people pleasing

All Those "Unhealthy People" Drive Me Crazy

It's all too easy to point fingers and feel frustrated at those people in our lives who don't live up to our expectations.  After all, they are our friends who are supposed to "do anything for me" and "if I can't count on them, then who can I trust?" and "I'm tired of being the one who always gives and never gets" and "I don't have to put up with this unacceptable behavior." We feel incredibly justified that we aren't asking for too much and that we deserve to have our needs met by those around us. I'm Not a Fan of This Trend in Blaming Everyone Else....

But I'm going to take an incredibly unpopular stance today and put myself in the shoes of the friends who are disappointing and annoying you.

What has become more clear to me in recent weeks as I've been listening to everyone around me is that this "kicking the toxic people to the curb" and "saying no to people who drain me" is all the rage.  It's like a diet trend where everyone seems to be popping the same pill.

Everyone is pointing to someone else as annoying, toxic, or draining; as though we're the only healthy and sane person left. We go around and tell the stories of these "crazy" people so that our ego has a chance to relive all the evidence we are collecting that ultimately will assure us that the problem is them, not us.

Let's start with a few real life scenarios:

1)   Last week, one of my girlfriends was telling a story about her boss who does something that annoys her.  And I thought to myself... "Eeeks, if I were your boss I could see myself doing that too!" (I mean, it wasn't an awful thing he was doing, it just wasn't what she wanted at the time.) Which got me thinking how much, if I were him, I'd want to know that my response was upsetting someone when my intentions were the exact opposite.  But, like most of us, we'd rather chalk that up to one more piece of evidence that our boss sucks and go complain on the couch with girlfriends, as opposed to telling the boss that when he does x it feels like x.

2)   I recently read a column about a woman complaining about one of her friends who annoyed her because she seemed to always want more time with her (which, mind you, was fine with her when she as single, but less acceptable now that she was dating someone) and then the last straw was she hadn't offered to come help pack up boxes when she was moving. These actions were disappointing and unacceptable to her. I immediately thought "Yes in an ideal world, I'd be packing up boxes next to you, but if I had sensed that you weren't wanting to be around me as much, had a new relationship to help you, and you hadn't expressed a need to have help packing, I may not have thought to call and take a day off work to do that with you. Especially if I have my own feelings hurt." It's a classic misunderstanding where they are both hurting and experiencing transition in their friendship-- no one is actively trying to wound the other, they simply both want more from the other. Rather than talk about it, here is the woman saying this is ending their relationship, it's the "last straw" that proves what a horrible friend this woman really is.

3)   Yesterday I was coaching a client who shared with me a story of how upset he was with the actions of someone in his life.  In the sharing of the story I realized that this other person undoubtedly doesn't even know how upset or hurt my client is. The mistake wasn't some huge grievance that we'd all agree was wrong, as much as it was more an issue of my client not feeling needed, validated and appreciated. And yet his anger is palpable.

Not Major Infractions, Just Miscommunications!

In all three cases, there is no doubt in the minds of the people relaying the story that the problem is with the other person.  Every single one of them devalued the subject of their dramas as being selfish, mean, toxic, annoying, or unhealthy.

In all three cases, I only know the side of the story of the one who is frustrated.  And, I validate all their frustrations.  They do deserve to have people who make them feel known, heard, loved, and appreciated.  I want that for all of them. I want them to have friends and colleagues who offer, give, and meet their needs.

However, in none of these cases are we talking about someone sleeping with your boyfriend, hitting your child, stealing your money, talking bad about you behind your back, or anything else we'd all agree was morally wrong.  I purposely left the sins vague to ensure privacy, but none of these were examples of people trying to hurt the other.We're talking about unmet expectations.

And in all cases-- not just unmet, but also, unknown.

I could easily be the person that all three of the tellers of those stories hate. :(

Does Disappointment Stem from Their Actions? Or Your Expectations?

Think about the situation right now that frustrates you the most. Is it a clear-cut "they did wrong" situation, or is it possible they just didn't do it the way you wanted?

Expectations. Also known as the Devil. Especially if you're the only one who knows what they are.

I'm becoming more aware of how frequently we get our feelings hurt due to the meaning we assign to someone's behavior more than to their actual behavior. We are tempted to think that their actions, of lack of them, means those people don't care, are selfish, or aren't good friends. Which could potentially be a bit of a jump?

With my people-pleasing tendencies, the only thing worse than disappointing you, is disappointing you without knowing I did. To think of me doing something with good intentions and having it misconstrued (as is the case in #1) or to not know what your needs were and what would have most mattered to you (as could be the case in #2) or to simply not be reaching out to you in the ways that make you feel most validated (as is the case in #3)-- I could most certainly be guilty on all counts.

So much of what's upsetting us isn't actual wrong-doing, it's feeling like people should just be like us and do things the way we think is best.  We're getting our panties all twisted because people aren't living up to our unknown expectations....

Which leaves me wondering if the greater problem isn't on us for better clarifying our needs rather then on them for not just guessing them?

What could happen if we said "How can I show up differently in this relationship to possibly get a different result?" What would happen if we sweetly reminded ourselves that there might be other interpretations to their actions?  And is it possible that they actually feel the same way, disappointed by you? Would it have helped if you had made a request of them rather than felt hurt that they didn't read your mind?

I know it's not popular for me to defend the ones you're trying to vilify.  I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that most people aren't trying to disappoint you. And most of them don't even know they are.

Show some love and grace and honest conversation, my friends!

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Want More Reading?

Two articles I wrote for Huffington Post last year on a similar subject: Four Consequences to Labeling a Friend Toxic and then Toxic Friendship? Or Can You Work Toward Frientimacy?

My Name is Shasta. I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.

I am a recovering people-pleaser. I Am a People-Pleaser.

My mom was visiting last week and told a story about me from junior high.  One of those random snapshot memories that revealed just how strong my people-pleaser tendency was at such a young age. Apparently, I had been upset that morning so withpeanuts cartoon a tear-streaked face I insisted I couldn't go to school "because everyone expects me to be the happy one who cheers them up. And I simply can't today." My mom said it was one of those moments where she saw just how serious I was, how her heart broke to think how much pressure I felt to ensure everyone's happiness, and how she couldn't figure out where I ever got such a "silly notion." I was a natural people-pleaser.

A people-pleaser is one who gives in order to feel valuable, who gains approval by giving to others. Warning signals include: feelings of resentment, a sense of depletion, and a fear that we mustn't say no. We are scared to show up in any way other than as the giver.

I Am Recovering!

But the word recovering is definitely a part of my DNA now too.  One of the gifts of my twenties was growing from a huge personal failure of mine.  Not only did I have to accept that I could actually hurt and disappoint people that I loved, but I realized that if I waited to only show up until I was happy-- it might be several years before people saw me again!

I had to learn to show up in my messy life with my tear-streaked face.  Acknowledge that I could hurt people even when I hadn't intended to.  That I couldn't be responsible for their happiness.  That I couldn't fake my own. It was an era of disappointment that I now cherish for the clarity it brought me about me, others, and life. Needless to say, I earned every letter of the word recovering as a badge to precede people-pleaser.

What Does That Mean Though?

As with any addiction, we are trying to use a substitute to fill a hole. In people-pleasing,  we lose sight of our inherent worth and are trying to feel valuable by monitoring how others feel, rather than on what we know to be true about us.

Unlike a recovering alcoholic who chooses to never have alcohol touch her lips again... I can't pull an all-or-nothing in my healing.  To be in my form of recovery doesn't mean that I never please people.  It doesn't mean that I always say no, that I make people mad, and that I don't try to bring joy wherever I go. Which is a relief as I certainly wouldn't want to be an anti-people-pleaser!

So determining whether I'm acting out of my people-pleaser mode could be more difficult because it's less about avoiding a specific substance, and more about determining my motives. Am I saying yes so that she likes me more? Am I offering this to win her over? Am I exerting all this energy so that I feel more valuable and needed? Am I over-extending myself because I'm out of touch with how I feel and what I need?

Notice that in all those questions we ask ourselves, there is a sense that when we give we are expecting something back. We give so that we feel better about us. We kiss-up so that we receive kudos and rewards. We please so that we feel needed or valued. And to point out the obvious-- when we give with a need to receive, it's hardly a gift, as much as it is a commodity exchange (where the other person may not even know or agree to the terms!)

5 Ways Recovering from People Pleasing Actually Pleases People

There are many resources for why we are this way, how to awaken to our worth, and how to start practicing the "no."  The angle I want to take is within our relationships... a few notes of encouragement to give you hope that saying no doesn't risk you losing what you value most.

Here are five ways your friendships can be enhanced when you learn how to metaphorically say no when you need to:

1)  No relationship is healthier than the lowest common denominator of the two individuals in it.  You simply can't have two depleted people and end up with a healthy friendship. Even one depleted person who can't hold her own worth ensures that her experience of the relationship is never healthier than her own personal health. The lowest common denominator between a 3 and 9 is a 3, not a 6. You getting healthy enhances your relationships, it does not detract from them.

2)  Your friends want a mutual friendship, not a doormat/slave/depleted martyr. You might think they prefer to have you doing them favors, but they wouldn't if they saw the price tag: resentment, a sense of imbalance, fear, scorecards, feeding your low self-esteem, your exhaustion, etc.

3)  Holding the belief that we live in a universe with enough love for both of us. I've also heard it called a "win:win universe" or as Einstein said "a friendly universe." It means that we trust that when we do something loving for ourselves, it also gives love to others.  Sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes leaving a relationship is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes letting someone else hit their bottom without us trying to fix them is the most loving thing for them.  We are arrogant and foolish if we think we're the best judge of what's truly best for everyone else... especially when we obviously don't even know what's best for us. We simply don't know. All we can do is try to make the most loving and compassionate choice for our health and happiness and trust that when there is love present it's ultimately good for both parties.

4)  Saying no to them gives them permission to do the same. I had a friend thank me for my no to her requested favor this week.  She said it not only increased her trust that she knew she could ask me and I'd be honest, but that it modeled for her that it was okay to evaluate her own choices, too.  Interesting that what we fear saying may be the healthiest and most loving gift of permission to them!

5)  When we show up honestly, it tells them we will accept them when they do too. When I was in 8th grade, I thought if I could make people feel better that it was the loving thing to do.  I made the mistake of thinking sadness wasn't good-- that we needed to avoid that.  We don't.  Sadness isn't bad, it's a real feeling that gives us important information.  By refusing to show up with my tear-stained face, I, in essence, was saying to my friends that it wasn't an acceptable way to feel.  Which is hardly a place of love.

As with anyone in recovery, we still know our tendencies.  Someone from AA can be sober for 30 years and still describe themselves as an alcoholic.  To face your demon doesn't mean it's gone, it only means you can see it more clearly.

My name is Shasta.  I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.  Anyone else care to introduce yourself?  :)  Nice to meet you.

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On a similar theme, I previously posted on Huffington Post a two-part series on Giving & Receiving: Do You Give More Than You Receive? and 6 Ways to Bring Balance To Your Relationships

Also, note that the 21-Days of Friendship Curriculum that I guide in September helps you evaluate what you should be giving and to whom.  Not all friends are equal! Be sure you know your own energy and where to best give it!