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.

Blog creator, Jessica, answers: “What would you tell your younger self?”

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baby me

I guess it is my turn.  I have had a few entries over the last year that women in my life have submitted under this category of “What would you tell your younger self?”  This thought for me is constantly changing.  It is usually shaped by whatever I am going through at the time or certain things I have observed.  My life experiences have varied and I have been a witness to happenings that even as little as five years ago I could have never imagined.  Therefore, let me say that by no means is this all of the advice I could give to my younger self, but it is what I feel I can share today.  I hope that through this blog and through what I have written below, you can find comfort, similarity in your life or that of a friend and feel like you are not alone.  I do not think that I live with regrets, but if I was given the chance to change a few things, I think I would.  I have faith that I was destined to be wher

e I am today and that I am destined to be wherever I am at the end of my life, so I do not worry that changing things in my past will have affected my end result like some people do.  I am happy with where I am and I am so blessed with those in my life.  And so I begin with a letter to myself…

Dear Jessie,

You always thought about what it would be like to be 27 years old, but you never could really picture it.  You thought you would be married, which you are, and you thought you would have kids, which you don’t.  The only person you really pictured yourself as at this age was Barbie, and well…you were a little off, but that’s ok!

There are some things I wish I could have told you, but it’s a little late for that.  Instead, I will share these tidbits in the hopes that someone else might feel a connection and take something from what I have to say.  But don’t worry Jessie, you are doing just fine and those you love and look up to are still standing by you, 100%.

Love, Jessica.

What I would tell my younger self:

-Everything mom and dad told you was right!  I know you have to learn for yourself, but remember that there is a good reason (or two!) that they say the things they do.

-Be happy you don’t look like everyone else.  Here are some compliments people will give you about those odd little things you are not sure you appreciate: “I love that you have these moles (pointing to my shoulder, chest and upper lip).  I like them.” (friend in high school); “You have the best neck.” (husband); “You remind me of a young Ingrid Bergman.  You have the same sparkle in your eye.”(shuttle driver in California); “You’re thick in a good way.'” (athlete at school).  Some of those compliments may seem silly, but everyone appreciates something different so be you and let people figure out why you’re great on their own.

-Never sell yourself short.  In high school, you let school take a back seat to your social life.  Frankly, looking back, I think you could’ve had a social life, played sports and still earned straight A’s.

-Don’t let one thing, like having a boyfriend, run your life and forget about everything or everyone else.  The first person you date will most likely not be your last!

-Friends always want to be there for you.  Let them.  Be loyal to them and never say anything about someone behind their back that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to their face.

-Be kind.  Always.  Remember how it hurts when others tease you.  Don’t take for granted that you have supports – seek out lonely people and befriend them.

-Drinking can be fun, but so can not drinking.  Know your limit so that you stay true to yourself…and thank God facebook and twitter did not exist when you were in middle and high school.

-Do not dress for others to notice you.  Dress for yourself.  Your skirt does not need to be shorter and your tops do not need to be tighter.  The right boys will notice you for you – not how much skin you show.

-Don’t lie to your parents.

-Respect your teachers and your coaches.  Even if you don’t agree with everything they say or do, respect them.  ***Side note – I never disrespected my parents by yelling at them or belittling them.  When I see kids talk back rudely, curse or act condescendingly to their parents (I am talking about good, kind, appropriate parents) it makes me feel sick.  Do NOT do that to your mom and dad.  It does not make you cool and it will not get you very far in life to treat others like that.  You can never replace family so don’t push them away.

-Don’t be afraid to be silly!

-Dance at the school dances.

-Throw “the rules” out the window!  If you want to go out with someone, ask them.  If you want to dance with someone, ask them.  The worst that can happen is they say, “no,” and you move on.  Don’t wait around for someone to call you – if you want to talk to them, call them!

-Hug your friends when you see them, and hug them goodbye if you want to.  Everyone wants to feel wanted.  Show them you’re happy they showed up and that you can’t wait to see them again.

-Tell people what’s on your mind.  If you want someone to know how they make you feel, tell them.  If you want to tell someone that you are proud of them, tell them!  No one can read minds and it feels so good when someone let’s you know something intimate like how you’ve impacted their life.

-Do not live in fear.

-Make decisions that you can be proud of.

-Know that when things don’t go the way you planned, everything will still be ok.  You are who you are, and you can do anything.

-Make yourself indispensable in everything you do.  Work hard and you will be noticed.

-Don’t doubt yourself and always trust your gut feeling.

-Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

-Don’t forget that you are loved.

What Dr. Annie Kaszina would tell her younger self

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Dr. Annie Kaszina, who I referenced in the post “November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month”, has written what she would tell her younger self.

You’ve made me wonder what I would tell my younger self. I think it would go something like this:
“Understand that whatever people may tell you, these years are given to you to learn how to be, and treat yourself like a precious person. Sure, it’s not easy. People will tell you that you need to be ‘cool’. What ‘cool’ really means is trying to earn approval from your peer group by doing things to impress – things that are damaging to you. These are years that you can use to fit in, and box yourself into a caricature of who you truly could be. Or you can use them as an apprenticeship in magic, when you learn to discover the magic of who you are. Do that, and your lifelong reward will be creating around you the magic of people who love you for all that is best in you. So, a quick rule of thumb: when people make fun of you, put you down, reject you, criticize you unfairly, or demand that you be other than you are, they aren’t interested in the best in you, or what’s best for you. They’re only interested in what they want from you, selfishly. You deserve far better than that. Nurture a belief in yourself. Do not turn to other people in the hope that they will do it for you. It’s your job. Believing in yourself WILL bring you rich rewards of love and happiness.”

November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month in Ontario

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I was driving the other day and saw a banner proclaiming that November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month.  I have been “tweeting” with Girl Guides of Canada and a few others today about how each of us promote girls’ self-esteem and I wondered if low self-esteem is related to being abused as a woman.

While looking for information, I found 14 characteristics of abused women on Dr. Annie Kaszina’s blog.  (Go to her website for more information.)

Dr. Annie listed the following (I put things related to low self-esteem in bold):

*It is important to remember that characteristics are not the same as character or nature.

The 14 characteristics common to abused women are:

  • Abused women have to guess at what normal behaviour is.
  • Abused women have difficulty maintaining their focus and drive.
  • Abused women are often paralysed by their own negativity so that they find it hard to start something new and an uphill struggle to see it through.
  • Abused women judge themselves without mercy.
  • Abused women feel they always have to justify themselves.
  • Abused women have difficulty being light-hearted.
  • Abused women have difficulty trusting.
  • Abused women take everything very seriously.
  • Abused women overreact and catastrophize even over small problems.
  • Abused women faithfully record every last criticism they experience and they discount the praise.
  • Abused women need approval and affirmation and tend to look for it in all the wrong places.
  • Abused women usually feel that they are different to other people as a result of their relationship.
  • Abused women are extremely loyal, even despite the evidence that their loyalty is undeserved.
  • Abused women envisage a future that will be just as hard as the present.

Dr. Annie also says, “Whether or not you feel able to shift these characteristics right now, please bear in mind that they are superimposed, they are not an integral part of you.”

I had a hunch that low self-esteem could lead to being in an abusive relationship, but Dr. Annie highlights specific traits that emphasize this.  It is so important to become a confident young woman in order for that high self-esteem to translate into adulthood.  I would also like to point out that although there are common characteristics for abused women, abuse is never ok and it is never the abused person’s fault.  I just want girls to know that if they continue down a path of negativity and self-deprication and don’t treat themselves well, it can allow someone else to also not treat them well.

Remember that you are unique and you have the power to do anything.  You are wonderful and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

…I would want her to be herself.

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An interesting thought was brought to my attention the other day.  Why do magazines print articles on beauty, fashion and lifestyle, essentially telling us how we should look and act, but then have feature articles on being true to ourselves?  Kind of counter-intuative if you ask me.  But let’s be honest, I am a sucker for magazines.  I refuse to buy the tabloid-style magazines because I don’t want to help fund such a disgustingly voyeuristic trend.  In fact, I pretty much gag when I see a headline that reads something like, “See which stars have cellulite and have let themselves go and OMG HOW FAT CAN SHE GET??”  Really??  Are we so bad that things like this sell?  Do we like to read stuff like that because we feel better about ourselves or do we like to see other women fall from the spotlight?  Whatever the reason, it’s selling because they are doing so much business that they sell weekly editions.  I like to buy magazines that focus on style trends because it helps me have fun in my closet, magazines that contain meaningful articles that make me think or magazines that have comediennes I love as the feature article.  It is true, even of the magazines that I love, that there are always contradicting messages to us gals.

So how do we work on our own self-esteem so that we can enjoy magazines without being negatively affected by their mixed messages?  It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but we have to love ourselves every single minute of every single day.  If you are a good person and can be proud of the things that you do on a daily basis, that is the best place to start.  Self-esteem isn’t about feeling good about your appearance.  It’s about being confident in the person that you are, down to your core.  I find confidence in the fact that I love to help others.  I try to treat everyone with kindness and I always try to put some humor into my day.

I’ve had my moments where I wanted to make some changes to my life.  For example, I have these conflicting personalities where one half of me is a free-spirited-hippie-feminist-earth child and the other half is a domestic-conservative-old soul.  So, on one of my earth child days I decided I wanted to make my outside reflect my inside.  I went down to 4th avenue in Tucson and started trying on all of these flowy long skirts and hemp-woven sweaters.  I had all these great outfits put together, but then looked at myself in the mirror wearing what looked like potato sack after potato sack layered on top of one another (not to mention everything in there smelled like dirt, ergo I smelled like dirt), and I was thinking, “Who am I kidding?” and I burst out laughing in the change room.  Contrary to what you might think I did not get weird looks for laughing uncontrollably by myself–they probably thought I had inhaled a a little too much while wearing the hemp sweater.

I have learned that it’s ok that if the majority of the time I look, in my husband’s words, “way too conservative”.  My outside doesn’t have to reflect whatever personality I am feeling that day because I know who I am and how I feel.  I may wake up feeling like a bra-burning feminist, but I will still put on my bra because you just need support underneath a sequined cardigan.  See what I mean about conflicting personalities?

I know what I am capable of and I don’t need to prove it to strangers who see me walking down the street.  I would by lying if I said I didn’t have struggles with loving every part of me all the time, but I have worked on getting to the point where I can appreciate every part of me and love the person it makes me as a whole.  If I had walked out of the store looking bohemian when I am clearly more comfortable in a lightweight cardigan, people would know they had spotted a fake.  Confidence is the most attractive thing one can wear and the way you achieve it is through being yourself.