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.  

Hope In Times of Uncertainty

Have you ever struggled with self-doubt? Have you ever approached an ending or a beginning and wondered, “how did I get here?” Have you ever felt hopeless in changing the trajectory of your life? Have you ever taken inventory of your environment and thought, “this is not how I imagined it would be?” Do you ever lay awake at night asking, “Is this where I belong? Am I on the path that fulfills my purpose?” Have you ever struggled to give yourself grace in your circumstance? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone and there is hope my friend. A new day is coming.  

This past week I’ve been feeling stuck. Struggling with purpose. Searching for meaning. I’ve felt lost with an ache in my soul that fears it’s chasing something that doesn’t want to be chased. There’s a voice telling me I’ve run out of ideas, I have no more worthwhile thoughts to share, nothing left to say or write. This has me feeling dispirited and exasperated with myself for not being more thoughtful and creative, for not running deeper and longer. The voice is saying, “you have nothing to offer and quite frankly, you never did!”

I’m not sure where these feelings stem from. It could be that I turn 40 this year. It could be that we’re in the season of all the hard anniversaries that bring back the grief of losing my brother before his time. It could be that I truly need a shift in my life and quite a bit more therapy. It could be (and probably is) a combination of all these things. One thing I know for sure is that these are lies from an enemy that is doing his very best to tear me from the inside out with distortion and deceit. The truth is that we are all wonderful and beautiful creations with purpose and callings that we are uniquely equipped to fulfill.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 ESV

I heard a timely message on Easter Sunday that struck a chord in me. It was the simple reminder that His love brings resurrection. The love of Jesus brings life! When we are feeling lost, lonely, worthless, hopeless, small, insignificant, we can look to the promises of Jesus for light and life, hope and joy, restoration and resurrection. He breathes a new spirit into our tired hearts and worn out souls.

This message reminded me of my own Jesus-breathed renewal. I laid in chronic pain for months, depending on others to care for me and my newborn son, most days believing that my life as I knew it was over. And yet, there came a day when I rose from my bed and the pain fell away. There was a day that I woke up and with the arms of Jesus wrapped firmly around me I slowly re-entered life. Jesus carried me through the shadows of pain and defeat into the glow of victory. I walked hand in hand with Jesus into a new morning of hope and joy and I knew I had been given a second chance at life. I embraced a gratitude for life at a depth and width I had never experienced in all my 33 years. This was my new becoming. In that moment I celebrated the joy that comes with knowing my Father will never leave me, that he is always faithful, that he loves me unconditionally, and that his plans for me are always good. I was a new woman in Christ. I embraced life with a new fervor. I felt a peace and strength and confidence in him that I had never before experienced. He had resurrected my heart and spirit and nothing would ever be the same. 

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My hopeless place. My storm.

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My resurrected place. My new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Easter message was a timely reminder that there is hope in each new day. A timely reminder that this broken place we may find ourselves in today is only a small moment in time on our journey with the God of love. A timely reminder that he is a God of new beginnings and he continues to lay a path before us, whether we see it or not. A timely reminder that we are all precious in his eyes, adored by our creator, and made for a great love and abundant life in him and him in us!

If you are hearing a voice that says, you’re not where you should be, a voice that doubts you have what it takes, a voice that says you’re not enough, a voice that says you’ll never find your path or purpose, a voice that calls you a failure and tells you that your circumstance is hopeless, I want you to know and believe that voice is a liar…The Liar. You are on a journey with peaks and valleys, midnights and mornings and it is the journey with Jesus that brings you wisdom and strength. It is the journey that equips you to shine love and light into the lives of those around you. It is the journey that brings you into a new morning and a new life. You were created for wholeness and he will make you whole. Have hope my friend, there is a new day dawning! 

You are enough! You are worthy! You are loved!

 

Thirty Minute Therapy

I’ve been in and out of therapy since high school and with the extensive internal work I’ve done, I recognize pretty quickly when it’s time to go back. I feel my irritability rising and my joy plummeting. I hear my self-talk turning against me. I see my days through a shadowed lense and I know it’s time. I identified these patterns a few months back, but had to put off making an appointment due to extensive work travel and financial shifts in our household.

I finally made an appointment two weeks ago with a brand new therapist and yesterday was the day. I woke up expectant. I felt energized knowing that I was about to pursue something that would lead to personal growth, self-reflection, forward progress, and overall evolvement. I love therapy!

The day had come and I was prepared for my appointment. As I ran out the door, I shoved a little yellow sticky note into my purse with a list of things I wanted to address while in therapy:

  • Grief and anxiety triggers
  • Career path and purpose for my life
  • Relationship with my son
  • Self-esteem and confidence
  • People pleasing

As a full-time working mom, I give myself enthusiastic mental hi-fives when I arrive anywhere on time. I was 2 minutes early! Yay me! I walked into the office at 10:28am feeling confident that I was about to begin a journey of self-discovery and healing. Just moments after I reached the front desk, the therapist came around the corner. I eagerly introduced myself, but immediately felt hesitation from her. She shook my hand, while studying me quizzically and said, “weeelllll, it’s going to be a veeerrry short session because your appointment was at 10am.” And that, ladies and gentleman, is when everything shifted.

The air was sucked out of the room, I instantly felt heat travel from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, color flooded my cheeks, and I began to sweat. I was frantically searching for words that would explain this mishap and convince her that I’m not irresponsible and undependable. I immediately convinced myself that I was being deservedly judged and that this woman disliked me before we even met. As we walked back to her office I was still stuttering through apologies and promises that it would never happen again. I even declared obvious untruths such as, “this never happens!” and “I never do this!” Obviously, it does happen! Obviously, I do this! My hope and excitement for transformation just minutes earlier were completely replaced with self-loathing and shame.

For the first 15 minutes of our session she explained Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and what I could expect as we move through the process. I did not hear one word! As she was explaining how we would address my grief triggers, my inner dialogue was shouting loud and fast. The monologue inside my head was saying with disgust, “she already doesn’t respect you, you’re going to have to find another therapist, there’s no way this is going to work, she’s judging you and thinks you’re irresponsible, obviously you ARE irresponsible, how could you get this wrong?, what is wrong with you?, if you can’t even get a time right on your calendar she must think you’re an idiot, it’s your fault this isn’t going to work, now you’re going to have to find another therapist and start this entire process over, you are such a disappointment, you let others down, you let yourself down!!!!” and on and on and on. I could see her lips moving, and catch a few words here and there, but for the life of me I could not focus on what she was saying. Her voice had no chance of drowning out the self-shaming roar inside my head.

And then (thank the Good Lord), I had a moment of clarity!

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my little yellow sticky note sitting in my purse, and I remembered that 2 of the items listed were to address my self-esteem/confidence and people pleasing.

That brief visual prompted me to consider: What if this is the beginning of my therapy? What if this is my opportunity to grow? What if I choose the hard thing and stay with this therapist instead of running away because my pride is injured and I’ve decided she hates me? What if I silence that lying voice set on repeat by breaking the script and deciding that I am allowed to make mistakes without beating myself up? That I am allowed to be human. Allowed to disappoint someone and still be respected. Allowed to confidently pursue friendships and professional relationships even with all my flaws fully in tact. Allowed to move forward after a failure without shame digging it’s nails in. Allowed to be imperfect. Allowed to be me even if it means I can’t please all people all the time. What if this veerrry short session ended in a verrry valuable lesson? What if I decided to lean into the idea that I am likable, I am loveable, I am worthy, and simultaneously, I am a flawed human!

I decided right then and there that I was not going to look for another therapist. I decided right then and there that this was simply an eye-opening example of how often I’m controlled by the intense desire to please other people. I decided right then and there that moving forward with this therapist would mean I would have to forgive myself and begin embracing the idea that relationships can and do move forward even after I’ve disappointed someone. 

After I made this decision I was instantly able to tune into what she was saying. I became present and engaged. Soon, I left the office feeling like I had quietly conquered something inside me that had attempted to sabotage my efforts to move towards health and healing, growth and transformation, hope and joy. I left feeling proud that I didn’t allow shame to chase me away from something I knew my heart and soul needed.

I want to encourage everyone reading this to join me in paying attention to what that critical voice is saying and how it may be holding you back. Let us acknowledge that this voice developed somewhere in our past as a way to protect us, therefore there is no need to criticize or judge ourselves for its existence. Next, let us make bold new choices based on the present moment to move forward with self-love, confidence, and freedom.

We are wonderfully and beautifully made. We are flawed, we are human, we are loved. 

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!