I’m a recovering people pleaser. There’s no getting around it. As I’ve been working on those issues for nearly a decade and have made an incredible amount of progress, some people might go so far as to call me a recovered people pleaser.
But I won’t go that far. Not yet. And probably not ever.
Because that’s how it happens. That’s how you revert to your old behaviors that weren’t serving you. You get comfortable and coast. And then the old patterns have a way of cropping back up, like a batch of weeds that you thought you’d gotten. But you must have missed a few roots.
I’ve found that you must count on missing a few roots when you weed through your issues. If you don’t, it’s far too easy to wake up one morning with your garden overgrown.
So I will stop at recovering people pleaser.
There Are So Many Transitions That the Transitions Have Transitions
There’s something nobody told me about learning to advocate for myself and that’s this: There’s going to be a transitional period. And it’s going to be weird. And not only will it be weird, it might last an awfully long time. So long, in fact, that you may not even have one single transitional period but several. A series of transitional periods.
That’s the way it unfolded for me anyway. As I’d really internalize a new principle (an early example: “There is no sense being around those who do not treat me well when I have those who will do so gladly.”), I would move to apply that to my life. And as I did, things within my life would change. Because any time you change — and especially if you change meaningfully, other things in your life will change as well.
Interpersonally, this can mean deeper connections and better relations with certain folks. And it can also mean that you have a more negative view of certain connections with people (whether they’re friend, family, a lover, what have you). The negative revelations are the most challenging.
I personally found that I had nearly no one in my life that I clashed with when I was at the height of my people pleasing. Almost no one even seemed to dislike me, save a few passive-aggressive haters who I didn’t know about until much later on (they were mostly envious of certain aspects of my life, resentful that they didn’t have the same, and didn’t realize I had challenges that they didn’t see — a very common problem).
But that changed dramatically once I started setting a few boundaries, advocating for myself more, acting in ways that were self-protective. Some people got really pissed, disproportionately so. At the time, this was really painful. I was completely unprepared for this to happen. But a curious thing happened as I pushed through it: I realized who really cared about me and liked me for who I actually was and who liked me because I gave them whatever they wanted. I suddenly had a clear picture. And while it wasn’t exactly a flattering group portrait, I was grateful for the knowledge.
I found myself over the intervening weeks, months, and years parting ways with folks who seemed to be there just to get pleased and investing more time in people who were interested in mutual exchange. Did this look different? Yes. But was it worse? No. Was I hurting for company? Also no.
Feeling Happy Without Feeling Guilty About It
But even as I’m telling this story, it comes out sounding a lot more smooth than it actually was. There were so many ups and downs along the way. Each situation was a different battle in a long war — or even series of wars. Wars that were mostly me battling myself and my former beliefs about the best way to move through my life.
It’s a never ending process, really.
And it would seem I’ve reached a new phase. Even shut up during the pandemic, in a situation where I haven’t been outside in weeks, I’ve managed to turn a corner. Something has shifted — again — and I’ve changed.
It’s something that’s probably very subtle to others. That no one would ever guess if I didn’t tell them about it. But to me, it’s dramatic. Profound.
The way in which I’m happy has changed. The depth of it. And most particularly the mix of happiness and guilt that I feel whenever I’m happy. Because for a very long time, guilt was always in there, as a sort of buffering agent. It was impossible to really let myself feel joy for a very long time, not without struggling against the guilt that would accompany it.
It was something I did a lot more in my childhood. Back then, it was effortless. The default. It was how happiness functioned. But somewhere along the way, an insidious self-consciousness crept in, a metacognition that swept in, overshadowing everything.
Anyway, I do not know how long this phenomenon lasts. Nor this particular phase. Whatever transitional period I’m in.
But for now, I’m looking forward to the next phase of a life that once upon a time I never thought was possible — and that now, in hindsight, seems inevitable.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love making people happy. And yes, people pleasing. But these days, it’s about doing so with people who appreciate it and are supportive of me back.
This post is part of a recurring feature called Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser. To see the full series, please click this link.