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Posts Tagged ‘people pleaser’

I’m getting ready to go on vacation, and it hasn’t been the most uplifting time around here, and then just as I sat to write this, the news of Robin Williams’s suicide broke.

I feel like we need something inspiring on the blog today, something to counterbalance the mud pit of suck.

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I haven’t been very inspired lately. Mostly I’ve been bone-weary, and that’s when the doubts began to pop up and frolic in my landscape of discouragement. They didn’t help my mood any. I felt pretty horrible until I remembered something.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better.

I don’t know if you all are going to find that very inspiring, but it helped me a lot last week, so it’s what I’ve got for you.

Some of you will remember that I had my birthday epiphany about a month and a half ago. I wasn’t sure at the time what was going to happen with it, or if it would even stick.

Well, it stuck.

And it has been both a difficult and an amazing thing. In the long term, I’m pretty sure it will be mostly amazing. But in the short term, it has been mostly difficult. At the threat of such a large change in perspective, all my deepest fears have been coming out to play and fight for their continued existence, and they are as big and as scary as they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, I am already seeing myself and my life differently, and making different choices as a result, but I haven’t yet developed the emotional muscle and skills to deal with these choices with anything resembling ease.

So yes. In some ways things have gotten worse. But I can see how they are going to be better. I can see the people-pleasing behavior beginning to recede as I make real progress in setting firm boundaries. I can hear the desperation in the loudness of my self-critical thoughts. I can appreciate the generous and heartfelt support of the friends I’ve reached out to in the last few weeks. Some of them are newer friends or don’t know me as well, and it certainly felt like they could have easily dismissed my overtures and requests for support. But they didn’t. They were there for me, and even while I was in the middle of disappointing and discouraging circumstances, these people helped rebuild my hope in what my future could look like.

So if I can leave you with one more inspiring thought, it is this: You matter. Your choices matter. You reaching out to others and being there for others when they reach out, that matters. Your kindness matters.

It has certainly mattered to me.

Photo Credit: Thorsten Becker via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thorsten Becker via Compfight cc

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I am not in a good mood right now.

I have spent the last few weeks dealing with my landlord and his real estate agent, both of whom act like they’re doing me huge favors by, say, not illegally breaking my lease or being willing to pay for professional cleaners to clean their property before their open house event. No acknowledgment is being made of the fact that I am the person in this situation who is hemorrhaging money and time and stress from the inconvenience.

Where is our compassion?

I am supposed to be appalled at how non-inclusive the science fiction community is becoming because of the recent hoop-la about this year’s Hugo host. Did things get out of hand? Yes. And ultimately both sides of this drama suffered. How terrible it must be to have to worry about having your win of a major writing award punctuated with a joke about your weight or gender. Can we stop for a moment and imagine what that would feel like? (Kameron Hurley has more to say about this, and it’s worth reading.) And how unfortunate that the con committee didn’t prepare Jonathan Ross for the current climate of SF&F and take more care in making and presenting their choice. Meanwhile, how ironic that this is being held up as an example of science fiction not being inclusive, when the circumstances from which this situation arose exist because of a backlash against science fiction not being inclusive.

Where is our compassion?

I recently had a conversation with a female writer, who also happens to be a mother, about how she was told that since she is a mother, she will never be as good a writer as either someone with no kids OR a man who is a father. How painful a comment that is, to tell a serious writer, “Nope, sorry, since you have reproduced, you’ll never live up to the rest of us. Oh, and by the way, if you were a man, this wouldn’t apply.” Painful, unnecessary, and untrue.

Where is our compassion?

Photo Credit: jorgempf via Compfight cc

Now that I try to be very mindful about setting boundaries and standing up for myself (go, Backbone Project, go), I notice it all the time, this lack of compassion. Some of it is simple thoughtlessness, and some of it is deeper and more troubling. Some of it is people who honestly feel if they can get away with taking advantage of somebody, then they should do it. I have been told there are entire cultures based on this principle.

There are two obvious choices when confronted by this problem:

Choice 1: Shut up, sit down, pretend everything is fine, blame everything on yourself, learn to believe your emotions aren’t valid or important, become used to being treated like there’s something wrong with you for having perfectly normal emotional responses to being treated badly, take what is given and be thankful for even that much, lose your voice if you ever had one to begin with, or else never learn to speak in the first place, let people trod all over you as you sink deeper and deeper into the muck and learn to value yourself as little as you’re being valued. In short, be a victim.

Choice 2: Stand up and demand respect. Value yourself. Protect yourself. Set boundaries and don’t allow yourself to be talked or shamed out of them. Be compassionate, but do not allow your compassion to be used against you. Trust people, but only when the trust is deserved. Love people, but do not try to save them because they’ll be perfectly happy to pull you down with them. Give yourself the compassion other people may not be willing or able to give you.

With the landlord situation, I picked Choice 2, and I am now going to be compensated for my time and inconvenience. This would never have been the result if I hadn’t spoken up. Loudly. More than once. And I’m prepared to do it again.

Where is our compassion?

It starts with ourselves.

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I recently took a couple of online personality tests (the Myers-Briggs and the IPIP-NEO), and my results have changed. I’m now coming out fairly firmly on the extroverted side of things instead of being almost exactly in the middle.

I want to leave aside, for now, the argument that introversion is not a personality trait. I also don’t want to delve deeply into the sometimes ignorant stereotypes and oversimplification that goes along with discussions of introversion and extraversion.

I have not been trying to change into more of an extrovert, but I think me doing so has been a side effect of another change I have been trying to make: namely, to develop a backbone, tone down the people pleasing, and learn to set boundaries.

As it turns out, it is exhausting to be around people when you are a people pleaser. Full stop. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. It doesn’t matter if you know how to make conversation or can be a good listener or are a generally pleasant person to be around.

It takes huge amounts of energy to be around people when you aren’t allowed to say no, don’t value your own opinions and feelings and desires, and won’t stand up for yourself. Because the people around you might ask you to do something that you can’t possibly or don’t want to do for them. Or they might (inadvertently or not) treat you without respect. Or they might disagree about how something should happen, and then there will be conflict, which is anathema to the people pleaser. Or they might do something that bothers you but to which you do not feel able to respond.

At some point, in order to protect yourself from this huge expenditure of emotional energy, you might begin to build a wall around yourself. You might find yourself wishing to be alone because being alone is the only time when you can truly relax and be peaceful. You might keep other people at arms’ length to minimize the requests and the conflicts and the fatigue. You might need a lot of time to recharge after socializing.

You might appear to be an introvert.

But as it turns out, with proper implementation of boundaries, there are possibilities! You can say no. You can set limits on the behavior you’re willing to accept. You can stand up for your opinions. You can have opinions in the first place. You can object. You can have emotions. You can leave if you’re not having a good time.

You can be a better friend because you no longer need to demand perfection from yourself or from other people. You don’t need perfection when you’re allowed to communicate and take care of yourself.

And at some point, being around people just doesn’t take up as much energy as it used to.

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Where’s Amy? Photo by Yvette Ono, photographer extraordinaire.

Let me be clear. I don’t think all or even most introverts are people pleasers, and that this is why they are introverts. I put no value judgment on how much time people like to spend with other people or how much alone time people want. But I do think that being a people pleaser can mask or change parts of the personality. In my own case, being a people pleaser encouraged me to become more introverted. But as I have been focusing on becoming less of a people pleaser, I’ve also been changing my social behavior and my attitude towards it.

I like seeing markers of progress, even unexpected ones. And I like feeling more fully myself.

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I can’t believe I’m about to write an essay about friend-zoning, but so it goes.

A few of my friends have recently shared this comic called The Friend-zoner vs. the Nice Guy. The comments on their shares have generally been supportive, with the exception of one friend, who drew out a gem or two of responses. (I know, don’t read the comments, right? What was I thinking?)

One idea expressed was that it wasn’t okay to make fun of “nice guys” because it is nice guy shaming. Questions of comedy aside (a huge amount of comedy thrives on the principle of making fun of pretty much everything and everyone imaginable, and where the line is between appropriate and inappropriate varies from person to person and could take up a few textbooks, I suspect), I’m actually really glad to see this discussion of “niceness” as manipulation taking place. Because that’s what we’re talking about here. The comic isn’t so much making fun as it is illustrating a problematic behavior.

Now, is it only men who use niceness to manipulate? Of course not! Is it possible for people to take advantage of this nice guy behavior? You bet. (Which is another great reason not to do it.) But pointing out this kind of systemic problem is useful because it raises our collective awareness as a society, which means we can work towards healthier models of friendship and dating.

The idea has taken root that being overly nice or a people pleaser with no personal boundaries is a good life strategy. People are raised to believe this generally because it supports the system they’re a part of, whether that is a smaller family system or a larger system (the patriarchy being one example). Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. I would not have spent the last three and a half years busting my butt to change myself if I didn’t think being a people pleaser was problematic. It hurts the people pleaser, and it hurts the people they care about. Taking that a few steps further and using a lack of boundaries to try to manipulate other people is a dark and destructive path that ends in wreckage and disappointment. We call this “nice” but of course, this kind of thing isn’t actually nice at all.

However, what really strikes me about this conversation about friend-zoning is that we seem to have lost sight of what adult friendship is.

What friendship IS NOT: Preferential treatment that you don’t really want to be giving; trying to impress; a running tally of favors and obligations; a relationship you’re not really interested in unless it leads to something more (ie sex or a romantic relationship), all about you, all about the other person, all about making demands.

What friendship IS: Two people who genuinely care about each other. They want the other person to be happy, and they are also comfortable taking care of themselves and saying no when necessary. Friends perform acts of kindness for each other not because they are expecting something specific in the future but because they are happy and able to help and because they are already getting something valuable out of the friendship as it currently stands.

Two friends hanging out. Photo Credit: Sara Fasullo via Compfight cc

If your friend doesn’t think the two of you would work out in a romantic relationship, and you are angry at them about that because you were so nice to them, well then, that isn’t a friendship to begin with, is it? Will you feel disappointed to have your romantic overtures turned down? Sure. Will you need some additional space for a while? Maybe. But believing your niceness has somehow entitled you to a specific prize? Nope. Believing the other person is obligated to sleep with you because you’ve done favors for them in the past? No again. Accepting bad behavior from someone else because you hope someday they’ll date you? Not a strategy for happiness.

An authentic friendship can withstand the strain of a conversation where only one side wants to progress to a romantic relationship; a friendship based on lack of communication and high expectations of what might happen in the future often can’t. And trying to guilt someone into sex they don’t want to have? That is never the behavior of a friend.

In conclusion: If you want to date someone and don’t really have much interest in being their friend, that’s fine. Then don’t pretend you want friendship, and don’t do favors for them that you don’t want to do. Ask them on a date instead. If you have a friend and you’ve decided you’d like to date them, that’s fine. Tell them, and be willing and open to hearing whatever their response might be without thinking they owe it to you to say yes.

P.S.: After I wrote this, Diana Sherman published a post on the same topic. It goes into greater depth as to why the whole “entitled to date you since I’ve spent so much time with you” attitude sucks for the person on the receiving end and is well worth a read.

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Oh, 2013. How glad I am that you are almost over. You had your moments, many of them, but you sure didn’t spare the punches either. You taught me many new things and reminded me of many things I already knew.

Photo Credit: MomMaven via Compfight cc

Here are some of the ideas I’m taking with me into 2014:

1. Things often take longer than you think they’ll take. Especially things you really care about or that are particularly unpleasant.

2. Stress takes its toll on the physical body.

3. Perfection is frequently impossible. Doing one’s best is a more realistic target.

4. Meaning in life is created by relationships, engaging work, and an ability to reframe adversity.

5. Feelings are always okay. It’s what you do with them that you have to be careful about.

6. The gift of true and unconditional listening is rare. Shower those who give it to you with affection and appreciation.

7. The temptation to lie is data about you and your relationship with the person to whom you want to lie.

8. Sometimes pretending you belong even when you feel like you don’t will get you pretty far.

9. Knowing who you are is magic akin to knowing a true name.

10. Sometimes other people are wrong.

11. Learning to recognize the difference between things that are true about yourself and things society has told you are true about yourself can help you achieve things you never thought were possible.

12. The food in France is really, really good.

13. Home is a little white dog, a piano, a place to create, and good times with friends.

14. Asking is a good skill to cultivate. So is saying no. So is generosity.

15. Being imperfect makes you more approachable.

16. Failure is a part of life. Sometimes it feels like it is a larger part of life than you would like. That is the time to embrace it even more strongly. You are learning, you are growing, you are taking risks, and you are the active driver of your own life story.

17. Change takes a long time and is often uncomfortable and difficult. You will need all your courage and belief in yourself to pull it off. Including the courage to fail and pick yourself back up to try again.

18. I can listen to Moonface’s new album Julia with Blue Jeans On over and over again and I never get tired of it.

19. Repeat after me: You can’t make everybody happy all the time. No, really. You can’t. Nobody can.

20. In times of darkness, it is the ability to find the pinpoints of light that keeps you going.

21. Sometimes I am lonely. But I am not alone.

What have you learned this year?

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There was no post on Tuesday this week because I sprained my ankle, and my head was too boggled by dealing with that to have extra room for other thoughts that I could write about. So I’m just going to have a single post during this holiday week and call it good. And it’s going to be about something I spend a lot of time thinking about and practicing: asking for what we need.

Asking for what I need is most immediately on my mind because of the sprained ankle. I live in a building on the third floor. There is an elevator, thank goodness, but it is a long hallway down from my condo, and then another medium distance from there to a car or a dog-friendly outside area. Not the easiest. And Nala demands being taking outside a minimum of three to four times a day, so…yeah. There is going to be a lot of asking for what I need, namely help, in the immediate future.

The sprained ankle as personal growth exercise. How’s that for a silver lining?

I’ve been practicing asking for what I need for some time now. I often find it uncomfortable, but I am convinced it, along with setting boundaries and taking care of myself, is the only way to leave my people pleasing past behind me. I sometimes even put myself before others now, and I feel only somewhat guilty about it. Go me!

But after a lifetime of putting others first, smoothing things over, and prioritizing others’ comfort above my own, it certainly is unsettling to ask for what I need instead. It’s not as if these new behaviors I’m using meet with universal approval and warm, fuzzy feelings. Sometimes they cause conflict! And using these behaviors in an appropriate and kind way is surprisingly tricky. Sometimes I screw up! And other times I really don’t know what to do, only what I would have done in a past that is no longer relevant. So sometimes I can’t make up my mind!

Yeah, change is hard. I’m like a toddler learning how to walk. Well, really I think I’m slightly more experienced now, so maybe I’m more like a four-year-old who can walk but falls and skins her knee a lot.

Maybe next year I can graduate to being able to run, only I’ll sometimes forget to pay attention or get too excited and wham into the door frame instead.

Learning to walk. Photo Credit: cindy47452 via Compfight cc

I’m writing about this because I see people struggling with similar issues all around me. This is difficult stuff. I talk about it with my friends all the time. And I think it helps to know that it’s hard for other people too.

If you’re struggling to set boundaries or to ask for what you need or to take care of yourself even when you’re under pressure not to, I want to tell you I believe in what you’re doing. When you’re able to go for it, I want to cheer and applaud. And when you try and just can’t do it, I want to hold out my hand to you and help you back up so you can try again later.

We are none of us alone in our quest to better understand, express, and take care of ourselves.

Enjoy the rest of your week, and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a great one. I’ll see you all next week! 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately, and then today I saw Stina Leicht’s beautiful post about empathy and the fine balance required in remembering that everyone is simultaneously different and the same. So I decided I’d write about empathy, and then I surprised myself by how vulnerable I feel writing about the topic.

Heart in hand

I’ve realized lately that I have a high amount of empathy. This is not something I’ve known about myself all my life, so I still don’t feel completely easy with the knowledge. It makes a lot of sense, though. One of my strengths as a music teacher was my ability to make my students feel comfortable and supported, even while they were exposing themselves with their singing. As a writer, I enjoy delving deeply into the heads of my characters. And certainly for my adult life, it’s generally been fairly simple for me to put myself into other people’s positions and to see many sides and perspectives of an issue. It’s comfortable like slipping into a broken-in pair of shoes.

Having high empathy is a very mixed experience. My empathy has brought me many of my greatest joys and also many of my hardest challenges. At its best, it truly is a gift without compare. Being able to create connections and be truly present with people is a deeply meaningful and satisfying act. On some level we all want to tell our stories, and there’s a powerful resonance that can be achieved by being a loving witness to that.

But high empathy is tricky to manage. I’ve talked to other people with high empathy, and it appears that many of us have a chameleon-like ability to be who is required. We are the people who can figure out the right thing to say. We are the people who know how to smooth everything out. We can turn our own emotions and needs off like a switch if that’s what we think is necessary. We are the people who can sit quietly and reflect the other person back at themselves without the judgment that would make that too painful.

Unfortunately, we are the people who need the strongest boundaries, and we are the people to whom those boundaries come the least naturally.

Without those boundaries, we become people-pleasing, codependent, or emotionally drained. We can see the other side so clearly that we can accidentally neglect our own perspective or place less value on it. Being so aware of different options and viewpoints can paralyze us into indecision. We can lose ourselves in trying to be who someone else wants us to be. Nothing good lies down that path.

I’m going to tell you a secret about highly empathetic people. We want what we give. Sometimes we want it desperately. We want other people to see us the way we see them. We want other people to listen to us the way we listen to them. We want people to slip into our shoes sometimes too, and we want our experiences to be validated the way we’ve validated so many other people’s experiences.

In the end, we’re just like everybody else. We all want to be recognized for who we are.

The blooper photo: Nala really wanted to be involved.

The blooper photo: Nala really wanted to be involved.

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