This insidious condition shows itself in many guises. At its worst, here are some of the symptoms:
– constant placement of others above yourself, often without much thought or communication. (Please note the word constant. This isn’t the opposite of being selfish so much as it is door mat behavior.)
– constant second guessing of your interactions with others
– being quick to feel guilt
– conflict aversion (desire to avoid making people unhappy/upset/angry)
– allowing people to take advantage of you, OR struggling to prevent this and feeling overly upset as a direct consequence; inability to say no or stand up for yourself
– ease of seeing another person’s point of view and using this skill to make excuses for them
– getting ensnared in one-sided conversations, in which the other person basically delivers a monologue, won’t ask you questions about yourself, and will do their best to divert the conversation back to them at all times
– perfectionism; a lingering worry that if you fail to be perfect, people will no longer like you
– a sense of isolation; feeling that nobody cares
Just to be clear, this list is no longer an accurate description of my state of mind. I’ve had twenty years to improve, after all, and I’m nothing if not dogged. (Some people think stubbornness is a bad thing. Does not compute. It’s one of my most useful traits.) But these are the sorts of things I have to guard against because I might fall into one or more of them if I’m not paying attention or am otherwise not at my best (ie sick, tired, worried, discouraged, etc.).
These are the social responses I was raised to have, compounded by female gender expectations to “be nice”. Unfortunately, they are not particularly effective if one wants to have a happy life that isn’t completely overrun by anxiety. They are also not helpful if one wants to be treated with care and respect. (Sad to say, there are plenty of people out there who will treat others with disrespect unless doing so has personal consequences–consequences that people pleasers are often ill-equipped to give.)
I’m writing about this problem because I know there are many people out there who struggle with one or more items on my list. And yet so often we don’t talk about it, and sometimes we even pressure each other to conform more to societal expectations of the unhealthy roles we play. (Have you ever looked up general interpersonal advice on the internet? It can get pretty scary.)
Next week I’m going to write about some of the thoughts and strategies, especially those I’ve discovered more recently, that have helped me break out of the people pleaser mold. In the meantime, can anyone think of any fictional characters who fall into people pleaser territory? Have any questions or experiences you want to share? Comment below!