The phone rings. It’s one of them again – one of those people whose presence feels like a cold, heavy chain. You glance downward at the glowing screen and everything within you pleads, “Don’t answer it. Not today.” But, you take a deep breath, and you brace yourself and you accept the call anyway. You always do.
“I need your help,” they say. And, for reasons you can never explain, you feel possessed to accommodate them. To gallop into their bad day like a knight on a white horse. To loan the money, run the errands, buy the presents and wrap them in shiny paper. To entertain their dramas and pacify their lamentations. Sometimes even sweep their dusty floors and scrub their dirty dishes.
Now you’re staring at the clock, dreaming of that lunch hour you will no longer be having — the one spent away from the world with your favorite sandwich. Instead, you’ll be braking, huffing and puffing through traffic, in glorious pursuit of their rescue. It reminds you of the time you traded in that Netflix date with your blanket, couch and bottle of wine for the unwanted dinner invitation — the one with the other person’s gossip as the main course. You glossed your lips and zipped yourself into your party dress with a sense of dread as heavy as cement, all the while asking yourself, “How do I always get myself into this shit?” And, before the night was done, your reserve of energy was hollow and dry. It’s OK, though; you refilled it somehow — sort of.
But did you ever stop to ask yourself: Wait a minute, don’t I have the right to say no?
“Doing things I don’t want to do is part of being a good person,” you declare into the air, as though the air were thick with judgment of your decisions. But this is a lie you’ve been hiding behind for too long now and it, my friend, is no badge of honor. This mask of patience and servanthood has hardened into layers of resentment, and it is becoming impossible to breathe underneath. Because your people-pleasing is a silent killer, and its prey is none other than your joy.
Who Are You Living For?
I spent much of my life being a self-punishing slave to the pursuit of making others love me. A nod of acceptance, an embrace of gratitude, an eye-sparkle of delight and an affirming word of validation — those were my ultimate amphetamines. Unending approval was my castle in the sky, and moment-by-moment acts of people-pleasing were my golden chariot, or so I thought.
I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course. It was a secret I even kept from myself. Childhood traumas and religious legalism have a way of creeping into the psyche, and they can play an elusive game of hide-and-go seek long into adulthood. And, this game was a master at playing me.
My subconscious motives were always rooted in one or more of the following: If I can love more passionately, give of myself more abundantly, deliver better punchlines or turn more heads, then — surely then — I will never have to worry about being alone. If I do nothing but pleasing, no one will ever leave me. If I am approved of, it means I am loved — doesn’t it?
In truth, it meant I was existing on a constant emotional roller coaster. No matter the heights I reached, it was always a matter of time before I again met those brutal drops of anxiousness and exhaustion. One glance of disregard, turn of a cold shoulder, forgotten “thank you,” jab of criticism or unreturned phone call twisted my stomach into a thousand miserable knots — knots that screamed from my belly up to my heart and then thundered in my brain: “Fix it, fix it, fix it!”
When I could not fix it, I kicked up my heels and rebelled. I would then convince myself, “Eh, I don’t even care.”
But I always did.
I now know that this agonizing roller coaster ride was no fault of anyone’s but my own. Even in instances of being taken advantage of or used, I wore the stain of much of the blame because I taught the others that my ultimate aim was always to please them. Every perceived “life-drainer” or “taker” was only one component in that equation of dysfunction; I was the other.
Through the tangled layers of that madness, I finally came up for air. Exasperated, I posed a question to myself: Who the hell am I living for?
Somewhere along the way, I had come to believe my worth only came from pleasing. But now I know it comes from simply being. I don’t have to strive so hard to earn what is already mine. I believe it is my obligation to better love and understand others, but not necessarily earn their seal of approval, or remedy their bad days, or bandage their emotional wounds. That’s just not my job.
Surrendering the need to please did not mean becoming selfish, however. It meant getting so beautifully and respectfully yet unapologetically honest — with myself and everyone else. It meant giving up living from a place of avoiding someone’s wrath or from a place of “But… but… but… what if they get upset with me if I don’t?” It meant striving to only give, share, write, love, create, dance, dress and laugh from the nucleus of my truth. Nowhere else.
Because we simply do not have time to betray ourselves in the name of pleasing someone else.
The Road to People-Pleasing Is Lined With Poisonous Fruit
It is natural for a human being to enjoy making another human being happy. This connection is ingrained in us. But, if your desire to charm or win over another is more powerful than your commitment to the truth of who you are, you are navigating across dangerous terrain.
The road to people-pleasing is full of pot-holes, and it’s always lined with poisonous fruit. Because you are driving away from and blowing fumes in the face of the real you. It is a seductive feat because it looks and feels like a spirit of unconditional acceptance, generosity, and servitude, but it’s actually trickery. When focused solely on pleasing, you are squeezing, suffocating and throwing masks over the light in you — the light that would shoot sparks of inspiration across so many lives if you were brave enough to be yourself.
Living from a point of satisfying others is the opposite of a loving existence because it means two deadly things: one — you are driving a knife into the only thing you really have at the end of the day (your truth!), and two — you are robbing others of the opportunity to ever know and love the gift of life that is the real you. This is a person they may never meet if you remain consumed by and tangled up in pleasing. You cannot build or feed a relationship with people-pleasing anymore than you can nourish a plant with fake light and syrupy poison and call it sunshine and water.
Because nothing is more real than this: We are all out here, wandering through the complexities of our journeys, projecting our fears and insecurities onto each other, and grasping to meet the desires and demands of each other. The thing is? These ‘others’ probably don’t even know what they like or want anyway. We’re all spinning in circles, growing dizzy — caught in a chain reaction of adapting to the next person’s moods and whims. You and I will change our minds at least a hundred times before our next birthdays.
So, here is how to bless each other the right way: Do what makes you explode with such fulfillment and joy that the happiness exuding from you lights up the heart in me. It will then offer me the invitation to do the same. So I will then do what makes me explode with such fulfillment and joy that I will, but default, send a rocket of fuel straight through your fiery heart, too.
Just say yes to what makes you come alive, and I will say yes to what makes me come alive. Because, at the end of the day, not every single person is going to be happy with our every decision. Most of the time they won’t even know why. But, the truth will sustain us long after the syrupy sweetness has been drained from us. Don’t you think?