I suffered from the need to please, and no one has told me that people pleasing is like a disease and you need serious actions to get cured.
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Confession of a former people pleaser
I have been a people pleaser all my life. Was I always like that? I don’t remember exactly. But what I remember is that I was always a misfit. I found it difficult to make friends. I don’t know why it was like that. I often wondered if there was something wrong with me. The few friends I did manage to make, now that I think of it, possessed a domineering nature.
If that was the root of my chronic people pleasing?
For the first seven years of my life, I had been an only child on both sides of my family. So I guess I never learned that kind of interaction in my formative years, and being surrounded entirely by adults, who were also supercritical, nothing I did was good enough. Maybe that’s where I got this habit of putting everyone else’s needs before my own, purely to avoid criticism. And maybe, a tiny part of me wished to gain some approval, too.
"I surrendered myself to the cages of others' expectations, cultural mandates, and institutional allegiances. Until I buried who I was in order to become what I should be. I lost myself when I learned how to please." Glennon Doyle, Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living / A Toolkit for Modern Life
As I struggled with relating to children my age, the people I did manage to befriend turned out to be bullies. And no matter how strong you think you are, bullying does get to you. I was not telling my elders or even teachers that I was being mocked casually and bullied, and am not even sure if anyone would have taken it seriously.
At most, my parents would have forbidden me from playing with them, which, in my juvenile brain, meant no friends at all. So, to maintain those friendships, I allowed people to constantly violate my boundaries, take advantage of my kindness, mock me, and in some instances, even beat me up.
And if I dared to complain, I would be singled out by the children. No one would talk to me; they would glare at me, whisper behind my back, and so on. This would continue to the point where I would be the one apologizing just so that I wasn’t friendless anymore.
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As I entered the preteens, I started shutting out people. I started disliking my peers. I started judging them harshly. Not maliciously, but to figure out if someone was out there to antagonize me. The mistrust had begun.
But I also became more observant and perceptive. I became choosy about whom I became friends with. And I would cling to that particular friend as if my entire source of happiness, worth, and value depended on them.
Why people pleasing is bad?
The people-pleasing had intensified. I would give them my all, my unwavering loyalty, honesty, and support.
But over time, I became resentful when I didn’t receive the same in return. The pattern continued all through my teenage and early twenties. I was deeply unhappy. There was a perpetual sadness in my demeanor. I developed social anxiety and was socially awkward.
I was 23 years old when someone hugged me for the first time in my life. And that was a strange feeling. My family had always been the stoic one. Emotions were not expressed freely. Physical displays of affection were non-existent. I, on the other hand, was a deeply emotional child. I was sensitive. That awkwardness of a simple hug had been louder than the drop of a pin in a silent room.
Strangely, I related more with people who were much older than me rather than my peers. Even when my cousins were born, I couldn’t relate. I never managed to get close to any of them. Our interactions were me mothering them at the least or awkward at best.
I kept getting hurt, envying people for the strong human bonds they shared and feeling isolated all the time. But these interactions taught me lessons. Valuable ones.
"When I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realized that my decision was motivated by my necessity to please everyone except myself. There had never been a time when I stood up against my family. And this was out of my desperate need to be accepted." Elelwani Anita Ravhuhali, From Seeking To Radiating Love: Evolution is unavoidable in the process of overpowering doubt
Everything has an endpoint, a limit. My patience ran out too. I shut out people entirely. I stopped talking to them. I didn’t want to. I realized I was better off if these people couldn’t even respect me enough, let alone value me.
Healing from people pleasing:
I realized I didn’t need their approval. I realized that it’s okay to be alone than be with people who don’t know your worth, who don’t accept you for who you are, who behave as if they have done you some favor for being with you, people who wouldn’t even do the bare minimum to maintain the friendships and relationships. It’s not worth it if it’s just you who’s constantly putting in the effort, just you who’s constantly apologizing or making excuses and justifications for their behavior. It’s really not worth it.
And the biggest lesson that I learned was that no matter how much you love someone, how deeply you respect them, and how much you value them, you won’t be able to compensate for their lack of self-worth or self-respect.
When to stop people pleasing:
You could love someone to death and it won’t be enough for someone who doesn’t love themselves. And you don’t have to.
At some point, you have to realize that all the battles are not your own. There are some things people need to do for themselves, embark on certain journeys alone, because they are their lessons, not yours to learn. Just theirs.
Learn to put yourself first. Learn to love yourself first. Value yourself above the rest.
And when the little voice that keeps screaming in your head that you are being selfish, tell yourself that it’s not selfish. That it’s love. That you deserve it. Never blame yourself for putting yourself first. You don’t owe anything to anyone. But you owe this to yourself. First, be loyal to yourself and then to those who actually deserve it.
Image credit: Very well
"I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, and with being this alive, this intense. (xxvi)" Eve Ensler, I Am an Emotional Creature
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