Honest Confessions

My Greatest Mistake: People Pleasing

The biggest mistake of my life came from the good intention to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It took me a very, very long time to realize that doing everything in my power to make others happy was a waste of time. At first glance pleasing others seemed like a good life ambition, but over time I slowly realized that the fear-driven need to please others was in fact my greatest battle to overcome.

A Quick Disclaimer

There are many dangers to compulsive people pleasing. One should never hold themselves responsible for the emotions of others, however this does not mean that we should go to the extreme of disregarding others altogether. Our actions and words have consequences that can impact those around us. There is value in being considerate of others. The danger comes when our self-worth is dependent on making others happy. When confronted with interpersonal conflict do not set the expectation that you alone are responsible for resolving it. Do what you need to find peace for yourself.

My Greatest Mistake

Happy people are a joy to be around. It excites me when a loved one is joyful. When a loved when is sad, I become sad with them. My mistake was taking on the mission to erase their sadness by learning how to make them happy. These are some of the unhealthy lessons I learned along the way:

People are happy when you do what they want

Saying yes is easy. A friend or family member has a favor to ask. Saying yes will allow me to spend more time with them. It’ll demonstrate my loyalty and dependability. They desire my help and I’m honored to be of use to them. They believe I have something of value to offer. I have the means to improve their day by saying yes. Saying yes makes me happy.

My ability to meet their expectations is proof that I have something of value to offer. When I don’t meet their expectation, it means I must try harder. I have to get it right because this is important to them. If I fail, I’ll lose their friendship. I’m afraid of letting them down. I’m afraid of being left alone.

People don’t enjoy being criticized

Keeping my mouth shut is easy. Telling my family member that I disagree with their decision will upset them. The only outcome of being honest is that someone will get hurt. I don’t want to be responsible for making someone upset. They need my support. I can provide them a safe space to talk through their decisions without fear of judgment. People appreciate me when I listen. I enjoy being appreciated because it reminds me that I have someone of value to offer.

Avoid conflict by being agreeable

It’s easy to agree that I messed up. I don’t enjoy disagreements. Even if I were to share my side of the story, they probably won’t listen. It’s not worth creating a fuss about. I’m willing to acknowledge that I could have acted differently. I’m willing to modify my behavior if it will keep them from yelling at me. Flexibility is a good quality to have for appeasing others. It will allow me to remain guiltless by acting as a good moderator.

My emotions are secondary

A friend or family member is hurting more than me. It’s easy to set aside my own emotions to comfort them. I can easily go off on my own to journal or pray. My own pain or heartache is nothing compared to what they are going through. I have so many blessings in my life that I have no right to complain.

The Upward Battle for Change

One day siting with my therapist, I was confronted with a devastating truth. Throughout my life I came to form the belief that at my core there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I believed that I was undeserving of love. In fact, I believed that in some way I was inadvertently responsible for the unhappiness of everyone around me. All my major life decisions had been influenced by a desire to “reverse” this imaginary damage I had supposedly done. I had wanted to be a “good person” for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to earn the approval of everyone around me in order to disprove these underlying beliefs and prove to myself that I had something of worth and value to offer.

Thankfully, as soon as I was comforted with these “truths” I was able to recognize them as lies. I was devastated to learn that my primary motive for living my life was based on lies, however it also provided me the freedom to start doing things differently. It’s not easy to unlearn the habit of people pleasing, especially when it had became so engrained into my personality. The first step for me was giving myself permission to start loving myself and to stop making all my decisions based on what I thought would make others happy. 

External Resources

The Danger of Being a People Pleaser from Alison Cook, Ph.D

How to Stop Being a People Pleaser from VeryWell Mind

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