Did you grow up shrouded in other people’s expectations, feeling an urgent need to rise to them? Or did you grow up surrounded by people who were intent on finding fault with you and predicting your future failures, so that your every move was motivated by a determination to prove them wrong? Do you feel a compulsion to “cure” other people’s discontent or to resolve their complaints?
I never considered myself a people-pleaser growing up. As an introvert, I just figured I’d keep to myself and stay out of people’s way. But over time, people started complimenting me on my silence (if they weren’t suspicious of it). “She’s so sweet and well-mannered, so quiet!” They’d go on that I was a “good girl” who didn’t make trouble, that I excelled at a talent, that I’d likely “go far in life.” The compliments snowballed. To my chagrin, a few of my peers’ mothers would say things like, “Why can’t you be more like her?” when I was sitting within polite earshot. And before I knew it, those external assessments and assumptions started to matter to me. I wanted to keep “doing the right thing” and “being a good girl.” I did want to “go far in life,” whatever that might mean. And, though I never liked the idea of being anyone’s role model or setting a standard for anyone else’s behavior, I accepted the pressure of it just the same. All those ideas started to motivate my decisions.
I didn’t want to do anything wrong. I wanted to avoid disappointing family and friends. I wanted others to be constantly pleased with me.
But there’s an obvious problem with living up to others’ expectations: your life is no longer your own. It’s been co-opted. And it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Eventually, one of your choices will call others’ pristine, unsullied opinions of you into question.
For me, it was having a child at 29, unmarried. By then, I’d fallen out of touch with most of the church members and friends who’d held me to uncomfortable standards growing up. But social media and random bumping-intos around town being what they are, I was never too far from any of their gazes. Occasionally, I’d get a shocked response: “You had a kid? You’re not married, with a kid?” Other times, I’d get a congratulations with a tinge of disappointment attached. But most often, I realized that no one cared all that much. It’s my life, after all; and they’re quite busy out here, living their own.
It occurred to me then, that my need to please had magnified others’ opinions of me so much that I believed my actions were far more important to them than they were. Sure, people will express their surprise when you don’t do things “the right way” or don’t live up to some high school superlative they assigned to you. But that reaction is fleeting; you have to live with you for life. It’s best to leave other’s expectations where they belong–with them, not projected onto you.
So if you’re a sufferer from the disease to please, join me in People-Pleasers Anonymous, where everyday is a struggle to live with only the goals you set for yourself in mind. In the end, they’re the only ones that matter.