If you say, yes, gather round the monitor. I’ve brought virtual cookies and milk (or doughnuts and coffee if you don’t like the first option, because I’d hate for you not to be happy). It’s time for a heart to heart.
If you don’t identify with us, I do hope you’ll stay anyway because chances are you know someone like us – maybe even love someone like us – and you may glean some insights that help you understand us better.
I’ve been a people pleaser all my life, and I’ve actually been aware of this for probably the last fifteen years. I know – KNOW – that over the years I’ve helped relationships and made people more comfortable in a variety of situations. I get tremendous satisfaction out of that. I’m naturally an optimistic and happy person, and I try to only give people the “happy” in me because, really, who wants the
shit not so happy in me?
Thing is, there can be tremendous personal consequences to being a people pleaser.
Looking back, I can see how these consequences built up, and from time to time detonated in the form of mini personal crises. The first major one was when I was 15. When my parents became alarmed at what was happening to their normally put-together daughter, they pulled me out of school for a week and sent me to my aunt across the country, enforcing an exile that consisted of nothing but sun, water, and strangers (even my aunt was a stranger).
I was PISSED. I had problems to solve (most of them not my own), people to advise, and school events to organize. My mom did it anyway.
Funny how time and distance can provide some much-needed perspective.
I’ve learned that people pleasing at the cost of my own happiness – hello, doormat – holds me back emotionally, artistically, and yes, even physically. Of course I’m not saying we become selfish bastards. That wouldn’t work because it wouldn’t feel right either. The key for people wired like us is to learn where that line of self-effacement — self-ERASEMENT — is.
And stay far, far away.
Because crossing that line…becoming a doormat…being taken advantage of…is some day going to catch up with us and boil over into anger, resentment, bitterness, and a whole host of other ugly emotions that limit us simply by the energy it takes to sustain those destructive feelings.
So how do we identify our personal line – our own limit? By becoming self-aware. By listening to our gut.
Several years ago, I was struggling with some of those pernicious emotions, most especially resentment. It wasn’t until I finally admitted to myself that I was carrying a burden that was not my burden to carry that I was able to give myself permission to deserve better. Does that make sense?
What I mean is, when I stopped considering the other person’s happiness at the expense of my own, and when I viewed what had happened to me from an objective (as possible) standpoint, I realized what had happened to me was grossly unfair. And that what was now holding me back in my own life was these feelings of resentment I couldn’t release.
I had suddenly become self-aware. It wasn’t a comfortable place to be (UNDERSTATEMENT). But it was necessary.
And I had to act.
Oh God, that meant sharing the pain with the person who was responsible for those feelings. For people pleasers, that’s so damn hard. But I tried to use the whole “I feel ______ when you do/say/think _______” construct that’s supposed to be all grown-up and PC.
It started out that way, but I soon found myself bawling with words tumbling out – one after another – that both shocked and terrified me. Who was this person standing up for herself? I was apologizing for the pain as I was causing it, but I was also asking for one back. The whole thing was awful. And strangely wonderful.
To this day though, I feel some uneasy because I know that person now carries the guilt for stuff that happened a long time ago. But it had to be done. It was tough love – for myself. And because of that, I’ve moved on and become a better person, free of anger and resentment. I guess you could say…more actualized (I highly recommend exploring Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you have a chance).
We all have unfair things that happen to us, but bitterness is almost always a choice.
This doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally still a doormat – we’re all hard-wired with certain characteristics, come on – but now, I call myself on it. And if it matters, I go back and fix it. If it doesn’t really matter, I shrug it off.
What about you? Are you a people-pleaser or do you know and love any? How do you keep your sense of self? What personal consequences have you faced – or have you witnessed in those who are wired this way?