People-pleasing is, I’m convinced, one of the worst things I deal with in my day-to-day life. It shakes the hands of my lack of self-esteem and my social anxiety. It’s the glue that ensures my insecurity is held together. People-pleasing can never guarantee the other person will be pleased, and you sure as hell won’t be pleased, either. I think it’s a sickness, because willpower hardly ever seems to be enough. In fact, people-pleasing is so entrenched into my personality that the ability to make a choice seems muted and almost non-existent. My brain goes into panic mode and basically says, “You really have to do this no matter what.”
I really don’t want any readers to take this the wrong way, but people-pleasing is a self-centered issue. What I mean is, we rarely ever people-please for the sake of the person we’re trying to please. We have ulterior motives for what we do. People-pleasing is not the same as forging friendships or making connections. If you remember in my post about social anxiety and connection, you’ll recall I used the metaphor about islands (individuals) and bridges (connections between individuals). People-pleasing can never mend a bridge, nor can it create one. It is a shallow form of a relationship that never dives deep enough for you to feel anything other than fear or anxiety.
My history of people-pleasing can be summed up as, “I’m trying to remain in a person’s good graces. I am trying to get along with everyone. I can’t stand when someone is angry or disappointed in me. When that happens, the pain that I feel drives me to darkness.” In truth, I am extremely sensitive to criticism. Even if I look stoic, you can destroy me with what you say. The pain of that is so severe that I’ll people-please as my means of self-defense.
So, when I say that people-pleasing is self-centered, I’m not saying that it’s maliciously selfish. However, it is survival. And sometimes, survival means you do things that may not be super great in order to just get through the day. People-pleasing is not a virtue. It’s not something that you want as a descriptor. Let me just make it clear: people pleasing is bad for you. There is no context in which it is good.
I need to also be clear that there is a fine line between people-pleasing and simply being generous and/or agreeable. A people-pleaser discards boundaries to remain in someone’s good graces. An agreeable person is aware of their boundaries, and while they concede certain things to retain harmony, they are confident enough to keep their boundaries set in stone. The scary thing about people-pleasing is that that you allow your lines to be crossed. However, someone who has confidence will become, as Alice Cooper says, “No more Mr. Nice Guy” when the going gets tough. The struggle for those with people-pleasing personalities is to keep up their boundaries even if it means disappointing or angering another.
The core issue a lack of self-worth. I imagine that if I had a better view of myself, I’d be better able to support my own boundaries. The problem is that I allow my fear and insecurities get the better of me. I relent without a fight. Why would I fight for something I don’t value? Thus, why would I fight for myself? Now, that does sound really harsh. Intellectually, I understand that I am worth fighting for. But there are parts of me that still need convincing.
The other thing to understand is that people-pleasing leads to massive resentment. On the outside, we smile and do what we’re asked. On the inside, we’re seething and maybe even looking for passive ways to get back at certain people. This is not healthy at all. It’s a denial of normal human conflict. Conflict is something that I fear because I am a very astute people-pleaser. The very idea of telling someone that I disagree or that I don’t want to do what they expect me to do fills me with dread. It’s easier to just yield to the will of another.
I don’t like being this way and I never have. I’m so sick and tired of feeling like my very existence is a burden to other people. I’m tired of “reading minds” and somehow “knowing” that people dislike me without any concrete evidence. I’m tired of assuming I will mess up and always be in the way. I’m tired of always believing that disagreement is the same as disconnection. But because I don’t know how to truly handle all these things, I resort to people-pleasing.
I fear standing up for myself because I’m afraid my true self is unlikable. My fake, chipper, “follows-all-orders” self usually keeps me safe. But then again, not really. There are people who can tell when someone has trouble saying “no.” People will take advantage of people-pleasers. This causes a lot of distress and anxiety built up around the offenders. You can’t say no or defend yourself, so avoidance seems to be the best route.
And you may eventually come to the same conclusion I’ve come to quite a bit. Because I can’t seem to be myself and have my own opinions and take my own actions around other people, my conclusion is that I should just give up ever trying to make a connection. I should give up on people. I should quit people like a bad habit. It certainly seems the hermit lifestyle has its advantages.
And trust me, readers, if I had millions of dollars, I’d no doubt seclude myself even more. I’d just pay my bills with my wealth, hole up in my room, and avoid the public as much as possible. Because the public isn’t safe. And in general, sometimes the people in this world can seem so cruel. Hiding away certainly makes me feel better.
But I know I can’t avoid people forever. This pipe dream of mine is fueled by countless instances of bad experiences with other people. I mean, if you drank milk every day and became sick every day, you’d eventually come to the conclusion that you’re lactose intolerant. Well, similarly, if you feel terrible and less confident after interacting with people every day, you might decide that you’re people intolerant.
I won’t lie. I probably have a weighty and pessimistic view of people, in general. I don’t really know how to overcome that. I do want to be a good person and I do want to be helpful to others. I want to make people smile if I can. And I just want people to know that I’m not an enemy but I’m also not perfect and there are lines I can’t cross. As juvenile as the thought is, I just want people to like me, because I can’t stand the alternative.
But then again, maybe the only way to beat people-pleasing is to become the very thing you fear. Think about the dinosaur in this post’s featured image. Sometimes, standing up for your boundaries and refusing to give in to people-pleasing will make others see you as a menacing T-Rex. They’ll say, “Gosh, what a jerk.” People are smart. They know how to get under your skin. They’ll make you think you’re an asshole for simply standing up for your dignity as a human. And then you’ll be tempted to give in. If you have people like that in your life–people who know they can take advantage of you–just realize that you don’t have to give them the time of day. You wouldn’t grab garbage out of a landfill and fill your house with it, right? Well, when your enemies cast the same garbage, you do have the right to close your door.
Yeah, I realize that it’s possible that people will dislike you if you decide not to please them. But sometimes, I want to be that menacing T-Rex. Because even if the T-Rex is reviled, it’s at least independent and strong-willed. The T-Rex I’d like to become sends the message that no one can take advantage of my kindness. And if you don’t like it, then you can walk away. If you think I’m a burden, then you can burden yourself with your own concerns.
If doing what’s best for me makes someone disappointed, well, I may as well just pull that bandage off ASAP.
What people-pleasers like me need to do is disappoint and get it over with. Life’s too short to please someone else to quell our insecurities.