Hello. My name is Whitney Fisch and I am a recovering "People-Pleaser."
I think about the amount of time I've spent hatching plans to get people to like me, and I'm pretty sure that if I added up all those sleepless nights spent wide awake wondering if so-and-so is mad at me, or if I did something wrong to hurt that girl's feelings and that's why she's not talking to me, that I'd probably have several glorious years of sleep on my hands. This wasn't your garden variety, "I want to be in the cool crowd" need for having people like me. This was, "How can I get my ENTIRE 5th grade class to like me?" It started out pretty innocently. Come holiday season, I would spend my allowance buying gifts for everyone I possibly could (starting with the cool kids), and when I ran out of money, I re-gifted items I had been given over the years because, in my 10-year-old mind, giving someone a gift guarantees that they'll like you, right? But these kinds of behaviors escalated. By the time I got to college, my people-pleasing turned into a bad case of 'Yes-ing." I pretty much turned into the princess from Coming to America who, when asked what her favorite movie was by the Prince, (played by Eddie Murphy), replied, "Whatever kind of movie you like." It didn't matter what I like because I want you to like me, so I will like whatever you like. These behaviors would not have been so bad if I surrounded myself exclusively with good and gentle people, but not living in a bubble, this was nearly impossible. Therefore, I was 'yes-ing' everyone, including people who treated me like dirt. Cheat on me with my good friend? Let me take you to the movies! Lie to my face? Can I buy you dinner?
Please don't misunderstand me. My people-pleasing ways didn't get in the way interfere with developing wonderful, lasting friendships. It did, however, result in my spending an exorbitant amount of time worrying about things that didn't matter or weren't even real while also being a big ol' doormat.
And then, one day, a new therapist I had just started seeing asked me two very simple, yet revelatory questions that led to the beginning stages of my recovery:
New Therapist: "Whitney, do you even like half the people you put so much effort into getting to like you"?
Me: "I'm sorry. What's that now?" (Starts to sweat and wonders if new therapist is mad at me.)
New Therapist: "Do you, Whitney, like the people you lay awake at night figuring out ways to get to like you?"
Me: "Ummmmm, no? Oh. Crap."
Ultimately, we discovered that my people-pleasing anxiety was wrapped up in a desperate need to make people happy (Hi, I'm a child of divorce). It was my deep-seated belief that if people are happy and I made them happy, then people will like me. And if people are happy and if people like me, then, well, I will be happy... right? Because I was told by Oprah and lots of other folks that happiness is the ultimate trophy and acknowledgment of 'winning' at life, and if that's not the case, well, then someone's got a lot of explaining to do.
Thanks to an exceptional amount of reflecting, boundary-setting and trusted, true friends, I've been in recovery from people-pleasing for roughly eight years now. It's not all roses and sunshine, though. There are still struggles. The work I've done to rid myself of my people-pleasing ways was challenged the minute I became a mother fourteen months ago. I know that my husband and I will make decisions for our daughter that might result in slamming doors and shouts of "I hate you." (Not that our kid would ever do that. Not our kid. Except, she will. She absolutely will). As parents, we want our children to not only love us, but to like us as human beings. And yet, I also want to be a good parent. In order to do that, I will fight my natural inclination to make sure she likes me so that boundary-setting and difficult, yet healthy decisions can be made. It might not make me the most popular mom on the block for a certain time, but ultimately, I know the end goal is a happy, healthy family.
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