people pleasing

Like many people, I spent most of my life focused on making other people happy. Although I didn’t do it consciously, I tried to change myself so they would like me. I was basically a human chameleon–matching whatever expectation I thought was needed or wanted.  After many years of trying to be the perfect kid for my parents, I tried to be the perfect wife, the perfect housekeeper, the perfect mom and of course, the perfect employee.

I would be crushed if someone criticized me.  My internal interpretation (not consciously) was that translated to they didn’t like me–meaning–I was a failure. I’m no good.  If I said something that my boss disagreed with, I would quickly think, “Why did I say that, what a stupid thing to say.” I often found myself reviewing my words before I would speak–I must say the perfect thing so “they” will like me.

After years of attempting to please everyone else, I realized I didn’t know what pleased me.  Although my friends probably never noticed, I didn’t have opinions about controversial topics and more often than not, I would simply go with the flow. I was actually pretty successful at people pleasing, but eventually, I met my match–someone I felt just didn’t like me. Unfortunately, it was a person I reported to, so it put me in a downward spiral.

Eventually I got low enough to start my climb back up.  One of the first things I did was simply watch and listen to others around me.  I became an observer–paying attention to what was happening while withholding judgment.  I gradually started listening to my own voice–even though at first, I may not have said the words out loud, I was aware of what I wanted– “What movie did I want to see?” “What do I think the answer is?”

I became aware that the question I was afraid to ask was THE question everyone in the room wanted to know (when someone else asked that very question).  Eventually, I got brave and spoke up.  Sometimes what I said or asked changed the whole decision or discussion and I got more courage to try it again.

I learned to share the compliment or thank a person–instead of just thinking it.  Many times the individual would comment how much they appreciated what I said and I was so grateful that I didn’t keep that compliment to myself.

I admit I sometimes slip and get back into my people pleasing mode.  But I’m kinder to myself because I realize I’m doing the best I can at this moment.  And when decisions need to be made, I am aware of my preferences and can make a choice how to proceed from there.

So for the latter part of my life, I am perfecting being the most real, authentic me I can be.

“Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”  Author Unknown

I knew soon after Anders (not his real name) started working with me, I was in trouble–he didn’t like me.  I wished I could have just ignored him, but unfortunately, this was the new manager I now reported to.  Within weeks, he was making plans to hire someone “over me,” someone more strategic.  Logically, I knew all this happened too quickly (I didn’t have time to screw up that significantly) for me to take it personally–but of course, I did.

Throughout my life, I have been a people pleaser (though I didn’t admit it until recently).  So, I found myself trying to change myself hoping to get him to like me and have him “see the light–about what a great person I was.”  I made several attempts–becoming more assertive, giving him more information, trying to be his “buddy,” — nothing seemed to work.  My self esteem  spiraled lower and lower–there must be something wrong with me.

It was then I had my first experience using a Coach.  Barbara was terrific–she was always able to take whatever issue I had and helped me see another perspective.  I always felt more positive and more empowered after each of our sessions.  (Note: Barbara would be my inspiration to become a Coach some 10 years later.)

One of the things she told me was that Anders was sent as a soul mate for me.  What–you have to be kidding.  How do other people find romantic soul mates and I got him?  What did I do wrong to deserve that? Barbara explained that soul mates are really people who are sent to us to learn from.

After awhile, I finally accepted her definition, but I couldn’t figure out what on earth my lesson was–except perhaps feeling badly about myself.  I struggled with Anders for another 7 years and there were many painful moments.  I continued to try and figure it all out, so I could move on.”

Eventually, I was able to see that Anders was sent to push me towards loving myself–just as I am.  I didn’t need to please anyone else. The blessing I received was freedom to be authentically me.  This awareness happened gradually, but I am amazed what a difference this has made in my life.

I’d be interested in hearing what lessons you learned from people who have crossed your path.

I’m an only child.  My mother was 42 when I was born.  Perhaps it was because she waited so long to get pregnant or her unhappy marriage, but it was obvious I became the light of her life.  I can remember her telling me  as a little girl, “I want everyone to like you.”  There were times after family events that she would criticize me because I just wasn’t funny or talkative enough.

It was a message I heard oh-so-well.  Matter of fact, trying to get everyone’s approval haunted me throughout most of my life.  I didn’t always acknowledge the power it had over me.  It all came to a head when a new manager was hired back in the late 90’s.  I had this instant “knowing” that he didn’t like me–right from the beginning.  The biggest problem was–I reported to him.

I did my Jane thing — trying to change myself, hoping he would like me if I did this or that.   When it didn’t work, I’d try something else.  Within a few weeks, I was crushed to learn he decided I wasn’t “strategic enough” and hired someone over me.

I took it all very personally–I hired a coach to help me deal with the situation. One of the things she told me was that he was my soul mate.  Huh?  She went on to explain that a soul mate is someone you learn from.  I was really p–sed that everyone else seemed to get romantic soul mates and all I got was him!

There were times when I threw my hands up in the air in frustration.  “Help me out here, God–what IS it I have to learn?”  I guess I’m a slow learner, because it took me several years (six to be exact) to understand some of the things my coach had told me–what I had to learn from this man.

So, even though it took awhile, I finally got it–I was enough just as I am.  I needed to understand that I had to just be me and didn’t need to change myself to fit anyone’s expectation (it doesn’t work anyway).  After spending a life time getting people to like me–I met my match with him.  It was a hard lesson — but it eventually released me from a lifetime of having to anticipate what others wanted.  I finally found freedom to just be me!

People pleasing is a “disease” that a lot of women suffer from.  What about you?  Is this something you struggle with?  Have you overcome it or are you still troubled with it?

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