If I Stop Being a Pleaser, Will People Still Like Me?

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If I could teach young girls anything, I would teach them to think for themselves and then act on those thoughts.

people-pleaserI am just now, at almost 30 years old, learning to think for myself.  It’s not that thinking for myself wasn’t nurtured by the adults in my life; it’s that I always wanted to please others so much that I didn’t allow my thoughts to be heard with conviction.  It probably stems from a lack of confidence or, in some cases, from feeling less intelligent than the other person with whom I was conversing.  I know that there were times I wouldn’t express my true thoughts because I didn’t want to seem confrontational or cause problems.  I wanted to be likeable.

If I had a nickel for every time I stated my opinion, listened to a rebuttal and then backed down saying, “Yes, I see what you mean, you’re probably right,” I would be rich!  Rich in money, poor in spirit.

Due to my people-pleasing desires, I never allowed myself to develop my own firm thoughts and opinions.  This enabled me to waiver so easily on my stances because I did not have a solid foundation.

The first thing I am trying to work on is really asking myself what I think on a daily basis.  In an ideal situation I would have facts and examples ready to back up my every thought, but I do think that simply feeling in my gut where I stand on something is enough.  I am supporting myself in my thinking.  I am allowing for my mind to wander and explore all possibilities without worrying about how my thoughts will impact someone else’s opinion of me.  What do I really feel and think?

That is the first step, and it is pretty difficult!  That mind shift is tough because it is so deeply embedded into who I am.  Sometimes I wonder if I should give up because I think that deep down I will always be a people pleaser.  This leads me into the next step, which is figuring out how to be firm in expressing my thoughts and opinions without being abrasive toward others.  This is a quality that I see and admire in successful leaders.  I can be confident in myself and still be engaging and kind so that others want to converse with me.

I’m fairly confident that I know how to express myself and still maintain a calm conversational environment.  The one element that I am not so sure of, is if people will still like me if they know that I might not agree with what they have to say.  How others perceive me is out of my control and I keep reminding myself of that fact, but it is difficult to stop caring about it.

I am best at being firm in my thoughts and beliefs when it comes to protecting someone or something else.  For example, if I have to have a difficult conversation with someone but I know that it is in their best interest in the end (I did a lot of this while in social work), I am able to get through the uncomfortable parts.  If it involves the best interest of a child, I am able to have uncomfortable discussions with parents.  If I can do this for others, why can’t I do it for myself?

There is another thing that goes along with the desire to confidently express myself, politely agree-to-disagree with someone else and to not worry what the other person will think of me after – the ability to stand up for myself when I am passive-agressively insulted.  Have you ever had a moment where someone said something to you and you thought, “What the…” but because of they way they smiled and maybe gave a small laugh after you couldn’t decide if it was a joke or a jab?  This type of thing drives me bananas!  Usually I find the perfect response to their comment about 20 minutes later while driving in the car.  I want to be able to call people out on passive-aggressive behaviour.  I want to send a message that I am a kind person, but I will not be walked on.  I think that’s fair.

There is one more scenario I am concerned about and this is the most important one: what happens when I the people I want to please are the people that mean the most to me?  If I suddenly change from an agreeable person to a person with strong opinions, will they still like me and want to hang out with me?  Maybe they like me so much because I am so agreeable.

I feel like this could be seen as a personality shift and I think lots of people like me because of my personality.  I am going to have to find the right balance in the way I approach conversations, especially when I feel a strong conviction to express myself (whether it is the popular or unpopular opinion), because one thing I know for sure is that I must begin to be true to myself in the way I express my thoughts.  I must be my authentic self, expressing my true thoughts and feelings, or my life with be riddled with hypocrisy and dishonesty.  I feel like a baby learning to walk, stumbling along the way, but I have my whole life ahead of me, so I must press on because one day I hope to run.

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…I’d tell her to greet each day with an upbeat attitude.

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There are days when we’re all tired, but what is the difference in energy output between being positive and being sour?  I would tell you that from my experience, I spend much more energy trying to maintain a negative demeanor than being positive.  It takes little effort to smile and welcome the day (and the chores it entails) with an open heart.  In a good mood, I can accomplish many things and feel good about it.  In a sour mood, I will most likely mope through my chores, expending more energy on slumping around and complaining while bringing everyone I encounter down with me.

We are all in control of our own moods.  We can choose to be happy or miserable.  Granted, there are things that can bring us back to grumpy if we’re not careful.  Perhaps it is waking up to a sink full of dishes, getting stuck in traffic, or realizing as you pull up to the yoga studio that there’s a huge hole in the crotch of your stretchy pants (I am speaking from experience on that one).  In all of the instances we have a choice.  I am not perfect, but I try to choose to not let little things ruin my day.  In the event of finding a hole in my pants that did not leave much to the imagination during hot yoga, I opted to laugh about it and go into the class anyway.  I modified some of the poses to keep myself modest, but I didn’t let it take my focus off of the class because hey, I don’t know if you’ve been to hot yoga, but there are a lot of short shorts on men in there so it kind of evened out.

Another great reason to not be a downer is because it’s contagious.  I don’t want to cross paths with someone muttering under their breath about their shallow woes.  I was getting a tea at Tim Horton’s yesterday and the woman taking drive-through orders became upset with a customer.  So she looked at me, rolled her eyes, and grumbled something with exasperation.  Look, I get that you’re upset lady but no reason to bring me into it.  I don’t want to be your source for venting; I just want a honey lemon tea.  Thank you and goodbye.

One place depressing moods seem to spread quickly is through facebook status updates.  I understand that it’s a place to post your innermost thoughts and you can be as deep as you want, but frankly, I prefer to keep it light.  If you are looking for support from your friends, please don’t post, “My life sucks.  I’m failing school, my boyfriend cheated on me, I crashed my car, and mom made spaghetti…again.”  If you want to talk to your friends about serious stuff (ok, so maybe the spaghetti thing wasn’t that serious), call them.  Text them.  Email them.  Keep it private.  There are some things that are better kept in a small circle.  It really isn’t helping to vent on a public forum like facebook.  Your true friends are the ones who want to help you and you should talk to them in person.  The other 500 acquaintances that are listed as “friends” on facebook just became innocent bystanders of a drive-by status update.

Good moods are contagious, too, and a much better thing to catch than some snooty-la-la-sour-doodle’s mood.   Smile at the Tim Horton’s cashier when she gets crabby.  Tell your friend that her mom may have made spaghetti again but at least she’s not allergic to tomatoes.  Get people to laugh.  Light-heartedness and laughter are proven to improve your health because biologically we want to spend our lives happy.  So let’s make the choice to be happy.  I’ll start and by singing “These Dreams” by Heart while I do the giant mound of dishes that are currently sitting in my sink.  Trust me, it’s a catchy tune.  Have a happy day!