I think it’s fair to say most people like to keep other people happy. I think life is just easier that way, not having people cranky at us. Some people think about how their behaviour will affect others a lot more than others. Some don’t consider it much at all, and some of us think about it so much that it consumes us. Some of us try so hard to keep the people around us happy that we lose our sense of self. We just keep the peace, do what is expected and sometimes overstretch ourselves and become resentful in the process.
If you asked me what the key was to doing this well, and to living life in a way that doesn’t brush too many people up the wrong way but doesn’t leave us empty and overstretched I would have previously said balance. Balance between living for others and living for ourselves and prioritising their needs and prioritising our own. But really, balance? Balance is elusive and while balancing is the ideal, it’s not the key to actually creating itself. Balance is the result. Not the work.
The key to finding and creating balance and harmony in relationship is found first in knowledge and second in application. You see, you might not know that you’re a people pleaser. You might not be aware that you are driven way more by approval than you are by the desire for what is right and good and healthy. You might not know that your tendency is to only think of your self and how you are personally affected. But then, even once you have this knowledge, what do you do with it?
I can tell you right now I want to keep the peace. I don’t like confrontation, and I don’t like pissing people off. I like harmony and peace and joy in the same way that cats like to stay on dry land. To me, conflict and discord is like water to a cat. I don’t cope too well.
HOWEVER, the other thing I know about me, is that I need balance. If I overstretch myself (which I know I have a tendency to do), I will come crashing down and people around me will pay for it. If I do things that I am doing resentfully, it will eat me up and I will bottle it until eventually I will explode and once again, people around me will pay for it. I will then pay for it too, in guilt and exhaustion.
A lot of people recognise this pattern in themselves. If you’re a bit of a people pleaser you’ll know straight away that you probably do too much and put yourself last. You probably also recognise that when you have reached your limit, or you feel like you’re being taken for granted it’s easy to slip into resentfulness and to snap in an almost rebellion to your overextended-ness. I haven’t worded that too well, but you’re getting the picture I’m sure.
If the words “after everything I’ve done for you???” resound in your head and you just want to say a few choice words and tell people where to go occasionally the chances are it’s because you’ve overextended yourself.
Recognising this pattern is easy. Breaking it? Not so easy. Especially if you have operated like this for years. You probably hate it, but you probably don’t know any other way of operating.
For me, these are things I had to learn to deal with. I had to develop ways and strategies to handle this stuff, or quite frankly I’d be dead. I used to drink my resentment away, feel sorry for myself, or use my drunkenness as a good chance to tell people how I really felt because I was way too scared to do it sober. Or I would just drink to relax because I was so stressed out I was about pop a vein in my eyeball.
There came a point in my life that was no longer an option. I was suicidal and I’d had enough and I was also not prepared to let my son have to deal with living with a volcano. So I got help. In amongst the ‘help’, I had to learn how to deal with life. How to cope with life on life’s terms. Often, it’s not the situation that breaks us, it’s how we cope with a situation that breaks us. It’s the story in our own mind about the situation that breaks us.
Usually it’s got to do with avoiding something. Avoiding confrontation. As a people pleaser, we don’t want to stand up for our own opinions or our own rights or wants or needs. We just want everyone to be happy. The problems happen when everyone else is happy and we are miserable.
One thing I have learnt to overcome that situation is realise that EVERYONE is happier if I am happy too. It’s pretty easy to see that when I am not happy, no one is happy. Especially at home. If I’m angry there’s a good chance everyone is affected by it. So, I have learnt to really respect my own needs and wants as part of keeping the peace. I see it now as my responsibility to put my own wants and needs on the same level as everyone else’s. So that I can keep everyone happier LONG TERM.
I also have learnt to recognise and appreciate the fact that I am not an inherently selfish person. I thought that looking out for me and what I need was a selfish thing so I didn’t want to appear selfish. Not just to others but to myself. I actually have quite high standards of myself and my character and feeling like I am being selfish isn’t easy for me to live with. However, I now realise that taking care of me and what I need is part of taking care of my whole family. It’s a responsibility and commitment to them.
I need to frame those things in a way that makes that work for me. If it was just about me, I would put things off, I would put myself last and then it would all eventually come crashing down. BUT I have also learnt to put the desired result of balance and overall harmony as a top priority – before people pleasing. Because I know, that long term, big picture happy is much more important than short term instant gratification.
It’s like when you say no to something for the kids. They want it, but, after thinking long and hard about whether it works best for them, and you personally and the family as a whole, you realise that the only reason you would say yes is to keep them happy. That’s a poor reason to say yes. If you say yes in that circumstance, that one kid is happy for the immediate moment, but after a few weeks, if you’re starting to resent the commitment, and you’re actually a bit peeved at yourself for just giving in, you subtly start to make them pay for it. You do it begrudgingly, flustered and overwhelmed and you start seeing cracks in the foundations. You become miserable, and eventually the kid is miserable too because he or she is dealing with a misery guts parent. That’s not fair, and it’s not right.
The only yes you should give is one where you are not overstretched and you can do graciously. Then do it graciously.
As a ‘people pleaser’ you have a responsibility to those around you to question things. If you don’t question things and you just say ‘yes’, then you will end up damaging your relationships. If you don’t learn to say ‘no’, you will hold resentment and damage your relationships. If people are genuinely so important to you then you need to take responsibility for your own internal environment so you can look after both others AND yourself, and therefore your relationships long term.
My internal question process goes like this:
1. Am I happy about this? Am I happy to do this or not to do this graciously?
2. Why or why not?
3. Is this an important thing to me or do I let this one go? (Choose your battles).
4. If I do let it go, will I be resentful?
If my answer is that I will be resentful, then my answer has to become a no.
If I know that, then regardless of how much I hate conflict, and how much I like to people please, I know that my responsibility is LONG TERM and I must look at the big picture and act accordingly. I immediately put it into the no box, and then deal with it however I need to deal with it and (usually) as kindly as I can.
Under no circumstances do I allow myself to say yes resentfully. I now see this as my duty to myself and to the people around me.
I hate conflict and I hate saying no when I know people will be disappointed. I hate letting people down. However, I realise that even more than that, I hate being a cranky, miserable, resentful bitch and taking it out on everyone around me. So, I choose the lesser evil and say no occasionally because long term, it is still the people pleasing option, isn’t it?
The first habit to break is saying yes before you’ve thought about it. So instead of ‘ok’, or ‘no worries’, the new response is ‘let me just have a think first and I’ll get back to you’.
Learning to say no appropriately and kindly may save your liver. It may save your family. It may save your life. Depression itself is known to be the manifestation of the feeling of anger you feel like you don’t deserve to have. There’s not much worse than feeling backed into a corner you know you’ve made yourself.
Practice. Practice saying “let me just have a think first and I’ll get back to you”. Practice in the mirror if you have to. Practice it until it’s natural. Then practice that decision making process. Ask yourself the question “Am I going to be resentful if I say yes to this?”. Then actually consider things until YOU are at peace with your decision.
A carefully considered yes or no is not just good for you. It is also the balanced, healthy and good option for everyone.