Hi, I’m Shula and I’m a people pleaser.
"You alone are enough and you have nothing to prove to anybody." Maya Angelou
When I was in school, being the cool kid was everything. In junior school it was all about who scored the highest mark in the spelling test and who got the lead part in the play. Later, it was about the clothes you wore on casual day or the way you spoke. You could tell a lot about a kid just from their accent when they spoke English.
Everyone had something to prove, everyone was working to climb the invisible social leader.
I left school behind a long time ago but I took a lot of baggage with me, including the false personas I’d created to fit in. It wasn’t really lying, more like leaving certain things out so that people would have a certain idea about who I was. And I guess somewhere along the way I forgot who I actually was.
People pleasing is not something we’re born doing, we learn it over time. When you’re growing up you learn to seek approval over disapproval. You learn what’s acceptable and unacceptable. You learn that appearances are everything.
First you play pretend and then you become that character you’ve been pretending to be.
But there’s only one problem: years later, you’re a grown woman and you’re miserable. You’re exhausted from having to keep this act up. You’re frustrated in your relationships because your friends aren’t friends with you, they’re friends with the imposter you’re projecting. You’re about to collapse under the pressure of juggling everyone’s demands.
Say it out loud:
Hi, I’m ____ and I’m a people pleaser.
If people pleasing is learned, it can be unlearned. It’s really, really, really hard at the beginning and you might hurt a few people along the way but you can definitely do it. And if you stay committed to doing this one thing, just this, you will learn to overcome your constant need for approval:
Expand your vocabulary by one word.
I know you’re going to struggle to say this but try it with me, "NO." For people pleasers this is a curse word. You feel really guilty when you say it so you made a silent vow never to say it again. And secretly you believe that the stock market will crash if you that word ever passes through your lips.
Firstly, you have an over-inflated sense of importance. Your friend will not die if you say No to them borrowing a big chunk of your savings so that they can go and watch their favourite guitarist who’s in town for one night only. You are not their messiah and you don’t have to be a constant help in times of trouble.
Secondly, you’re so busy doing stuff that you "want" to do that you don’t actually have time to do the stuff you need to do. You missed a work deadline because you’ve gone out every night of the week with your new younger and cooler acquaintance. You’re usually in bed by 10, she’s just getting the party started at midnight. You’re on a rollercoaster and you can’t get off.
Thirdly, you’re not genuinely generous or gracious because underneath that mask of "She’s so nice!" is your craving to be affirmed. You serve on every ministry in church because somewhere deep down inside, you think that it’ll make people like you more. It’s all part of the mask that you put on on Sunday and forget to take off every other day of the week.
Does any of that sting at all? If it does, then we could finally be getting to the real you. The real you who has feelings. The real you who has likes and dislikes. The real you, not the you you’ve chosen to project.
Saying No tactfully is difficult. What ways have you found to say no gracefully?