“The disease to please is an insidious habit that will turn you into a lying human bag of resentment.” – Sasha Heinz, PhD
The Disease to Please
People pleasers. We know them. We love them. Maybe we are them. We so often think of our selflessness as a sort of altruistic sacrifice. Being at someone’s beck and call becomes something that we can rest our laurels on. “Oh, I’m the [employee, colleague, friend, sister, father] that’s always there.” It becomes a part of our definition of self. What we tend to find is that when we’re pleasing people (when we’re doing things for other people to like us or promote us or give us some recognition), we’re doing things out of a love of self. We’re doing tasks and duties out of a deep-seated desire to be loved and appreciated for what we can do. And these seemingly harmless “selfless” acts become more about how we’re viewed than they do about helping the other person. We become so wrapped up in how others perceive us, that we’re unable to say “no” for fear of rejection and failure. And then we wonder why our boss is treating us like a doormat and our coworkers won’t stop asking us for “little” favors. So what actionable steps can we take today to stop doormat syndrome and start living like the unapologetic badasses we are?
For starters, we need to understand where this desire to people please comes from. It’s quite simple. Think Pavlov. You do something kind for someone. They respond positively. You become conditioned to expect that response. It’s a case of classical conditioning. So now you get into this loop of expecting a reward every time you do something nice, and that feeling is pretty addicting. It’s also buried somewhere deep in that subconscious of yours. Psychologist Emma Kenny tells Cosmopolitan, “It’s worrying because the whole point of being happy is about being happy in your moment, with your life, with your truth. If you believe that other people’s opinions are facts, your esteem will be low, your confidence will be terrible, and you’ll constantly seek approval.” That’s not to say that every time you do something out of the goodness of your heart, you’re expecting something in return. However, if you find that you’re someone that consistently is going out of your way to say yes to things that you don’t really want to say yes to, it’s most likely that you’re overcompensating for the areas of your life where you don’t feel loved or appreciated. I once spoke with a comedian about doing my standup, and he said, “You better hope you’re not any good. Because if you’re any good, you’ll never want to stop.” That feeling of being appreciated, loved, adored, and need is universal. To combat the expectation of getting something in return for doing something, you need to be mindful of it.
Do you. Once you’re mindful of this desire to people please and feel loved, wanted, or appreciated, you can begin to see what areas of your life need tending to. As we’ve said before, it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. We cannot help others if we haven’t helped ourselves. Stop neglecting you. What are your wants, your needs, your desires? Fulfill those first.
Communicate. If you need a hiatus from that colleague that keeps hassling you like you’re their own personal task rabbit, tell them. Communicating that you need time for yourself or that you don’t want to do a favor is entirely okay. Open communication sets boundaries. Boundaries help with resentment. Resentment comes when we have all of these unsaid things about how we’re feeling, but we never communicate them because, for the people pleaser, it’s easier to just oblige. Communication is hard, but always wearing yourself out for the sake of others is harder.
Prioritize. There are certain people in your life that need you to consistently be there (i.e., your newborn, your spouse, your elderly parents). Give to them first and try to do so without expectation. See how that changes the way you serve them. If you have more left to give after, go for it. But don’t do it at the expense of taking care of yourself.
Embrace negativity. Accept that some people are going to be unhappy with you when you say no. That has so much less to do with how they feel about you and so much more to do with how they feel about themselves. Let them hate you, talk about you behind your back, and go full Regina George. That’s their prerogative. Just like yours is to not let that negative energy run interference. It’s not easy. No one enjoys being disliked, but those kinds of people are always going to be in your circle – you can’t let them run your life.
Once you’ve accepted that you’ve had enough, and you can deal with the consequences (and benefits) of open communication, you can begin to live your truth fully. Enjoy no longer being a doormat. Remember, you always have the choice to say “yes” or “no”. Choose wisely.