I’m a recovering people-pleaser.
It’s something I’ve really been working on, especially in the last two years.
It hasn’t been until fairly recently that I even realized this was a big problem for me.
It’s led to some unhealthy behaviors and habits. It’s prevented me from taking care of myself.
And ultimately, it makes me feel frustrated, overwhelmed, resentful and exhausted.
So rather than making me feel better, people pleasing actually makes me feel worse.
A lot worse.
This eagerness to please has been a problem for me for my entire life.
I cannot remember a single time in my childhood that I truly felt confident. Honestly, I can’t remember many times in the first forty-five years of my life that I felt confident or competent or at peace.
I recently had a revelation about being codependent.
And if you’re codependent, then you’re a people-pleaser.
I know where this comes from now. When you grow up feeling like nothing you do will ever be good enough, you begin doing anything and everything you can to get approval from other people. And you reach a point where the only way you feel good about yourself is when other people give you love or attention or praise.
No matter what I managed to accomplish – and I’ve accomplished a lot – it was never enough to make me feel better about myself.
I spent the first four decades of my life feeling and believing that I needed to prove myself to other people in order to be a decent and loveable person worthy of respect.
I spent the first four decades of my life needing other people to tell me I was good or smart or talented or pretty or thin or whatever in order to feel any sense of self-worth.
I put myself in one unhealthy relationship after another.
I morphed according to what whoever I was dating at the time liked so that they would like me.
If they liked alternative music, then I liked alternative music. If they liked NASCAR then I liked NASCAR. If they liked skiing, then I liked skiing.
Even if I didn’t like alternative music or NASCAR or skiing.
All this pretending to like stuff that I didn’t actually like so men would like me led me to resent them.
The problem was I wasn’t necessarily dating men I liked.
I was dating men I thought liked me.
It was more important for me to be liked by the person I was dating than for me to really, truly like the person I was with!
Ironically these men didn’t actually like me.
They liked the version of me I was pretending to be.
Eventually I was able to break this cycle of needing a man in my life to feel like a valuable human being.
But that didn’t solve my problems with people pleasing and worrying about other peoples’ feelings before worrying about my own.
The combination of not feeling good enough when I was a kid plus trauma plus outdated gender norms and expectations still has a hold on me.
Not like it used to, but I definitely still find myself trying to do things to make everyone else happy at my own expense.
I just had this aha moment with the kids and my post-divorce guilt.
I was killing myself to keep things the way they used to be when I was married.
And this was slowly destroying me, honestly.
I was exhausted, resentful, and having more and more meltdowns.
It was only like a month ago that I actually put two and two together.
I talked to the kids about this and let them know I had to change things. I had to stop trying to make everything better for them, and I had to start trying to make things better for myself.
Wouldn’t you know it… once I stopped trying to make my kids happy at all costs, I became calmer and less stressed and happier.
The more I said no to things that would make my life unmanagable or prevent me from taking care of my most basic needs – sleep, exercise, down time – the better life got.
FOR ALL OF US!
This is something I’ll need to intentionally focus on for a long time.
You can’t undo 50 years of focusing on everyone else first, needing validation from other people in order to feel okay about yourself, having a hard time functioning when other people are mad at you, and not being able to say no to people overnight.
You can’t undo that in a month or even in a year.
It’s going to take years of being self-aware and consistently working on this for it to become my default way of thinking.
But I have motivation.
Because I noticed myself unintentionally perpetuating this with one of the kids very recently.
I’m still part of the problem.
And I DO NOT want my kids – especially my daughters – to repeat these same patterns of unhealthy behaviors.
I want to teach them better.
I want to teach them the difference between being nice and being kind.
One of the girls was invited to go to a friend’s house a few months ago, and then she was invited to sleep over.
She wanted to go to her friend’s house, but she didn’t want to stay overnight, and she asked me what she should say.
I thought about it, and I thought about the other friend.
I knew the other friend might be take it personally.
And rather than use this an opportunity to help my daughter practice responding to people honestly and authentically, I told her, “just tell her you’re not allowed to sleep over.”
I was teaching my daughter that it’s more important to make other people feel comfortable than it is to make herself comfortable.
I was teaching her to avoid being honest with people – which is the kindest thing you can do in a relationship – in order to avoid making someone else uncomfortable.
I was teaching her that it’s more important to focus on how other people feel than how she feels.
I was teaching her that she’s responsible for how other people react to circumstances.
I was teaching her to be dishonest and not authentic in order to feel okay about herself.
I was teaching her to be a people-pleaser.
I know I’ve made a lot of progress in this department. I know I’ve grown so much.
I know my kids are light years ahead of where I was when I was their age.
And I also know I still have lots of work to do.
Fran Eckman says
Don’t feel you have tons of work to do. One day at a time. It’s an ongoing job. We just try to do our best.