Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser: I Didn’t Want to Change

a very mopey-looking bulldog lying on concrete
Image by psyberartist / CC BY

As I’ve written many times, I’m a recovering people pleaser.

On confident days, I find myself venturing the idea that I am a recovered people pleaser. But then I decide that’s how they get you. You get complacent and assume you are forever changed, and then you’re slipping back into the old ways.

So I stop at recovering. And settle upon the idea that I’m always recovering.

And besides, there’s a dark secret to all of it that I never quite forget: I didn’t want to change.

Changing wasn’t my idea in the first place. I changed because other people insisted I needed to — and wanting to please them, I did.

My Disorder Forced Me to Cure Myself. This Is Apparently Normal.

There’s a delicious paradox in that, the fact that the disease is what forced me to cure myself.

I went to therapy because I was urged to do so by people I cared about and wanted to please them. And then I followed my therapist’s instructions faithfully — even when it was incredibly hard and stressful — because I liked her very much and wanted to please her.

My formal diagnosis is dependent personality disorder (DSM-IV, as the diagnosis was made in 2012, and the DSM-5 was released in 2013). Personality disorders in general are not something you ever quite get rid of. The goal of treatment, generally speaking, is not to get rid of the disorder but to teach the client how to cope better.

I have always taken this to mean that I’ve had to learn to hack into my personality and use it more consciously for my own betterment and not for my own destruction.

In treatment, I’d eventually go on to receive assertiveness therapy, do a few years of talk therapy, and complete a number of homework assignments given by my therapist, all aimed at one thing: Teaching me that it was okay to have my own beliefs and that I was allowed to differ from other people in them and that I wasn’t nearly as inferior to other people as I often assumed I was.

That I didn’t have to make myself smaller so that I could blend in. Or so that I wouldn’t threaten other people.

That other people had emotional work that they had to do, too, and it wasn’t my job to do that for them.

And many other assorted lessons.

At first, I was really upset about having a personality disorder. I worried I’d have a difficult road. That’s because at that point I was more familiar with ones that are notoriously resistant to therapeutic intervention and generally have a rougher prognosis (for example, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc.).

But apparently people with dependent personality have a very good prognosis because they are very compliant with treatment, provided they have a support system populated primarily with people who wish them well (which at that point, I finally did).

Learning to Listen to the Inner Voice, to Qualify People You Aim to Please, and Allow Yourself to Disagree

Anyway, somewhere along the line, the treatment started to work. I began to hear my own inner voice. Became aware of my long-shoved-down values and beliefs. Began to be able to act self-protectively when the situation required it.

I was able, generally speaking, to act assertively. I still find it somewhat strenuous. So I typically reserve it for situations that call for it, and don’t go around looking for opportunities to be assertive (although in the early days when I was practicing, I did that bit).

But when the need arises, I can do it.

I’ve also learned to qualify the people I am to please:

While it wasn’t healthy to base the entirety of my self-worth on whatever the last rando I’d encountered thought of me, it’s possible to take things too far in other direction. The hands-down most despicable people I know don’t care what anyone thinks of them. The key is being selective. Just like you wouldn’t judge your beauty in a cracked mirror, you shouldn’t let just any old jackass determine whether what you’re doing is right or wrong.

It used to drive me insane when someone didn’t like me or expressed harsh judgement of the decisions I made. Now I take stock of the situation when it happens. I look at the source and how they are living their life:

Are they happy where they are?

Are they making good decisions?

Do they generally bring value to other people?

If the answer to these three questions is “no,” then I’m not only okay with their disapproval, but I can even view it as a positive sign.

And I keep a few people extremely close to me that serve as my go-to mirrors. Folks who I can run things by when I’m in doubt.

It’s okay to care what other people think of you — but be specific.

This Blog Wouldn’t Exist If I Hadn’t Gotten Treatment

And of course, I am now able to express my own beliefs even when they contradict with other people’s, something I couldn’t do before.

This blog is proof of that. With such a large readership at this point in time, I’m continually presented with folks who disagree with me.

Most of the time, I don’t even feel a need to argue back, apologize, or defend my beliefs. Which is something I would have done back in the day, apologized and defended myself — and if that wasn’t accepted deleted the post in question.

And somehow I keep on writing new stuff every day anyway, knowing that people will pipe up and let me know that they disagree with me.

Treatment Has Left Me More Healthy and Functional and Yet Still Very Much Me.

None of that erases of course the fact that I didn’t want to change in the first place.

But here’s the thing: I did change.

Well, for the most part. Even now, I find it terrifically easy to take other people’s perspectives. When I fight with my husband, I’m forever jumping into his position, seeing his irritation with me from his vantage point.

My challenge in interpersonal conflicts isn’t finding it difficult to step in other people’s shoes, it’s making sure I can stay in my own and don’t run away from the scene wearing theirs.

In some respects, this makes me feel like how I imagine a left-handed person in a world designed for righties would.

But then again, the goal with a personality disorder isn’t to eliminate it. It’s not realistic. The goal is to learn to thrive with it — and in that respect, I’d say I’m doing remarkably well.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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