In The Beginning
I was 9 years young, happy and free. I sensed a foreboding. My dad, who offered security and stability, left.
The event impacted every facet of my life. I experienced anxiety for the first time. The constant undercurrent, led me, for a long while, to live my life as a ‘People-Pleaser’.
We moved. ‘from paradise to hell’, the words of my middle brother rang in my ears as we stepped out of the removal van. His words foreshadowed —
My mother became formidable. A few days after the shock, to gauge her mood, I asked, ‘Where’s my Dad?’ Her indignant look was enough to symbolize the change that materialized.
Sore and exasperated, I had to contend with my now, overprotective brothers. They didn’t care to have a conversation about the apparent trauma. Whenever I broached the ‘dad leaving’ subject, it was sabotaged with talk of girls, football, or silence. I reckoned their refusal to discuss the matter would be traumatic so they had to be macho about the whole thing.
Then my cultural position and gender in the home were honed in on. It’s customary for the female to care for the male members of the family. And what my mother expected of me. I respected the tradition and customs but struggled to uphold the practices she was accustomed to.
With as much courage I could pluck up, I asserted myself, directed to my mother, I looked at my brothers and questioned why I had been ascribed the sudden role of caregiver to 3 able males. A verbal battle ensued. My mother chided me for being impudent. My brothers fanned the flames with ‘you’re argumentive — for a girl’.
Fraught with friction, our relationships grew intense. As forthright as I could be, I figured for the sake of peace, I’d tone down my truth. Settling for a passive position, I chose to be the silent observer in a predominantly male domain.
I suppressed my sadness and acclimatized to the rigid air created in the home.
New Swampy Pastures
The first day at my new primary school, my fellow classmates welcomed me. I was ostracized the second day because I suggested we choose a song to sing other than the popular song sung. I gathered this was interpreted as a snubbing of the class’s treasured song. The second week in, I hadn’t learned to humble myself and thought I’d flex my knowledge in Maths.
After the ordeal of being boycotted for a couple of days, I had to redeem myself, raise my game, to save face. The whole class was given the task to learn and memorize our times- tables. We took our turn to recite, repeat and chant each table. My excitement and fluency in carrying out the task peeved off a few of my counterparts. The demonstration of a pause brought the exercise to an abrupt end. They showed a contrast to my former primary school mates who applauded and encouraged anyone who displayed a snippet of academic flair or creative talent of some sort.
Miss Radleigh’s pleasant presence enabled me to endure the silent treatment. As much as I yearned to be myself, I felt I couldn’t afford to lose favor from the majority. I learned humility quickly. I recognized the power Children possess; wielded at their will.
In a school with a handful of intimidating individuals, I didn’t stand a chance to be a leader. I loved my own company and however much I admired the loners, I hadn’t the guts to be seen as one. I dimmed my wit and followed the crowd to — fit in.
New challenges awaited me on my way home from school. I wandered into murkier territory to find new sweet shops and came upon fierce characters. There was no escape, they lurked — everywhere. They showed their strength and prowess in unfamiliar ways. In my old environment, I was familiar with fun acts: singing at my loudest, running my fastest and being thrashed by my competitors was no big deal. In my new locale, I was presented with stiff competition.
In a verbal exchange or physical brawl, you had to be on point. My tongue was my only weapon of defense but proved futile. I was slick but this new bunch was brutal. Whenever I was confronted with any reason or excuse to fight, to evade being slaughtered like those I witnessed, I’d use humor as a buffer. It would infuriate my opponent and the audience that appeared in droves.
I hated having to fight. Fuelled by several agitators on the periphery, instincts prevailed, so I fought to defend myself. An acceptable feat for the boys and girls with clout. I was conscious that I had to be aggressive and smart to convey my message, when necessary. If ever there was a difference of opinion with the stronger personalities, I would mince my words. Satisfied with this strategy but saddened to betray how I truly felt.
For a temporary break from the library, I accepted invites to the local Youth club. I looked forward to the door being knocked to come out to play. I relished the trips and water fights, adventures in the parks, knockdown ginger, all that was fine. Eventually, the rush to the door was replaced with rehearsing how I’d say, ‘No’! I’m reading Mandy’. Rapidly losing my nerve as I’d walk down the corridor to do the obligatory act.
I dismissed the many opportunities to decline invites to the play park. After some time, ending up at someone’s house, complicit in mischief, was standard. As I adapted to my surroundings, I was influenced and drawn into the worlds of my new crew. In their midst, I was shaped and molded. Impressionable, I absorbed their views that I hardly resonated with. I compromised my values and agreed with ideas and ideals I didn’t identify with.
Engulfed by the reigning energy, I succumbed to their whims.
I went against my better judgment to please my peers to my own detriment. Vulnerable and agreeable to the point that some made decisions on my behalf. I allowed myself to be defined by others. And guilty for giving them a license to do so.
Playing the Part
As I headed into wider society, the habit I dreamed about breaking spilled into the Work Place with its established rules and social norms. I was part of a new collective of individuals that made up a mix of small and large groups to earn a living. My main aim was to focus on making a mark to impress the boss and relate well with my co-workers. With regard to the former, feedback from managers commended my work performance, persona, and professionalism. It was a hopeless case for the latter.
I was embraced when I flaunted my gregarious side to the cliques I affiliated with. A good candidate for lunch dates, catch up over coffee chats and frequent Friday evening drink dates. The tune changed when I preferred, for example, to be reserved to write in my journal or engage in a guided meditation. When these preferences outweighed the want to leisurely interact with my colleagues, I approached their invitations with hesitation.
Social interaction within the workplace was encouraged. A key setting for bonding and building healthy working relationships with departmental employees. When the idea encroached on my freedom to do as I pleased, I pondered striking a balance between professional and social mode. But, I was jolted by the gossip through the workplace grapevine — Disgruntled workers charged me with being a bad sport for passing up another ‘get together’.
Although this bothered me, it was a relief to elude being labeled — asocial. The gossip mongers were irked by this particular group. Their minimal involvement in idle chat and direct readiness to reject the mass invitations for any cause for a celebration inspired me.
Drained, trapped and frustrated, the pressure to conform to the social culture in the workplace and elsewhere, grew. Adding to the demands of the family and expectations of others.
Overwhelmed, I delayed breaking the habit because I imagined I’d offend the people who were accustomed to my people-pleasing habit.
Afraid to be judged or criticized. I contemplated retreating from my decision to reduce daily lunch invites to be a good team player. But the soft, subtle voice, I often ignored was more urgent. It urged me to examine my life.
I took heed. In solitude. I tuned into my intuition to listen to my inner voice. Awakened! I received the message — ‘Know Yourself’.
I was mostly driven by instinct, fear-based reactions rather than rational responses in my bid to please people. Spending so much time as a people pleaser brought me away from myself to know myself. Without a care, I embarked on a journey to acquaint myself with my inner world.
To Yourself be True
I relied on my inner voice for gentle guidance of knowledge of myself. As I paid more attention, it whispered ‘be true to yourself’. I was preoccupied with how others perceived me as opposed to living in my truth. I hadn’t been honest with myself to be true to myself or with others; often scared I’d upset someone and challenge the status quo.
I valued my own values: freedom, and truth, nevertheless, I failed to exercise them. I knew my worth, despite this, I felt undervalued because I sold myself short. I over-extended my service to others, prioritizing their needs, wants and wishes above my own.
I evaluated the relationships I formed. Many of them built on a precarious foundation. At a low ebb, they validated my insecurities. I neglected setting boundaries to prevent the manipulation and exploitation experienced as a people pleaser.
My people-pleasing habit got the better of me. Too prone to feeling like a fraud and a victim, I forgave myself.
I focused on:
why I adopted the habit —fundamentally, to fill the void and pain of rejection from my father leaving.
Where it was getting me — no where.
What I was intending to do about it — quit.
When — Now. And,
How — see below.
I dared to delve into the reservoir of my subconscious mind. I allowed the uncomfortable thoughts, unpleasant feelings, and emotions I suppressed, come to the forefront of my mind. I soldiered the discomfort and bravely dealt with the pain of the past: ultimately, the rejection from my Father. A deeper search revealed memories of insouciance being the order of the day.
I anchored myself to this sentiment.
It ensured the perfect atmosphere for my internal sanctuary to reflect my external world.
I learned to love myself which encompassed: acceptance, validation, and approval of myself.
I liberated myself from a people -pleaser to operate out of love.
There are some people who simply like to please, for instance, those who are susceptible to helping others do it, unsolicited. They’re kind, considerate and genuine, offering support in a healthy way.
Then there are the people pleasers. They feel they have to do the right thing to keep everyone happy. They’re sensitive and sensitive to the needs of others, neglecting their own in the process. It is common for them to begrudge what they do for people. And often act out of obligation, disabling their ability to communicate and be their authentic selves; violating their virtues, living up to what others want them to be.
I drifted from liking to please others into a people pleaser for reasons highlighted in this anecdote. I played a variety of roles and wore many hats to suit the situation. I experienced and have overcome the habit but privy to the suffering of people imprisoned by the pernicious habit.
Here are 5 points for the people pleaser to consider, address the distress and release yourself from the: unhealthy habit, with:
- You spread yourself too thin. Treat your energy as your currency. Invest in yourself and expect the returns. Conserve the energy you expend on others. You are responsible for your own feelings and emotions not that of others.
Courage and Honesty
2. You abhor conflict and avoid confrontation to the extent of dishonesty. Be bold and direct. Communicate your thoughts with courage. You’ll soon be at peace and comfortable with the uncomfortable. Say no when you mean — no.
3. You love to be liked. Be realistic and realize that you can’t please everyone. And you’re not always going to be liked or accepted. Besides, you weren’t assigned to save everyone. Abort the mission and be your own martyr. Be kind to yourself and love yourself. No one can love you like you.
Work on Yourself
4. You have good intention but you operate from a place of lack. You fail to prioritize your needs. You prevent yourself from being yourself and inflict your own pain. You shortchange and underestimate yourself for approval from others. You shelve your worth and people know it. Some use it to their advantage others wish you’d be yourself.
Spend time with yourself . Trust your intuition to guide you to get to the root cause of your lack. When you know your worth, you won’t need the approval or acceptance of others. When you quit being a people pleaser, your real self shows up. The appreciation and respect you have for yourself will be respected and appreciated by others.
Be Your Own Hero
5. It’s harder to be someone other than yourself. Be responsible and rescue yourself from being a people pleaser.
Play your role, shine and be yourself.