People Pleasing People: No One Wins

“People who,” please people are the unluckiest people in the world, to bastardize a lovely song by Barbara Streisand from about a million years ago (my red-haired high school sweetheart sang this for our senior prom and with whom I took people-pleasing to its fullest extent).

I’m a recovering people pleaser. Whenever I do something out of duty, obligation, or guilt no one is better off for it if deep down inside I wanted to say, “No,” which was very difficult to form that two letter word on my lips for years. I would shape my mouth in the form of a “No” but way too often it would come out as “Yes.”

The people pleaser loses, time, energy, integrity, and a good temperament while wishing they had said “no” but couldn’t feel comfortable doing so.

The person or group or family we are trying to please never really gets to see or know our authentic self which is the backlash given that most people pleasers are dying to be heard and seen by the very people we are always trying to please. What they really get is a “false self” and those who are receiving the pleasing never really knows for sure if the pleaser is genuinely wanting to help or is driven by the compulsion to do the duty that may or may not be ours, fulfilling an obligation that doesn’t want to be fulfilled, or is saying or doing something out of some kind of guilt.

Certainly, we have some obligations and duties we must perform—being a good parent, a loyal and trustworthy partner, seat belts, and masks.

However, more often than not we are doing a good bit of stuff that we may not want to do out of a deep sense of guilt.

People pleasers often act out of contrition for our previous bad behaviors and thoughts. People please as a penance for what we have said or not said. People please as a way of secular redemption for the pains we may have inflicted on others.

In other words, people pleasers, “think” they are guilty. I have written in a previous blog that “guilt is not a feeling; it is a judgement against ourselves. It is often an intellectual and critical by-pass to keep us from being attuned to what we really feel.

I have done this exercise with hundreds of clients over the years. When I say, “When you did so-and-so or said such and such, fill in the blank, what did you really feel?” Very often the retort is, “I felt or still feel guilty.” When I say, “I’m going to take the word guilt out of your vocabulary – now tell me what you “felt,” and the answers are often the following: “I don’t know,” or “angry,” or “sad,” or “hurt,” which are real feelings located in the body.

When we are going to be kind or help, let it be out of simple and honest generosity and out of compassion and love.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Rumi