I have a confession to make – I am a total people-pleaser. I will do just about anything to make people like me: give away my time, my money, my dignity… it’s a sickness. Many of us – especially women – suffer from this ailment.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being kind and spreading goodwill; paying for a stranger’s latte is the stuff that makes that world go ’round. Buying a box of candy to send a coworkers’ kid to oboe camp is just part of our social contract. I’m talking about an internal pressure to say yes to every request, regardless of the personal cost. I’m talking about being so concerned about what the askee might think of me that I not only buy three boxes of candy but also offer to drive the kid to camp on Tuesday and Thursday and polish the oboe.
That’s not normal.
Think you might be afflicted, too? Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you ever attended an event, hosted an event, or joined a committee for any reason other than you wanted to?
- Do you routinely buy jewelry, essential oils, or kitchen implements that you don’t need because a friend started a side hustle, and you can’t say no?
- Do you make it a mission to get every grumbly store clerk to smile at you?
- Do you find yourself tapping “like” on pictures of ugly babies and stupid memes because you’re afraid the person who posted it will notice if you don’t? (I’m not talking about you here, Carla. Your kid will totally grow into those ears.)
If you said yes to one or more of these questions, you might suffer from Chronic People-Pleasing Syndrome.
Take heart – it’s a widespread ailment. I don’t think it’s necessarily our fault: if you think about it, evolution required people to be accepted by the herd. Being shunned by your group and left to fend for yourself was a death sentence.
As modern humans, we seek approval first from our parents, who supply food and shelter and nurturing, and later from our peers, whose help we need to navigate the dangerous halls of high school.
But hopefully, by the time we hit, say, mid-forties, we can pretty much fend for ourselves – at the very least, we can work a microwave and open our own bottle of wine. So why do so many of us – particularly we women – still seek so much validation? Maybe it’s just become a habit. And luckily, most habits can be broken, or at least managed.
Managing your disease
While I like to tell myself that I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, it’s just not true. I still care. A lot. Maybe not as much as I did when I was younger, but it’s still a challenge. I’ll never be totally free of people-pleasing, but here are the steps I’ve taken to force myself to at least spend less time and mental energy on it:
Never say maybe
The moment someone asks you to do something, your gut knows what you want to do. You either feel excitement and anticipation for the opportunity, or you feel immediate dread. If it’s the latter, don’t stretch things out by saying you’ll think about it. Just say no.
You don’t owe anyone a long explanation. A simple, “No thanks,” or “I have another commitment” is enough. They don’t need to know that you are committed to watching the new season of “The Crown” in your jammies.
Most important: once you’ve made your decision, let it go. Don’t waste your time thinking and re-thinking it and wondering if anyone is mad at you. They’re not.
Remember: Everyone is thinking about themselves
Whatever you are doing or saying or posting is at the top of your mind, but everyone else is too busy obsessing about their own stuff to think about you. They probably won’t even notice if you don’t order a new set of potato peelers from their catalog party – unless you’ve always done it in the past, in which case, you may want to send an “I’m good this time, thanks for thinking of me” message to close the loop.
By the same token – don’t get your feathers ruffled if others don’t get excited about your virtual lemonade stand. They’re not rejecting you. They’re just busy or tapped out or … whatever. It’s okay. Just like we don’t owe them an explanation, we have no right to demand one from others. Accept their actions (or non-actions, as it were) with grace.
“It is awfully important to know what is and what is not your business.”Gertrude Stein
Look, there’s no judgment here. If you have more time, money, and energy than you know what to do with, and it truly makes you happy to give to others, then go for it. There is no greater joy than serving. But most of us have a limited amount of resources, and saying yes to one thing means we’ll probably have to say no to something else. Part of being a responsible grown-up woman is knowing and respecting your limits.
Chronic People-Pleasers Unite
If you are also a people-pleaser, know that you are not alone! We all want to be liked. Just don’t think that you HAVE to give away so much of yourself for people to like you. You’re pretty awesome, you know!