I, Natalie Lue, am a recovering people pleaser.
Suppressing my needs, wants, expectations, feelings and opinions (people pleasing) is as natural to me as breathing, and so it has become part of my daily self-care to be conscious, aware and present about where and why my inner pleaser is showing up. I’ve been doing it for long enough now–the noticing it that is–that on those occasions where my pleaser has a little too much airtime, it feels mighty uncomfortable.
The discomfort is good because it keeps me out of a lot of trouble and is a sign of how much I’ve grown. There was a time when I put up with all sorts of shenanigans in the name of not wanting to rock the boat and out of fear of hurting the other person’s feelings by ‘being myself’ and having some basic boundaries.
When I talk about this with Reclaimers (the folks who read and listen to my work over at Baggage Reclaim), especially when I run workshops, we end up laughing our heads off when we think about the things that we do in the name of being ‘pleasing’. A biggie is sleeping with somebody, not because we really want to but because we feel bad for them having a hard-on and nowhere to put it. Other biggies are carrying on as if someone is going to be mortally wounded if we admit that we don’t want to do something or that we don’t want to do it right now, keeping achingly silent because we fear using the ‘wrong words’, dimming our light so that people don’t feel away about our talent, accomplishments and achievements or us being our authentic self, and sacrificing ourselves for romantic partners and being genuinely perplexed as to why we’re not chosen.
Heaven forbid that anyone should have to wait, do without, be uncomfortable, or, wait for it, take care of their own needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions! Funny though, how our needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions are delayed and neglected and how we’re prepared to be in so much discomfort that our current life choices might actually be excruciating.
People pleasing is an epidemic that affects our emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and even financial health.
It makes it difficult to know where we end and others begin because we are over-feeling, so trying to feel other people’s feelings and anticipate ‘everything’ and then compromising our own well-being due to ignoring our own feelings.
This is made all the more complicated by the fact that we project due to our own fears, so it turns out that we also do a whole lot of unnecessary overcompensating. The codependency, so feeling excessively emotionally reliant on others, leaves us without healthy boundaries, which after a while starts to feel like not having any skin.
People pleasing damages our self-image, so our perception of our appearance, how we fit in socially, our personality and opportunities, as well as our integrity and the integrity of our relationships, and how intimate we are (we can’t pretend to be something we’re not and be excessively concerned with other people’s feelings and opinions and maintain genuine intimacy at the same time). The more we do it, the less inner peace we have.
A few months ago, the day after burying my father who was the quintessential people pleaser, I made a commitment to myself: I will not feel guilty about all of the bullshit that I have felt guilty about all my life.
That doesn’t mean that I will not feel bad when I err but I will not burn up my time, energy, effort and emotion feeling guilty about such things like spending time with extended family, enjoying spending time with my half-siblings and stepmother, not being the same as the people who feel uncomfortable about me being different, or not being comfortable with bullshit.
I’ve spent the majority of my life feeling guilty in some shape or form for being me, and I just can’t do it anymore.
I am determined to keep eating into my perfectionism because, like many pleasers, I have habits that have been designed around this notion that I am not ‘good enough’ and forever feeling guilty that I’m not doing ‘enough’, whatever the feck that means. I’m learning to be cool with where I’m at instead of beating me up for not being ‘more successful’, but also, as I continue to grow, I absolutely refuse to feel guilty for growing.
One of the things that people pleasers secretly fear, even as we get better at being ourselves and not investing our good qualities in the wrong places, is that if we do well and ‘disobey’ the status quo, that we run the risk of alienating loved ones (or even not-so-loved ones) and being abandoned. We even fear that if we do well or just, quite simply, do our thing, that someone is going to feel bad about it.
People are gonna say what they’re gonna say and do what they’re gonna do, regardless, so it’s best to get on with the business of being you.
I am a work in progress and hell, I am in such a different place to where I was 12 years ago where my habits nearly killed me (story for another day), but that pleaser part of me, of you, will not disappear entirely because it’s going to show up at times to remind us to get back into alignment, to take care of ourselves, to clear whatever emotional baggage is showing up in that moment.
It doesn’t make sense to be a perfectionist about being a recovering pleaser.
We have very specific reasons from earlier in life that have contributed to us being the way that we have. Compassionately acknowledging the journey that we have travelled to this point is critical because it’s the antidote to the shame that often accompanies our inner struggle and the outer habits.
The key is to commit to doing things from a place of genuine desire instead of out of obligation and guilt.
As cliche as it may sound, do things from a place of joy, from a place of love, care, trust and respect, so with compassion for you as well as for others, and you will not just recover–you will blossom; you will thrive. New possibilities will open up and you will no longer feel in turmoil and be shutting down the most beautiful, loving and creative parts of you that are crying out to see the light, to be shared.