The curse of being a ‘People Pleaser’

It’s real. When you think you have risen above the anxious nerves and stomach aches, suddenly someone is not happy with you, and your nerves of steel start to resemble a plate of half eaten jello.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, then you must be a super human.

I thought I had it all worked out in my late teens. I adapted a rather typical 80’s child “F U opinion” outwardly, however inwardly, nothing ever changed. I hated disappointing people. Anyone. Be it an employer, friend, parent, or customer. This was the first blaring sign that I did not know how to accept critical feedback – be it constructive or not.

But how was it possible? If I said something enough, surely it would become true? This was a harsh reality, a plague of sorts, and it has followed me through out life.

I mentioned inwardly earlier and it is an important classification because if you were to ask anyone who knew me what I thought about someone’s bad opinion, it would be that I didn’t care! I clearly put out a good front to everyone – but to myself, there was no convincing.

So to resolve this ‘tick’ of a characteristic, I worked on myself. I started doing things that increased my confidence. I got my black belt, I made new exciting friends who had a good positive synergy, I dated different types of guys, and I even visited a local chapters for some self-help work books. Look at me go, solving problems left, right, and centre.

But it solved nothing. If I upset someone, I still felt nauseous. I worked out ten ways to solve a problem that was likely never a problem to begin with. I took differences of opinions and created scenarios where those differences were made into problems. All the while, I didn’t realize that maybe I, was the problem.

Why couldn’t I be like those people who truly seem unaffected by criticism? Do I really need to challenge myself and grow each time I receive feedback? When can I be satisfied with who I am, as a whole?

These questions swirled in the background for years. I succeeded in being the person that everyone could relate to and/or get along with enough to have a simple conversation. I skirted deep topics to avoid conflict and any “old” behaviours I might have traditionally sunk back into at the first sign of trouble. People began to seek me out because I was so easy to talk to. I thought I was doing great.

But I wasn’t. Being easy to talk to meant that I didn’t challenge behaviours, comments, or their opinions. I agreed or sidelined their topics that I knew would be hard to deal with. I avoided stomach aches at all costs. I let myself turn into the complete opposite of what I was always trying to be: outwardly confident.

It has taken me three decades (and a bit) to admit that this is not actually a “tick” of a characteristic – but rather, a human characteristic. This wasn’t a disease or disorder, it was just avoidance.

I want to make everyone happy. I want to do great work personally and professionally. I want to do it right the FIRST time.

Want to know who set those standards for me? Me.

I set the pressure so high that I didn’t give myself a chance to be “just ok.” There is nothing wrong with being “just ok.” For example, I am “just ok”at math. I am “just ok” with making new friends. I am “just ok” with trying new scary things.

Even braver proclamations: I am terrified of letting someone important to me down. I am terrified of doing a bad job on a project that I was being relied upon. And I am terrified of conflict.

And despite being terrified, I am OK with all of those things. I have finally cut myself enough slack to say that I am not perfect and that I’m allowed to be afraid of letting people down. I removed the expectations that I shouldn’t get stomach aches with conflict – I cannot help what my body does with stress.

I am removing pressures and doing my best not to avoid all the things that might stir up some dust. But a word of caution: This isn’t advice to take on your big fears all at once, as some of those things should stay distant. Keep toxic people and expectations at a distance and let the little problems, stay little.