“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs
For those of you non people-pleasers out there, I’d like to introduce you to a very unfortunate lot of some pretty great people who don’t realize just how great they are…the people pleasers. You may be related to one, you may work with one, you may be married to one, but I can guarantee that you have at least one in your life. You can recognize these sorry chaps by some of their distinguishing qualities of…drum roll…people pleasing! This takes many forms, but translates to people that are friendly, outgoing, easily liked, helpful, supportive and are generous with their time and energy. They’ll usually be smiling and will be encouraging and fun to be around. They’ll also be the first to volunteer when needed, and they’ll be the ones to keep the peace in families and at work. Most of them are talented, creative, loyal, gregarious, encouraging, warm, popular, and seem to have it all “together.” You may be asking yourself how all of these traits could be in any one person, and why in the world it would be a bad thing?
People pleasers crave and can even be addicted to attention and positive feedback from other people – it’s like a drug to them – and they will do whatever it takes to get another hit. And just like drug addicts, their own inward health and mental well being are the true victims that suffer quiet atrophy from perpetual neglect. While a people-pleaser will go to the ends of the earth to help other people live more fully, they slowly lose touch of their own voice and soul.
On the outside, these people are the ones other people are drawn to – they have it all. But on the inside, they are a dark, decrepit void that is dominated by fear. They fear rejection, they fear failure, they fear loss of personal identity and self worth. They feel inferior, undeserving, and not good enough. They isolate themselves and are afraid to make decisions lest it be the wrong choice. They live in a constant fear they will let others down, and constantly feel unappreciated, taken for granted, and taken advantage of. They are exhausted and run down from always trying to be perfect and make everyone else happy…which is impossible, so they always feel like a miserable failure. Is it any wonder that they suffer from low self-esteem as they ignore their personal rights and deny any personal problems? Can you begin to see why I call these people a sorry lot? They give and give from ever-depleting inner strength until there is nothing left but a carcass of what used to be a beautiful person. You may think I’m writing over-dramatically, but in my desire to help people recognize their true worth, I have experienced and witnessed this cold way of life. Many people-pleasers end up in abusive relationships because they stay around trying to please unpleasable partners. They don’t realize they have the right to demand respect and mutual, giving love, and instead they settle for being yelled at, pushed around, belittled and hurt. And the crazy thing is, they would rather remain in that state over letting the person who hurt them down or “found out” that they are not as good as they appear to the world.
It breaks my heart to see these poor, generous souls decay toward empty bitterness. They end up with no personal identity or rights. They can’t achieve personal goals or handle leadership roles because they can’t make decisive decisions or solve problems. They are immobilized by irrational beliefs and guilt of not doing enough, not pleasing enough, not accomplishing enough. They don’t trust the sincerity of others because they themselves maintain a helpful and giving façade. They often burn out both at work and at home, and they rarely have genuinely intimate relationships because they’re so guarded and scared to reveal their own vulnerabilities…but they never even give themselves permission to be on equal footing with everyone else in their life. Oh, and did I mention they can’t relax and can rarely enjoy themselves? It’s criminal!
Now I turn my attention to you people-pleasers that might be reading this. This is a dismal life path you are choosing – and make no mistake, you choose it each and every day. You will continue to choose it until you comprehend the true, immeasurable value of the treasured soul in you that you continue to ignore, neglect and abuse. You may get some mini high off helping others, or you may not be able to stop yourself from being the one to break uncomfortable silences and inject yourself into fights to smooth tensions. But you either strengthen or weaken yourself with every word and every act, and if you continue on this people-pleasing trail you are on, you will end up bitter, empty and withered. You will hate everyone you’ve “sacrificed” for because they willingly took your time, your help, your love, and your energy over the years, and you will never understand that they didn’t do this to you – you did. Here are some hard truths for you to swallow: you don’t need to be liked by everyone, people do no like you in proportion to how much you give them, you’re allowed to upset other people, you are not responsible for other peoples’ happiness, you are allowed to make mistakes, there is strength in vulnerability, it’s who you are and not what you do that counts, and hardest to believe of all, you please people simply by BEING YOU. What’s more, IT’S OK NOT TO BE LIKED BY PEOPLE. I should also add that you don’t need to be understanding or tolerant of people who hurt you.
It is imperative that we be our own champion – we need to be in our own corner of the ring rooting and standing up for ourselves. But right now you are in someone else’s corner – be it your spouse, your boss, your friends, and absurdly enough even total strangers. I’ve spent over three decades being in that other corner, and the universe has started to teach me a thing or two about the value of loving, knowing, and standing up for myself. The wonderful news is that in your “disease to please,” you have cultivated some very great traits if they can be used from a healthy place. If you can understand that you are actually beautiful, then you can give to others from a genuine place of love and concern. If you see yourself as worthy, you won’t need to get approval and affirmation from others through your deeds – and instead you can give for the sake of giving and let it restore your reserve instead of empty it.
Stop putting yourself last and realize that you serve the world best not through your littleness, but through your living fully. Set your own boundaries and say NO MORE to being the best doormat around. Your worth does not come from your deeds or from how liked you are – it is an intrinsic quality already present in you. Cut yourself some slack and let go of this unquenchable need to be seen as perfect. Can you imagine how much energy you could save yourself? That’s energy that could be used toward actually living a full and healthy life…and maybe for once, you could relax and enjoy yourself!
“Social chameleons, though, don’t mind in the least saying one thing and doing another, if that will win them social approval. They simply live with the discrepancy between their public face and their private reality.” ~Daniel Goleman
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~Dr. Suess
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~Oscar Wilde
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson
This blog is dedicated to my very beautiful friend, Miranda. I hope you can come to see how incredible you are!
Resources I used to write this blog:
The People Pleasing Pattern: Transforming Compliance to Autonomy
Is People Pleasing Preventing You from Pleasing the Right People?
The Perils of People Pleasing
The People-Pleasing Personality
The Disease to Please (great book!) by Harriet Braiker