strength rather than weakness. Examples:

  • You are able to help others if you are resourceful
  • You can donate money if you already have more than enough
  • You give others your time if you have plenty of it
  • You smile to others if you are a positive person
  • You can let others choose if you know you’ll be fine either way

Toxic kindness on the other hand is a sign of weakness because, as explained, it stems from fear.

I use the word weakness for the sake of clarity — I am in no way criticizing those who have fallen into the trap of toxic kindness.

I’ve been there myself and I know how hard it can be to overcome it, especially if you think there is nothing wrong with it.

Toxic kindness: five examples

1. Lending money

Let’s say a friend asks you to lend them a sum of money. We are going to assume they are real and not fake friends who therefore won’t react or pressure you in any way if you say no.

If you are not comfortable or don’t want to lend money to them for any reason e.g. you know they don’t really need the amount they’re asking for, then why would you ever say yes?

2. Gifts and donations

A stranger approaches you and asks you to kindly donate money. This could be a homeless person, or someone who works for a charity, or someone who just needs a few bucks right now.

While there is nothing wrong with donating money per se, you have to be honest with yourself and ask whether you are donating because you truly believe it’s the right thing, or out of self-imposed guilt or false responsibility.

3. Being available 24/7

I remember a few times where my friends called me asking for help and advice, and it ended up being a two-hour phone call. It didn’t matter — when the call ended, I knew I’d done the right thing, and I was happy.

By contrast, there have been times where energy vampires convinced me to listen to their endless drama over and over again, and then expected me to always be available. Clearly, that was toxic kindness because it didn’t make me or them feel better.

4. People pleasing

If you always find yourself agreeing with what others say, or nodding, or saying things just so that others think you are a nice person — I’m sorry, but that probably counts as toxic kindness.

How can you possibly agree with everything? How can you possibly talk and express yourself and be liked by everyone? You can only do that by wearing a mask, and you’ll feel inner tension as a result.

5. Hiding sadness

We are humans, and we are beautiful, because we are vulnerable. Some people like to exaggerate whatever happens to them just to get attention, and obviously that’s bad.

But then at the opposite extreme we find those who suppress and hide everything they feel because they don’t want to “hurt others”. That’s toxic kindness because those emotions will be bottled up unnecessarily.

What to do if you suffer from toxic kindness

  • Acknowledge toxic kindness. And realize that the culture you grew up in, the way you were raised as a child, and social conditioning may have played a role. Perhaps at first you picked up toxic kindness from others and then ended up doing the same unconsciously.
  • Improve your self-esteem. So that feelings of guilt and false responsibility will go away on their own. Most importantly, if you value and respect yourself enough, other people’s thoughts of you (or what you think they think of you) won’t really matter anymore.
  • Try to do the opposite. Just for fun. Although eventually you’ll learn to actually do it. For example, if people always ask for favors and you tend to say yes immediately, say no immediately. Of course, there is no need to be rude; just be a bit more detached.
  • What’s the worst that can happen? Seriously, what could happen if you stop being super kind? Ask yourself this question whenever you feel pressured to do anything. And notice what actually happens when you are not being so kind — absolutely nothing; if anything, people respect you even more.
  • Pretend you are someone else. If anything else fails, just try and copy others for a while until you change your mindset. That selfish but confident coworker who never says yes to anyone? Give yourself permission to be like them. After all, it’s only a game.