I’m going to let you in on a little secret that is far too important to be a secret. It’s something that I’ve come to learn from my own personal experiences, as well as from observing the experiences that others like me have had, and have found to be one of the most significant aspects of my journey.
You see, so many of us fall under the category of “people-pleasers”. We want to avoid conflict at all costs, even if it means sacrificing our own well-being in the process. We want everyone, or at the very least the majority of people, to be happy in regards to the decisions we make, so we tend to become chameleons when it comes to our “opinions”. Our choices are constantly changing with the tides of who we’re around and the circumstances we’re in. And while there’s certainly some benefit to flexibility and the openness to compromise, people-pleasers take it 5 steps further, to a place that ultimately does more harm than good.
As people-pleasers, we strive so desperately to appeal to those around us that we often wind up losing ourselves in the process. We quite literally forget to acknowledge our own needs and desires because we’re so focused on what everyone else wants, and for many of us who have embodied this characteristic for the majority of our life, we have all but entirely lost the ability to know what our own needs and desires actually are anymore. Because our preferences have been molded to fit the preferences of those we love most, and even those we barely know, our identity lies with “whatever everyone else wants”, rather than with who we truly are. For those of us who have lost ourselves to this extent, we can barely say we truly even know ourselves with much honesty; although most of us won’t allow ourselves to face that harsh reality too closely before convincing ourselves once again that “this is who we are” because making people happy is our identity, and we feel a sense of nobility about it, even if we see the unhealthy marks of this type of behavior.
As mentioned before in regards to flexibility, there is absolutely benefit to wanting others to be happy and doing our best to play a role in facilitating that happiness; however, people-pleasers take it much further, and the truth (and secret) is that it doesn’t ultimately benefit others the way we think it does. So in honor of the journey I’ve faced myself and the gratitude I have for the people and situations that have come to me along the way to help me find my true identity in this world, I’m here to shed some light on the reality of the situation.
What no one ever told you about people-pleasing is that it’s not the magical fix-all conflict avoider that we want to believe it is.
First of all, it is literally impossible to please everyone. Every person in this world is different, with different upbringings, different experiences, different mindsets, different cultures, different physiological makeups, and simply different personalities and tastes. There’s absolutely, hand-down, 100% no way possible in the world that any person can appeal to every person they encounter. Knowing this doesn’t give us any reason or right to completely disregard the feelings of others, but it does force us to accept that there are always going to be opposers… even Ghandi had opposers! Many think he was crazy, an extremist, fake, etc., but many also deeply appreciated his teachings and the example he lead in a peaceful life. That’s just how life goes. But Ghandi did not adjust his behavior and his choices in order to mold to the preferences of those who might opposed him. While he had great respect for the feelings and differing beliefs of others and was open to learning differently than what he already knew (again, benefit to the flexibility), he ultimately did the work to truly know his own beliefs, needs, and desires, and he remained strong and true to them to the best of his abilities. Had he changed his mind according to his surroundings, he would have never had the opportunity to impact the world the way he did with his authenticity. Likewise, when we adjust our preferences and choices according to others, we are ultimately robbing the world of benefitting from the beauty of our authenticity that we may not have even given ourselves the opportunity to know exists…. which leads me to my next point.
The second aspect of people-pleasing that I’d like to point out is harmful is the way in which it breeds resentment within us, which is harmful for both ourselves as well as for those we encounter. When we focus on people-pleasing, rather than on simply growing within our own authentic selves and becoming the best, most genuinely loving version of ourselves possible, we are subconsciously setting ourselves up for disappointment, as there are so many in the world who do not operate in that way and for people as sensitive to feelings as people-pleasers are, that can be very hurtful to experience. Over time, the negative feelings towards those other people cumulate and it can be hard to let go of the sadness, fear of disappointment, or even anger that develops. This is because while the people-pleasing is coming from a good place – wanting to make others happy – the truth is that there is some selfishness in there because people-pleasers are typically seeking approval from those they’re pleasing, whether they realize it or not. We’re seeking praise or thanks, or at the very least an avoidance of conflict, and if those expectations are not met despite our self-sacrificing efforts, we can feel confused and even upset or angry at the outcome of our circumstances. And because we know that we’ve done all that we can to make the other party happy, we assume that any misalignment that still exists must be the result of the other party’s lack of love/effort/care, and our feelings are hurt for it. Not only that, but because we are self-sacrificing to such an extreme extent, when our efforts are not met with the praise, appreciation, or care that we were hoping for or expecting, we are left feeling depleted from all that we’ve given and battered from the hurt we’ve experienced, with no one there to take care of us the way we have taken care of others. This is a very sad and lonely place to be, and it only fuels the resentment that has begun to build from the situation that got us here in the first place. And for the most part, no one will know or understand how to fix it, because ultimately this was our own undoing.
So what’s a people-pleaser to do? Welp, I’ll tell you! Again, this is simply from my own experience. I don’t claim or assume to know everything; I simply know what I’ve experienced and how I’ve moved forward from it. This is my attempt to share that with you, but I understand that we’re all different and others may have a different path to follow that’s more beneficial for them… I simply hope whatever path each person takes leads to true happiness and satisfaction in life. But, for me, these were my steps.
1. Learn to accept that you can’t please everyone.
As I mentioned before, this doesn’t mean we need to turn into selfish, disrespectful jerks that are constantly doing rude things and yelling, “I do what I want!” as we run away with our prize. It simply means that we do our best to remain respectful of those around us, just as we would if we were to visit another person’s home or another country that encompassed a different culture and different belief systems, but we do not need to absorb their preferences as our own. There is a balance to it all, and finding the respectful, caring way to maintain your own beliefs while allowing others to have theirs, and occasionally finding the compromise between the two, is a beautiful thing.
2. Learn to get to know who you truly are – what you like, what you want, what you need, what you believe – and love it.
Take some time for yourself! It may feel selfish at first, but the truth is that you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. Depleting yourself of all that you have to give and losing yourself leaves you with little to nothing of real substance to give those you love and the world around you. So look at it as an investment for others and allow yourself some quality time with yourself. Discover hobbies that you enjoy because YOU like them, rather than those that you enjoy because others enjoy them. Discover what truly makes you tick and acknowledge what you need in your life to help you develop into the best version of yourself possible. Not only is this okay, but it’s so incredibly crucial to your purpose here in this life. Allow yourself and others to experience that beauty.
3. Learn to see words like “strong”, “confident”, “independent”, and even “determined” as compliments, not insults.
As a former people-pleaser, I can relate to the icky feeling that resides in our guts when we hear words like that after always identifying endearingly with words like, “sweet”, “too nice”, “shy”, and even “naive”. We accept these words as compliments because we see them as examples of our kindness and loving hearts. When we’re told that we need to have a backbone or we should stop being so nice when someone is cruel to us, we take pride in the words because they show the world just how much we selflessly give others, and again, we feel noble for it. Especially as women, we feel the need to be weaker so that the men can feel stronger in protecting and taking care of us. If we’re too strong, we feel as though we may have lost our feminine quality. That’s not the case. There is nothing wrong with having a kind, giving, selfless heart, and in fact there is everything right with it! But there is always a balance to be found that can be much more beneficial than residing on the side of either extremes, and finding a place in which we begin receiving words like “strong” and “independent” as compliments that we hold just as dearly as “sweet” and “kind” is where we will ultimately find the most freedom.
In order to change the world for the better, we must allow our authenticity to shine through brightly… otherwise, we’re simply conforming to the world, whether it changes for the better or for the worst. Going with the flow in that kind of way is self-destructive and does not ultimately help those we love. The people we care for need us to know our value so that we can be stronger in supporting them in their moments of weakness and lifting others up to do the same. Think of it as adopting a healthy lifestyle… we can skate through life consuming everything that’s put in front of us, so as not to offend anyone, but we will ultimately become ill and weakened from it and the burden will be placed on the very people we wish not to burden as they are forced to take care of the neglect we had on ourselves throughout the years. But we can choose better. We can learn to take better care of ourselves by consuming the proper diet and nutrition as well as maintaining exercise to be strong, which allows us to be of much more use to those we encounter. We’re stronger, healthier, happier, more vibrant, and much more truly present in the moments they need us most.
But it’s all up to us, as we can’t ever change anyone else. We must choose to take care of others by first taking care of ourselves – and that’s the secret. That’s the truth to people-pleasing that no one ever told you. Take it and fly, my independent, strong, kind, loving, sweet, confident, selfless, determined, caring babies! Go sprinkle that authentic fairy dust all over this world, will ya? 😉