You’ve just arrived home on a Friday night, fresh off a long and hard work week. You’ve poured yourself a big glass of wine, fired up The Real Housewives and are getting ready to call your favorite Thai place from down the street. Ah, bliss.
Then… the phone rings.
It’s your friend. Maybe they’re bored, had a bad day at work, are in a fight with their significant other... You get the idea. The air thickens; you know what’s coming and you’re virtually powerless to stop it.
“Yeah sure, come on over! I’m not doing anything!”
But you were doing something, weren’t you? You were doing nothing, but it was your nothing.
So why not just say that?
Welcome to the people pleaser club.
Ever since I was little, I’ve been concerned about what others think of me. For me, and for many women I know, the need for approval is pervasive—and it makes us into borderline doormats. We navigate our way through most social situations anticipating what those around us want and need, and then we give it to them. We have a “me” for everyone. Feeling sad? I'll be your comforter. Full of rage? I shall share your indignation. Bored today? Come over and hang out with me! Because it’s nice to be needed, isn’t it?
I believe that people-pleasing is born out of fear. Fear of being disliked, and for some (including myself!), a fear of abandonment. I don’t want the most important people in my life to walk away from me. Therefore, the best (and easiest) way to maintain my relationships is to give them every single reason to approve of me.
“Julia? She’s so agreeable, easy to please, fits in, makes no noise. Great!”
We’ll go where you want to go. We’ll leave when you want to leave. Your point on a topic? I agree because it’s simply too awkward for me to disagree. Get something wrong? I’ll save face for you because nice people don’t tell others when they make a mistake, it’s mean. Ask me to make a decision? My response: “It doesn’t matter to me!”
I lived my life this way for many, many years and in turn began to feel empty and resentful, but could never seem to put a finger on why. I spoke with a mentor and she challenged me to think about which area of my life I felt most dissatisfied in. Various examples popped in my head - was it my career? my love life? body image? finances? No, it was something bigger. I was dissatisfied with life. How sad is that? I realized it was because I had no root in authenticity. While I was busy saying “yes” to everyone, I was saying “no” to myself. You see, when you’re a chronic people-pleaser you lose your identity in trying to become what you perceive everyone else wants you to be. While you're busy putting on facade after facade you lose touch with your own needs, wants and desires.
My fellow people pleasers, I leave you with this: Which fear is greater? Not pleasing everyone else, or never pleasing yourself? Staying as something less, or becoming something so much more?
Photography by Garrett Lobaugh