Crazy People Pleaser

mike.flannel
The day my first baby was born, my mother visited us in the hospital. She brought cigarettes. I had stopped smoking for nine months, and I hadn’t intended to start again. But Mom was being thoughtful by bringing me cigarettes, so in order not to hurt her feelings, I lit up.

Sounds crazy. I risked my health and the health of my children so as not to say no to my mother. Her approval meant a lot and I knew how easily she could take it away. I had to be very careful to never displease her, even if it meant doing something that my brain told me was a bad idea.

I didn’t quite trust my own mind back then. There was suspicion buried deep in my heart that I wasn’t very smart. Or good. The only way anybody was ever going to love stupid bad me was if I did everything I could to make them happy. And also, if I did everything I could to make others happy, I would at least be good, if not smart.

Then time went on and I realized I was pretty smart in some ways. Didn’t that cum laude on the college diploma say so? Didn’t the second degree, earned at night while teaching all day, reinforce I was good at something? Still…giving myself a break was always a challenge, because I believed that pleasing others was the way to be good. If you thought about yourself first, well, that was selfish.

This crazy-ass philosophy of life stopped making sense to me at some point. Or so I thought. Then I took an inventory a few months ago that to my surprise revealed I was still had a tendency to say yes when I yearned to say no. I still had some assumptions about self-care that needed tending. Like the one that goes “I will honor my commitments.”

I have a very hard time letting other people down. I’d rather suck it up and do the job I signed up for, even if the circumstances around it had changed and doing the job would cause me serious grief. Maybe because in some way following through on every commitment, even those that had run out of gas and just weren’t good for me anymore, still made me feel better about myself. If I quit, people would boo me. If I stayed, people would admire me and say “Isn’t she fabulous? How could we ever do it without her?”

Except. Wanting admiration from others more than tending to self-care is like smoking a cigarette you don’t want just to impress somebody else.

Backstabbed & Betrayed

IMG_3710A few days ago my Facebook account got hacked. This is not the first stupid problem I’ve been losing sleep over this week. I keep wondering if I’m trying too hard to please others. Amy Morin certainly thinks I have that tendency, and she’s shown me ways to correct that weakness of character. I’m going to be better about screening my Facebook friends. And so it goes with writing friends. I am in a few wonderful writing groups, but one local organization has been in turmoil lately. Along with many other good people, I have been dragged into it.

Sometimes, no matter how I try to be helpful, no matter how good my intention, people still direct their disapproval and even anger toward me. In my head, that’s okay. Can’t please everyone, right? Not everyone is going to love me or see my good intentions no matter how much time and effort I expend on their behalf. But wow in my heart it hurts, particularly when  someone I once trusted backstabs and betrays me.

This is where I have to weigh it out. There are over a hundred people in this organization, and as far as I know only three or four are deliberately maligning me and my friends. I still have a role to play there. If I just quit, I will be betraying one of my key values, which is behaving ethically in all situations. Many good people are counting on me to finish out my commitments. It goes against my values to simply walk away because it’s the easy thing to do.

Amy Morin says people pleasers feel responsible for how other people feel. Check. People pleasers self-worth often depends on how others perceive them. Check. People pleasers thrive on praise and reassurances from others. Check. We would rather do things we dislike than risk conflict. Check.

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As I transition out of “people pleaser” mode, I have learned to refer to my list of core values and assess from there.  Sometimes that means being willing to tolerate uncomfortable emotions. Morin says being very clear on your values helps figure out if you are in people pleaser mode or if you are staying true to yourself. Do you know your values and their priority in your life? If not, make a list. Here’s mine.

Physical and mental health

Always behaving ethically

Strong marriage

Feeling connected to family and friends

Sense of purpose (writing)

Looking at my list with my core values in mind, I can clearly see my connection to friends and family through FB. I’ve formed strong connections and friendships in my writing groups, too. These connections also foster the sense of purpose writing gives my  life. It’s worth it to me to hang in there, despite the discomfort, at least for now. And there are things I can do starting now to stand up for my values with the few troublesome folks in my writing community. There are ways I can say NO to them without saying NO to the organization.

Morin says self-confidence increases once you begin making all decisions with your core values in mind. She also includes other perks like having more time to devote to the things that really matter to you, cultivating healthier relationships, and increasing will power. In my case this translates into having time to work on physical and mental health by doing things like walking, yoga, dancing and developing positive habits of mind, not to mention more time for writing. It means the friendships I make going forward will be stronger and less likely to come back and bite me, and, I hope it also means I will be sleeping soundly instead of spending the wee hours ruminating on a silly social media issue or a truly awful and unfair real life situation.