The Perils of People Pleasing

I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to dispel the people pleasing bug that thrives inside me. I’ve done affirmations in the mirror, prayer, meditation, self-help books, empowering quotes on the fridge, and….well, you get the picture. Friends and family have gently encouraged me to remember that my value does not come from what others think of me, and I agree. My brain agrees that my worth is not determined by others, but my heart tells a different story. I’ve been thinking a lot about how this propensity for validation drives my behavior and I’ve been talking about it in therapy…praying and willing and trying to shift this perspective. I’ve explored the history behind this behavior, the advantages I’ve experienced that have kept me glued to this path. It’s obvious to me that I continue to walk this road of seeking affirmation because there is a benefit, an incentive, a pay-off. I wouldn’t plunge into people pleasing year after year if I wasn’t getting something out of it, either consciously or subconsciously. With this reflection I’ve realized that before I can change, I first must understand and believe how this way of living has ramifications that outweigh the rewards. I’ve been asking myself, “are there negative consequences to this lifestyle that outweigh the benefits?” As I’ve been seeking to understand the pitfalls of this driving desire, I’ve noticed just how ridiculously hazardous it gets for me.

Jerry Seinfeld said that most people’s #1 fear is public speaking, with the fear of dying being #2. That means that if given the choice, most people would choose death over having to give the eulogy. This is how I feel about letting others down. Letting others down = #1 fear. Death = #2 fear.

I choose pain and possible death over upsetting someone else…you think I’m kidding!!

I’ve had reflexology that was so intense I was bruised the next day, but said nothing during the treatment because I didn’t want to hurt the massage therapist’s feelings. I once laid on a massage table that was too short for me (because I am the biggest lady in the room), and rather than speak up about how uncomfortable I was, I just let my legs dangle off the end until they fell asleep. My feet were soooooo relaxed by the end of that memorable spa experience, that I couldn’t walk out of the room due to my numb stubs.

I take dangerous left turns to please others…for the love of God! I am so concerned that the people waiting behind me may become annoyed, that I find myself bolting into traffic. I fly out into the middle lane saying a little prayer that my sacrifice will be worth it, and that all the strangers will be pleased with the choice I’ve made. I can’t bare the thought of someone being irritated by my driving decisions or making someone wait to the point of impatience, so I opt to risk life and limb instead. “What if they think I should’ve gone already and they honk at me!?!?” Oh, the horror!

My sister-in-law recently shared something she read that said, an alarming percentage of those who are choking leave the room full of people and end up in a place alone where they die. I had to admit that I could imagine myself adding to this statistic. I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s meal or good conversation, and I wouldn’t want to make a scene. I can picture myself making a swift exit to avoid being a burden even when the 2 choices on the table are regain breath and life or die from asphyxiation.

I am a chronic apologizer

A few weeks ago, I was pulling out of a parking lot and checked to make sure there wasn’t someone behind me before I stopped to enter an address into my phone. In my peripheral vision I saw a car turn into the parking lot and at the same time I heard a honking. My immediate thought was, “Oh no! what did I do wrong? Who do I owe an apology to?” For a split second I considered gunning it in case I was in the way and inconveniencing someone. I was tentative to look to my left just knowing that I had made a mistake and I was about to meet someone I had angered. Low and behold it was a friend, excitedly waving hello and wanting to know how I was and what I was doing there. As I drove away I couldn’t help but reflect on the knee-jerk reaction my brain has without any information…the voice on repeat that says, “you’re making a mistake,” “you’re upsetting someone,” “you’re wrong.”

It’s a joke in my circle of family and friends that they will inevitably receive an apology text from me after every gathering. As we give our goodbye hugs at the end of a party I often hear, “I don’t want any apology texts tonight or tomorrow Renee’,” and sometimes I will joke and proclaim a blanket “I’m sorry” at the beginning of an evening as to cover my bases upfront. It really has become comical and I can laugh at myself and the ridiculousness of it all, however deep down it’s that same voice that says, “you’re making a mistake,” “you’re upsetting someone,” “you’re wrong,” with an additional “and they’re not going to love you/accept you/be friends with you any longer.” The scariest words I believe are, “If you mess up, they will leave you.”

As I’ve reflected on these moderately embarrassing revelations I’ve come to realize just how unhealthy my desire for approval really is. Putting others happiness and comfortability over my own safety seems a bit (just a tad) unbalanced. I give my extreme examples to make the point that regardless of the “positive” things we’ve come to believe result from people pleasing (i.e. approval, worth, friendship, affirmation, etc.), none of that is worth our spiritual, emotional, and/or physical health.

As I continue to reflect on the results of my people pleasing habits I’m sure this list will grow longer, but as of today, these are the consequences that stand out to me.

7 Consequences of People Pleasing:

  1. Making decisions driven by fear of what others will think will either hold us back from our purpose or thrust us into something we were never made for. When I’m frozen with fear or jumpy with anxiety I must slow down, dig deep, pray for God’s guidance, and take a moment to check in with my heart. I must ask myself who I want to be regardless of the pressure to please.
  2. Joy does not come from other’s approval. Joy comes from leaning into who God designed us to be. Joy comes from tuning into our North star and knowing deep in our soul that we were created worthy, valuable, and beautiful.  When we are seeking approval from others we’ve lost sight of who God says we are.
  3. When we bend to fit other’s visions we lose sight of who we are, and this makes for unhealthy relationships, not just with them, but with ourselves. We cannot be in true authentic relationship if we’re not showing up as our true authentic selves.
  4. The expectations we think others have of us are often expectations we’ve created for ourselves. We may attribute the pressures we feel to someone on the outside, when in actuality the pressure is building from the inside based on our false assumptions of what others are thinking.
  5. Self-criticism and chronic apologizing is a flag that there’s something deeper going on. As I’ve engaged in therapy I’ve met a little girl, a teenage girl, and a young woman living within me, who all believe there was something wrong with them…that if they weren’t perfect, then there would be heartbreak. These parts of us need our empathy, our comfort, our encouragement that they are safe and loved and enough.
  6. It’s exhausting to constantly be on alert for what everyone else thinks. It takes an incredible amount of energy to try and please everyone because it’s IMPOSSIBLE. A mentor once shared a quote with me that says, “the only sure way to fail is to try to please everyone.” Living for others is a prison of constant disappointment as every person is unique in their needs, wants, and desires, and those needs, wants, and desires can change like the wind.
  7. People pleasing steals our health (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually). The weight of wanting to be liked has me driving like Thelma and Louise, enduring torture at the spa, conjuring up reasons my friends and family must be mad at me, and possibly a future death by choking. Even without dramatic stories like these, trying to please others is a stressor that gnaws at our well-being, and keeps us from fulfilling our potential and being true to who we are.

If your examples of people pleasing are not as extreme as mine then congratulations, as you are a safer driver, and probably walk away from massage with feeling in your legs and glowing/unblemished skin. However, if this desire ever rises up in you (at any level), then I want to encourage you to consider the pressure it creates in your life and how the unfavorable consequences outweigh the gains. I want to assure you that you matter. I want to embolden you to consider who you are in God’s eyes. I want to incite you to believe that your joyful, fulfilling, soulful purpose is within you and your beautiful heart….not out there in the world’s opinion of you. I pray we can continue to move towards who we are meant to be and let the rest fall away.  

8 Lessons I Learned From My 2 Year Old

Parenting is a never-ending syllabus of valuable lessons. There are lessons in resilience, in patience, in the paradox of love and anger, in mindfulness and presence, in creativity, in what exhaustion does to the brain, the mood, the marriage 🙂

I had not anticipated what great teachers my kids would be, and although they don’t set out to teach, I am always learning.

When my son was 2 years old he was doing his very best to patiently wait for his older cousin Brayden after a basketball game. I use the word “patiently” from a toddler’s perspective, as he was running the length of the gym, sliding feet first into the mirrored walls on each side, and then licking said mirrors, all while laughing hysterically.

Waiting patiently

Then, sweet Isaac spied his favorite thing….older kids doing something without him (how dare they)! Isaac is drawn to older kids like a moth to a flame, desiring to do everything they do regardless of how complicated or dangerous the activity might be. A 4 y/o boy and 6 y/o girl were playing a game of tag, and Isaac immediately began his attempt to keep up, running as quickly as his little legs would carry him. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored and was in no way a part of their game. It took a few minutes before the boy finally acknowledged Isaac. He pointed his finger at my son’s chest and said, “we’re not playing with you. It’s just me and her playing…not you!” I watched from afar as Isaac tried to understand what he was being told. The boy attempted to confirm that Isaac had understood the limits he had just set. He stopped pointing his finger and made the fatal mistake of raising both arms in a shrug to say, “ok? Get it? Understand?” This was the moment Isaac decided that this boy’s shrug was actually an invitation for a hug. Isaac gave both kids an excited squeeze as if they had just nominated him President of their exclusive, “We’re Older and Bigger and Play Better Games Than You” club. Within minutes, the hearts of the older kids visibly softened as they began to make room for Isaac in their play. The boy took Isaac by the hand, guided him to “base” and then taught him how to tag. My sweet son decided that tagging should be hugging instead, which they graciously tolerated. Even when Isaac began tagging his own reflection in the mirror, they laughed with him and then patiently redirected him to their game. By the end of the evening these 3 beautiful children were friends. My heart melted as I watched this loving interaction and I was struck at how 3 young children had innocently illustrated the power of loving-acceptance and kindness. I couldn’t help but think of my own life and the times I have reacted to others in a way that wasn’t at all what I hope to model for my son. I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve recoiled at someone’s perceived harshness without considering that maybe I was interpreting their actions unfairly and without context. I couldn’t help but watch these kiddos and consider how one kind gesture in the face of possible rejection can lead to openness and belonging. 

Watching these sweet littles taught me:

  1. When we judge, we lose the opportunity to forge new friendships.
  2. We can be loved through and forgiven for our misguided behaviors,  and we have the opportunity to do the same for others.
  3. Inviting someone “different” into our world can teach us a new way to approach, view, lean into life, and this can bring more joy, more freedom, more friendship, more love, more hugs!
  4. Loving someone who has hurt us can heal more than one heart.
  5. We must believe we’re worthy before expecting others to believe the same.
  6. When we are vulnerable we find ourselves loving others before judging them.
  7. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. It’s courageous to love those who hurt us.
  8. When we love ourselves we can receive and accept love from others.

I’ve hoped to model for my son a love for others that is fearless and authentic and vulnerable, but as I watched that evening unfold, I realized that these qualities already live and breathe in young children. They don’t need adults to demonstrate these virtues, they need us to foster and protect them, as they face the hurts and disappointments that come with growing older. What I thought was my responsibility to teach my son, was actually a lesson I needed to learn from him.

The next time I’m tempted to judge someone, I’ll think of these 3 children and remain open to experiencing a new (and possibly more joyful) way of approaching life. And, the next time someone tells me that I don’t belong, I’ll remember that the most appropriate response is to love them anyway!

Isaac with his cousin after making new friends

The Importance of Being Ourselves

Have you ever admired someone so much that you trip over your words, behave in strange ways, and ultimately embarrass yourself while trying to be the person you THINK they want you to be? Have you ever looked up to someone with such reverence that you actually avoided being around them because you were afraid you might make a bad impression? Maybe you’ve tried too hard and walked away feeling inauthentic and even silly? If not, how lovely for you! 🙂 If so, then I want to tell you that you’re not alone and I want to encourage us all to be true to who we are regardless of our proximity to those we’ve placed on a pedestal.

My neurologist is a brilliant and lovely woman in her 30’s. Being her patient has me believing that I still have the opportunity to make something of myself, and that if I spend enough time with her I will acquire some of her success through osmosis. Early on in my treatment I was confident that one day we would tour the nation sharing her knowledge and my story while dramatically changing lives. (In an effort to be completely transparent about the level of my delusional day-dreaming, I must admit that I also believe if I ever met Steve Nash, Jewel, Brene’ Brown, or Jen Hatmaker, we would be BFFs).

Shortly after my future touring partner had her first baby, I went in for a quarterly appointment and had a bit of a cough. I spent the entire appointment feeling guilty that I was exposing her to my cold. I worried that my germs would be carried home to her newborn, and that in turn, the rapport we needed to establish prior to traveling the country with our transformative message would be hindered. The appointment was brief, and as she walked me out and shook my hand, I left her with this sound advice, “make sure you wash your hands!” Like a Jewish mother frantically calling her adult son on a Saturday afternoon insisting that he floss immediately because gum disease runs in the family or a Christian father telling his 30-something divorced daughter that no man will buy the cow if he can get the milk for free, I unnecessarily and unabashedly advised my doctor to wash her hands!

Whatever would she do without me and my sageness?

I was so embarrassed by my unnecessary counsel that at the next appointment (weeks later) I brought up the exchange and apologized for being thoughtlessly overbearing. Then, with all the accountability I could muster, I blamed my bossiness on my childhood. I explained, (in my defense) that I was the only girl of 4 children, and with 2 brothers 11 and 13 years older than me, I grew up with a lot of disciplinarians at home. Consequently, I turned to “leading” (or what others might unkindly and more accurately call bossing) the neighborhood kids. I’m told that I would direct everyone to sit in a line and then proceed to “teach” them. I can only imagine that these lessons included tips on how to avoid spankings, how to secretly feed your vegetables to the dog, and what to do when your parents threaten to “pull over the car!” After my sincere apology and lengthy justification, she assured me that she didn’t think a thing of it. Of course I knew the truth…I was convinced she had gone home that night and laughed with her husband about her “astute” patient who brilliantly encouraged her to wash her hands. I imagine their conversation snowballed into, “What would I have done without her keen instruction? I bet she counsels her pastor to pray, directs her therapist to meditate, and cautions her personal trainer to stay hydrated!”

As I received my treatment, I thought long and hard about how I could make light of our last encounter and “totally redeem myself!” This time, as my lovely doctor walked me out and shook my hand, I let my wit loose on her and said in what I think might’ve been an overly sultry voice, “and you can do whatever you want with your hands.”

In an effort to vindicate myself, I managed to unintentionally hit on my neurologist. Who does that!? Well….I do, obviously!

This is a light-hearted example, but what I’ve learned is that it rarely plays out well when we try to live up to the self-inflicted pressures of fitting in, impressing others, or trying to belong. We can avoid a lot of discomfort by resting in who we are and loving who we were made to be. As I allow myself to be the quirky, “helpful,” and sometimes sultry (ha) person that I am, I will build a community with people who appreciate those traits and allow me to lean in while fully belonging.

You are uniquely made and made to be you. You will experience true fellowship when you stop striving and start being. The impression you leave with your authentic self is so much more beautiful than the image you create when trying to impress.

Be you! You are enough!