THE BLOG
05/06/2013 01:15 pm ET | Updated Jul 05, 2013

Confessions of a Former People-Pleaser

I couldn't move on from the loose ends I created, and continually frayed the bottom of my pants -- in my mind. No actual pants were harmed for this blog post. I speak metaphorically. I had an unpleasant situation with local acquaintances, and in an attempt to make perfect right turns toward a peaceful destination, I drove irrationally. I continually arrived at dead-ends. I swerved and stopped short, I would have flunked driver's ed and looked sheepishly at the instructor -- but again, the car too is a metaphor. The local acquaintances -- former friends -- were now just two people I would never speak with again. There was no neat little bow to put on the package before placing it on a high shelf to try to forget about... for eternity.

You're probably saying to yourself, "so what?!" I mean, we all don't need to be loved and adored by everyone, but at one point I was respected and somewhat admired by these folks -- until my fall from grace. I will omit those details because I'm focusing on effect rather than cause, and the effect was grave. You see, I am a people-pleaser and I'm not sure why I have this problem and why unlike so many of my friends, I can't just say "Screw it! I'm going to do what makes me happy, not keep worrying about the others."

Why do some of us care so much about how others perceive us? Why do we feel this tremendous need to please and such a grave fear of displeasing others?

The particular situation I found myself in required a "just drop it" approach, but to me it seemed so much easier said than done. Since I've omitted the details to protect the -- well, "innocent" is subjective -- you'll have to trust that no "sorry"s or efforts categorized as "bending over backward" could rectify or remedy what no longer needed to be a situation.

I realize that the reason why it still was a "situation" to me was because I had not successfully placed the package on a high enough shelf. I could blame my oversensitive nature, the fact that I have the unfortunate tendency to ruminate and obsess over how I could have done things differently, that my brain is wired in an inexplicably quirky fashion -- but those would be met by the recipients as excuses. The word "apology" has an offshoot definition: selfishness.

We so often don't want to be perceived a certain way because we are afraid of that part of ourselves. In truth, how often does an apology stem from an insecurity, from the desire to be seen in a positive light, to denote "this behavior you saw? Well it wasn't me"? There was no way to right wrongs short of apologizing -- which I did -- but this was grudge-worthy material and I was afforded the opportunity to move on and forget about them. It seemed they were moving on and forgetting about me, so why did I feel this need to put a pretty bow on it all before shipping it off? Every effort to come across as wonderful and clear up any misconceptions created by the gossip of others only backfired, of course.

Then I began to worry about seeing them around: Do I pretend not to see them? Do I flash the peace sign with my hand (and do I even do that correctly)? Do I dare say "hello" and risk being snubbed, perhaps a little embarrassed? Theoretically, I could pretend I did not see them, but realistically: I am a bad actress. I even consulted two actor friends I know to see if we could rehearse an approach, but thankfully, I came to my senses, and didn't have to take things that far.

The only thing I could do was to stop worrying and focus on every other area of my life, which thankfully, is quite full. I have a husband, I have children, I have work, writing, play-dates to arrange, extended family to see and my own friends who know me well enough. I don't need to "please" my real and true friends. Realistically, there was no time to be a people-pleaser or to worry about the people I could not -- and never would -- please, or more accurately, have them see me in what I knew to be "the correct light." It was selfish to my family because I was wasting a good portion of myself, as a family resource, by consuming my mind with the unnecessary, and it was selfish to the people I was trying to please since they didn't want to hear it from me. I had no doubt they had their own concerns, problems, stresses and conflicts to resolve while trying to find time to enjoy everything else.

The best thing to do, I decided, was to somehow vent, get it all out in the most helpful fashion and then close the chapter. And so, readers: I did.

For more by Shira Hirschman Weiss, click here.

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