Tag Archives: people pleaser

Lessons in letting people go

I’ve always been a people pleaser. I’ve always cared what other people thought of me, and whether they thought I was good enough. Demands (implicit or explicit) to give more, do more, be more useful, ask for less, make less fuss and so forth, have tended to impact on me. I’ve spent much of my life trying to be good enough for other people. As a consequence, I’ve spent more time than was a good idea in the company of people for whom I could never be good enough.

One of the things I’ve done this year is to ask at every turn, what’s in it for me? I’ve found it massively helpful as an approach. On a number of occasions now, I’ve identified situations where there really was nothing in it for me, but I was being asked to give rather a lot. I’ve learned to say no to that, and to walk away.

In the past, I would have felt guilty about not being good enough for someone. No matter how preposterous the situation, or how impossible the hoops I was being asked/told to jump through. Failing to do what other people wanted of me would leave me depressed, anxious, guilt ridden and trying to cut bits off myself so as to better fit through the endless hoops. It’s taken me a long time to learn that some people can’t be pleased. It’s usually the most demanding people who are the hardest to actually make happy.

Alongside this I’ve learned that I can have people in my life who just like me being around. People who don’t need me to do anything in particular for them. People who enjoy me being happy. It makes a lot of difference. Unsurprisingly, the more time I spend with people who accept me as I am, the happier and more relaxed I am.

The people who want me to be things I am not, have, with hindsight, wanted some weird and incompatible things. They’ve wanted things on their terms that should never be entirely one sided. They’ve wanted all the consequences of being unconditionally loved, while being free to act like they have no obligations. Conditional love is never enough for some people. The idea of reciprocal love, care, affection and support offends them. They’ve wanted the devotion that gets the work done, and the freedom to pretend that the devotion does not exist. They’ve wanted absolute care and attention while making it clear that it must never be apparent that I’m making an effort, so that they don’t feel awkward or pressured by it. And so on. Some games are not winnable.

I have learned this year that I do not have to feel guilty about the people I am unable to please. If I’m not good enough for them, they should let go and move on. It’s no good standing around telling me how rubbish I am, or how problematic, and expecting me to fix everything. Also, I’ve never yet got into one of these where it seemed possible to really fix anything or ever be good enough. The people who treat me as though I am the villain in their life story while at the same time asking for saintly levels of tolerance, forgiveness and indulgence, are people I don’t need. Onwards!

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Contemplations of a people pleaser

Rare is the day when the internet doesn’t offer me a ‘how to fix your life’ statement. Usually those statements contain the idea that not being a people pleaser is the way to go. Every time I see this, it saddens me, because it feels like a rejection of something that I hold dear, and that is intrinsic to who I am and what I do. Amusingly, I’m not quite enough of a people pleaser to apologise for being a people pleaser every time some random stranger tells me I shouldn’t be doing that.

I know I can’t please everyone all the time. I know some people just aren’t pleasable, and that some people just don’t deserve that kind of response. I know there are people who will respond to me by using and taking.

I also know that pursuing my own goals at someone else’s expense is deeply uncomfortable for me. I know that given the choice between what a community needs, and what I need, that I’ll go all Mr Spok – the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one – namely me. I know that if I see someone suffering, struggling, in need, that my impulse is to try and help in whatever small way I can. I know that given the opportunity to cheer, encourage support and enable someone else, I’ll take that opportunity and do the best I can with it. I also get this stuff wrong, I turn out to be inadequate, I misjudge and I care about that when it happens.

Granted, not giving a shit about anyone else and always putting your own needs first tends to make happy the kind of people who are happy to live that way. I see it as a cold, hollow way to live. As an author and a performer, I am addicted to the applause, but you don’t get the applause unless you can do something people appreciate. To stand on a stage and make an audience laugh. To write a blog post that touches someone else. To write a book that someone loves. There is no greater reward for me than someone else’s laughter, or seeing someone get up again after life has knocked them down, or seeing someone enabled to do things they could not do before.

Generally when people say ‘people pleaser’ it’s not offered as a compliment. We live in a culture where taking, controlling, using, directing and having the good things flow towards you is seen as a sign of power. To give, to offer, to compromise, to help, to serve – these things are seen as weak. ‘Strong’ people can even feel morally entitled to use people who are ‘weak’ in this way. Doormats. Fools. Certainly along the way I have met people who have seen my nature as an invitation to abuse my good will, and who have cheerfully told me it’s my fault for giving too much in the first place.

There are many things I’ll try in order to comfort or assist, but one of the things I won’t do is apologise (any more) for who I am. I won’t accept being shamed for being generous, and I won’t accept that service makes it ok to just use me. I won’t be part of this narrative. A desire to make things better does not have to include a willingness to be undervalued while doing it, and it does not have to mean going along with the bullshit hippy memes that say ‘stop trying to please other people’ as a way to improve your life.

Having a default setting of ‘people pleaser’ is not consent to be used in all ways by all comers, any more than an enthusiasm for sex is consent to be used in all ways by anyone who wants to. We live in a culture that puts a price on everything, and that has some rather sick reactions to generosity of all kinds. And until we learn to go round being nicer to each other, this is unlikely to change.