I am a pathological people pleaser. I don’t mean to be. I don’t want to be. But I am. With everything I do, I overanalyse how it will affect the way people see me and feel about me. It’s not even limited to people I like and so have a legitimate reason to care about their feelings. It extends to people I don’t like, people I barely know, acquaintances, work colleagues and superiors, my doctor, my dentist and it even my therapist (I got over that one really quickly when she shouted at me).
Having some self-awareness is definitely a plus, as is caring about people around you. Being a neurotic mess who second guesses everything is not. It is a big minus. And a colossal mind fuck. It also means you never have any time to do anything. Like sleep or ever leave work or eat where you want to eat or watch the film you want to watch. It is also exhausting especially if it seeps into your working life.
The first step is accepting that you are, in fact, a pathological people pleaser. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out that I wasn’t just being a decent person, I was actually being a bit nuts. There is a difference between being a nice, considerate human and going out of your way to try and please everyone. One is a decent human being, the other is a crumpled pile on the floor because she was bending over backwards so hard she broke something. I only realised when my sister, a constant source of self evaluation and deep insight into my psyche, asked me why I cared so much about what people think. And followed it up with a trusty ‘because they’re all fucking morons anyway.’ She’s a delight. She’s also of the constant opinion of ‘fuck ‘em, I don’t care what they think’.
This got me thinking about my own attitude and why I was so eager to please. I am in no way qualified to answer that and think I would descend into further existential angst (or a straight jacket) but I did start to look into my own behaviour and thought patterns and have been trying to be more mindful of what I do. This is what I have come up with so far…
Here are my rules for getting a grip on yourself, split into work and social scenarios (because you can’t really tell your boss to go fuck themselves because you’re busy tonight sitting in your pants, alone, watching Netflix and eating Nutella out of the jar with a spoon – if you can, then well done, you are living the dream and I will send you my CV immediately):
You cannot please all the people, all the time
This is just a physical, emotional and spiritual impossibility.
Professionally, everyone works differently and wants things to be done in a certain way. Even if you have the best team in the world, you will disagree. I have been trying to stick to my guns when I know I’m right instead of constantly trying to water down my ideas or opinions to suit others. Sometimes, there can be too many voices at the table and so deferring to the person who knows the matter better can be the right thing to do. Sometimes, you know you’re right and your way is the best way. If this is the case, fight your corner, politely but firmly, even if it means pissing off your colleague who always needs to have their way. Chances are, someone will agree with you.
On the other hand, if you are being pulled in different directions by multiple people, make that fact known to them. If Boss A asked you to do something this morning and Boss B asked you to do something else two minutes later, tell A and B that you have conflicting tasks and make them battle it out as to who is more important. (N.B try to be subtle watching this sideshow, popcorn and 3D glasses are not advisable). If nothing else, it’s fun to watch them bicker over who is the most important. You will not please both of them, it is impossible. And letting them know you are in high demand and that they have to tell you which to prioritise is better than saying yes to both and not leaving the office until midnight. And repeat. This is how you end up working 60 hour weeks and crying on Sundays. Don’t be a machine.
Socially, if you have a lot of friends (you popular cat you), chances are something will clash. This is ok. Friends know you have other friends. If they resent this, then they are bad friends. You don’t resent your friends having other friends (or you shouldn’t, shame on you). Be honest, don’t try to rejig your schedule to fit everyone in on the same Saturday. You are not wonder woman and cannot fly. Getting from Leeds to Oxford in one night for two different sets of drinks is not really going to happen. Side note, if you have a magic carpet, this is do-able and you have no excuses.
Someone people are just wrong and you are right
See above. Sometimes you need to stick to your guns, trust your own judgement and believe that the work you are doing is good enough. This may not sit well all of the time with everyone you work with, that’s ok. Better the job be done well than it be mediocre because you relented in order to please everyone.
Similarly, if your friend wants to eat at the Mexican restaurant that you know will cause explosive diarrhoea, do not eat there just because you don’t want to upset her. You are right and she is wrong. The same principle applies if your friend wants to watch Spiderman 3 (unless your aim is to be so bored you seriously consider gnawing off your own arm for something to do).
3. Sometimes it’s best not to know
This one applies more in a social context – if you’re of the tendency to say ‘I would rather know than not know’ then sit down and buckle up: Sometimes it is actually best not to know. This comes with a side order of letting things go.
Over the course of your life you are going to piss people off (even Gandhi pissed people off). And when you do, do you really need to know what that person said about you in the heat of their anger? Think of the things you’ve said about them when you were spitting fire. Did you mean it? Probably not. Would you ever want them to know what was said? Hell fucking no. Because it would hurt them. They probably feel the same, so stop fishing. Even people who love you are not going to like you constantly. Let them not like you without needing to know every detail. In the same way, some people get pissed off and you notice. Don’t badger (and hence increase their pissyness), ask once and if it is important enough, they will tell you why. If it isn’t, they’ll get over it, so let it be their problem. Serves them right for being pissed at something so unimportant they won’t share it.
It is ok to say no
At work, there is a difference between wanting to do a good job and caring about the quality of your work and taking on too much work because you didn’t want to say no and let someone down, less they think ill of you. The reason that you are being asked to do the work is because you are good at it. If you say yes too often, your work will suffer (either because you rush it or, like me, you give up or essential life tasks such as sleeping and eating to complete it) and therefore people will stop asking you to do work. Hence prompting your conclusions that all your work is shit and they must hate you. Boom, you are propelled into a downward spiral of doom. It is ok to say no, you’re swamped. This does not make you a bad person…
…just like with your friends. If you don’t want to, can’t, had a bad week and want to hibernate, feel a cold coming on, still haven’t watched Stranger Things, then it is ok to say no to Friday night drinks. Your friends will understand on this one occasion. Better that than turn up grumpy or not able to join in the conversation about Stranger Things because you haven’t watched it yet. Or get spoilers.
Try to pause, think of yourself instead of constantly worrying over the opinions of others and really consider your motives for saying ‘yes of course’. If it is simply to please that person and will detriment yourself, then take a longer pause and evaluate whether it is something that you need to do (either professionally because this person can fire you, or because they are your friend and they need you) or whether it is just something you feel obligated to do because of your pathological need to please everyone. Just pause and breathe.