Sunday, February 28, 2010

Giving And Taking Offense.

Often, when I hear the term "people-pleaser," I am reminded of a friend's small boy, who was playing on the floor, while his mother and I spoke about people-pleasing. After a few times of one or the other of us saying it, he looked up with a huge grin, and said, "Purple people-eater!" His mother smiled affectionately down at him, and replied, "Something close to that, yeah."

We agreed to try to avoid the phrase, but each time it slipped out, he would crow "People eater!" As small kids do, he thought this was a great game. Next time I went to her house, he met me at the door and said excitedly, "People-eater!" I had become associated in his mind with that phrase, and that was the first thing he thought of when he saw me. Children can be so helpful in teaching us humility.

At one time, I believed that I was a people-pleaser because I was such a nice person that I wanted everyone to be happy. I was disabused of that notion, the first time it was the topic of an Al-Anon meeting I attended, and everyone around that table spoke of fear, or manipulation, or control, being the reason they indulged in people-pleasing. I could relate to every one of the scenarios - I'd done them all.

I had said yes when I wanted to say no, for fear of the other person's anger or disappointment, and then gone on to do whatever it was I'd promised, seething with frustration and barely suppressed rage.

I'd bent myself in and out of shape, trying to satisfy another person's expectations of me, feeling as though I were on some wierd torturous exercise equipment that everyone but me knew how to operate - I just held on with white knuckles, and tried to get through unscathed.

I'd agreed to points of view completely oppositve to my true beliefs, for fear that my own beliefs would be ridiculed or dismissed. I did not have the courage of my convictions.
I'd given up what I did want, and tried to make myself want what I didn't want, all to be accepted, and hopefully, loved.
I'd agreed as a way to manipulate the other's opinion of me. I'd agreed as a way to try to get some control of a situation.
I'd given myself away to the point that I wasn't sure what was left was worth anything.

I'd done so much people-pleasing, that when I began to say "No," the flack was monumental - how dare the worm turn in this way? What happened to the agreeable me?

I heard:

"You sure seem grouchy lately."
"How come you never want to do anything I want anymore?"
"Why can't you just do this one little thing for me?"
"I do lots for you, you know, the least you can do, is do this when I ask."
"After everything I've done for you!"
"If you really loved me, you'd ___."

When faced with these responses, I'd wiggle and squirm with my discomfort, trying to maintain my balance, and often falling backwards into the old behavior, because I just couldn't stand the strain of saying "No." I'd explain, defend, explain some more, reason, argue. I asked my sponsor what to do about this, and she replied, "We teach people how to treat us - you are retraining your friends and family a new way of treating you - if you don't stick to it, how badly do you want the change?"

Oh. Back in my court. Okay.

I still have times when saying no feels horribly selfish and mean, but I've learned to say: "I'll have to get back to you on that," which gives me room to wait until I have some time alone to make my decision, instead of agreeing immediately, and regretting later.

I'm learning that if I behave in a way which is respectful, direct, honest and kind, that it's not my problem if the other person chooses to be offended by my honesty. I need to take a step back, and just - ride out my discomfort. I need that step back, that detachment, to keep me from rushing in to "fix."

I cannot do what is not humanly possible - this includes pleasing everyone, always. Pleasing myself is important, pleasing others needs to be a choice I am making, and not a knee-jerk response, out of fear or shame. 

I get "one time around" - one life to live. I want to live joyously.


  1. Thank you for your honesty in this post - I see so much of myself here, and I didn't even realize those feelings I felt were anger, frustrations, at doing what i volunteered to do - for the sake of "pleasing someone". THank you. I"ll be back to read more from you!

  2. I can't help wondering what made you write this today. You wrote it so passionately and clearly. It was a good reminder for me. Thanks.

  3. I love this post. I've been thinking a lot about people pleasing myself lately. I've done all these things, too, and, like you, I didn't see it as people pleasing for a long time. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  4. You've been peeking in my head again, haven't you. :-D

    Hoping you have a joyous week ahead.


  5. I remember that when I was a teen and in my 20s this was me- -

    "I'd given myself away to the point that I wasn't sure what was left was worth anything. "

  6. I don't try to alter what I do for others, especially who I am. I need to have that personal integrity. It is so much more relief than trying to please.