Editor’s Note: Problems with people pleasing

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always strived to be a people-pleaser.

It’s an aspect about myself that I’ve accepted without much critical thought or question, even if it means that I expend more mental energy, effort and time than I can realistically deliver in a given day.

I’ve only just started to see how detrimental this quality can be on my mental health and my overall wellbeing, and more often than not, I don’t end up any happier or more fulfilled because of it. It’s usually quite the opposite.

I excessively apologize, even if something isn’t my fault. And if someone is upset, I have adopted the tendency to unnecessarily take on the responsibility of other people’s feelings.  My anxiety, coupled with my crippling fear of people thinking any less of me – or, God forbid, being mad at me – has caused me to be a “yes man” more often than not.   

Somewhere along the way, I seemed to blur the meanings of kindness and people-pleasing together, and I’ve absorbed the notion that saying “no” equates meanness and being involved in any kind of confrontation that may arise in my life will automatically label me as an uncaring bitch.

I so desperately want to be seen as a nice person that I’ve had to work incredibly hard at gaining back the baseline of respect from people that I know I deserve.

In my professional and personal relationships, it doesn’t do me any favours to present myself as the ever-agreeable, nonchalant presence who isn’t honest when faced with situations that require criticism — and could potentially turn into conflict as a result.

I would obsess over sounding just “right” in emails — never wanting to give the impression that I’m being too blunt, direct or unapproachable.

If you want messages littered with exclamation points, “sorry to bother yous” and happy faces, well, I’m your gal.

But I eventually started to realize that this ultimately hurts me more than it makes people like me.

It’s this attitude that contributed to my silence in relationships and friendships where I was unhappy or wanted to voice my concerns about something, but opted to keep my feelings to myself.

I needed to be perceived as easygoing and likeable, and deluded myself into thinking that this was the way to do it.

I’ve finally started to understand the difference between being a genuinely kind human being — which I will always strive to be — and a pushover.

I don’t have to be a doormat to be nice to someone and I don’t have to be an ogre to stand behind my standards or beliefs either.

Putting reasonable boundaries in place, giving myself time to consider a request before automatically saying “yes” to it and recognizing that I can be empathetic and assertive without having to sacrifice one or the other, are techniques that I’m starting to implement.

The leadership roles I’ve been in over the past few years have certainly put this mentality into perspective, and I’m finally beginning to learn how to better adapt to situations where my first impulse is to go along with everyone else just to keep the peace.

I probably won’t ever meet the directional standards of Miranda Priestly, but there’s certainly some merit to her management style and method of direction.

To simplify this into one, succinct message: you can be a nice person who doesn’t take any shit.

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