A plea to people-pleasers

Just for today, I want you to go exploring, with just your own sense of right and wrong in a little rucksack on your back. Photo by ben o’bro on Unsplash

Psychological health is partly about judgement.  When we feel judged from the outside, it is damaging.  When we feel able to assess from the inside, and adjust our lives accordingly, we feel healthy and empowered.

How does this apply to our daily lives, and our relationships?  Well, we have all had that experience of the boss, teacher or partner who stands in critical judgement over us.  They seem to believe that they have power over us, and the right to criticise when things aren’t as they would like them to be.  It may even have started with a critical parent, whose view we had to accept because we had no choice.

Constantly living with other people’s judgement eventually wears us out.  It destroys our ability to relate to others peacefully, because we end up having to decide whether to fight back aggressively, or simply avoid conflict and disappear.  This is why the children of aggressive parents end up either becoming aggressive themselves, or going the other way and becoming avoidant.

Adult relationships then become a bit of a mess.  Half the time we find ourselves avoiding conflict, and the other half we find ourselves getting upset and confrontational.  In extreme circumstances (for instance, with some emotional disorders), we are experienced by others as emotionally absent half the time, and over-pushy the other half.  We can’t seem to find a calm balance.

Reading the above, you would be right in thinking that this is all a bit of a chain reaction through the generations.  Unbalanced parents give rise to unbalanced children, who then become the next generation of unbalanced relaters.

How can we achieve a balance, and stop the endless chain of critical judgement?  Well, assuming we can’t give those who judge us a brain transplant, we are stuck with changing ourselves.  It is all about managing our reaction to other people’s judgement.

I want to ask you about the standards you set in your life.  How do you decide how well or badly you are doing?  How do you set directions?  How do you even decide on your priorities?

If you are stressed, my guess is that probably you are a people-pleaser.  People-pleasers let the reaction of others determine their behaviour and priorities.  If their partner, boss, or anyone, displays dissatisfaction, then they make it their job to work hard until the other person is appeased and happy.  It’s an unending task.  They are actually trying to please the unpleasable, since their boss’s priorities will change daily, as will their partner’s.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then my guess is you are a judger, one of those who stands in judgement over others.  The thing about you is, you don’t even know you do it.  It’s a question of entitlement.  You feel entitled to have what you want, and therefore anyone who gets in your way is, by definition, wrong.  They will get worse treatment from you until they start to serve you better.

For today, my conversation is with the people-pleasers, the people who are fed up with living according to others’ values, and serving other people’s wayward interests.  If that’s you, maybe you are feeling tired and alone.  Maybe you daydream about leaving your relationship, or your job, or your family, so that you can escape the constricting feeling of doing everything you can for the ungrateful so-and-so(s) whom you try to help with love.

I need to talk straight with you for a bit.  I need to tell you that some people in this world don’t think like you.  They don’t ask ‘how can I help?’ – in contrast, they use their own happiness to judge whether others are helping them enough.  If they are unhappy, they complain.  If they are happy, they are happy.

People-pleasers, I need to ask you to stop living for the judgers.  You need to start finding your own centre of values, independent of the need to please.

It’s really hard to do this, especially if you have been trained, all your life, to work around others who didn’t appreciate you as you are.  You have got used to contorting yourself in all sorts of ways, making yourself adaptable, cutting out behaviours that feel natural for you, and replacing them with more compliant behaviours that feel comfortable for those around you.

Just for today, I want to encourage you to become centred in some things you genuinely believe in and like.  In order to do this, you will have to let the complainers go and find someone else to moan at.  They can’t moan at you today.

Just for today, I want you to seek out people who don’t judge you, who don’t need you to be a certain way in order to make them comfortable.

Just for today, I want you to go exploring, with just your own sense of right and wrong in a little rucksack on your back.

If you are a people-pleaser, then I would like you, just for today, to have a holiday from the oppression that can sometimes result from your relationship with judgers. I’d like you to do some things that work for you, in a way that works for you.

The thought of doing this will make you afraid. You will fear that, if you stop working tirelessly to pleas others, they will leave you and reject you. This may be the case. But if your helping them is the only glue in your relationship, then the relationship is one-sided. Maybe the judgers need to learn to care for you more. And they will only learn if you stop enabling them.