Like most girls growing up I wanted people to be happy and to like me. I never thought this was strange or unhealthy because I convinced myself this is what was supposed to happen. I wanted people to be happy so I was willing to do things that made them happy. What could be wrong with that, who doesn’t like someone that makes them happy?
The only problem is that when you make other’s happiness more important than your own, you stop showing yourself the kindness that you so freely show others. It hasn’t been until this past year I realized the people-pleasing trap I so easily fell into.
I know many people have their own stories of people pleasing, in mine I can point to specific friends, family, and relationships where I have a history of people pleasing. People pleasing wasn’t something I did in every relationship. Instead looking back I see that I only did it in relationships I was most scared of losing. Part of this is because of my need for control. I like knowing I have control over my life, but the problem with life is that we in fact have very little control. So when I noticed relationships slipping away, I attempted to save them the way I knew best. I tried to make people happy and seem as pleasant as I could because I was sure as long as I didn’t upset them they wouldn’t want to leave. Saying this now I realize how crazy it might sound, but I truly believed it. As long as everyone around me was happy, there wouldn’t be any fighting. Things would stay calm; I would have control over the situation.
I started to sacrifice what I wanted and needed for these people. I figured that was just what people did in relationships. I mean you’re supposed to do things for others, you’re supposed to want them to happy, and you’re supposed to do all of this without expecting anything in return, right? Well yes and no. Now don’t take this the wrong way. I am not promoting selfishness or greed. I’m not saying relationships should become all about only doing something if the other person will give you something in return, or not doing something because you won’t get anything out of it. But you do have to consider yourself too. In relationships you should want to do things for the other person just because you care for them and you should desire that they are happy, but when those desires drown out your values and feelings that’s when your people pleasing becomes destructive.
In many of my people pleasing relationships I constantly felt bad if I upset the other person. In one of them specifically if I knew they were angry with me I would feel physically sick to my stomach for days until I knew they weren’t any more. I over apologized for things that were important to me. When I was sad or angry I ended up feeling like I was the one in the wrong because my feelings were upsetting them. I never wanted them to see I was upset because I knew it would also upset them. And when I did and we fought I always backed down because I didn’t want them to stay angry with me. Reading this it screams to me how destructive this relationship was but that’s what people pleasing did to me. It made these relationships utterly dysfunctional. It’s important to realize that you can’t make everyone happy. If you stand up for something you believe in a respectful way and people still get angry with you, you can’t stop them. You’re allowed to have your own beliefs and you don’t need to feel sorry for that.
Often the other person doesn’t realize what’s going on, they just believe they’re getting a really sweet deal because you’re always doing things for them, you rarely fight and you’re really nice to them. Because of this they probably won’t try to stop you. You have to be able to recognize the signs in yourself and learn how to say no. I’ve had to learn how to say no and walk away from a couple of relationships in my life in order to save myself from this destructive behavior. I’m not saying this is always the case, I have had others where I was able to set up boundaries and remain friends, but sometimes a people pleaser’s desire to make the other person happy and to have that person like them is so strong the only thing they can do is walk away for awhile.
Now while some of my experiences may seem a bit extreme it’s important to realize these are the essential parts of people pleasing. I knew many girls when I was younger who fought their desire to make everyone like them, to fit in with the crowd, who went along with things they didn’t necessarily want to because they wanted people to be happy with them. I still see girls who do this in small acts every day. Girls need to realize having an opinion is NOT a bad thing! Saying no to someone because you’re uncomfortable with it, overwhelmed by other things in your life, or simply want to do something else is okay! I firmly believe that if you respect and love yourself as well as others saying no doesn’t have to be an issue.
This past year going away to college has taught me about what’s most important to me. I have been so blessed to have amazing friends and family who support me, and respect and love me enough to help me realize when I need to say no and when I’m giving too much of myself to the point of destructive behavior. To me that’s what people pleasing is, destructive kindness. It always has the best of intentions; the person truly wants someone else to be happy. But, the problem is they forget to show that same kindness to themselves. So I encourage you to take a look at your own behavior and make sure you aren’t consistently putting someone’s happiness above your own, or afraid of doing something because you don’t want someone to dislike you; because, you’ll only be able to truly make someone else happy once you are happy with yourself.