Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted people to like me. As a shy, awkward child (see above) right through to adulthood, I’ve craved acceptance in whatever superficial form it’s offered.

For you see, I’m a people pleaser, a conformist, an avid fan of not confronting anyone about anything. And so, I’m swayed by the tide of what others want from me. Tormented by thoughts of who I might upset, annoy, anger.

Time after time I’ve written words so directly from my heart the piece could have been entitled “Aortic Valve.” But always, as quickly as those words flooded out, my index finger would be firmly pressed down on the “delete” key and they would retreat to the safety of my own thoughts, away from judgement and opinion and, above all else, disdain.
All because I’ve worried what others will think. Worried it’s not funny enough for the people who enjoy the funny stuff, too “sweary” for my close friends with a strong Christian faith, too graphic for my parents, too badly written for public view, too honest for myself…

I’ve made it to the ripe old age of 33 without grossly offending anyone (unless we count the postman I exposed my left boob to shortly after our youngest daughter was born). And does everyone “like” me? Definitely not. The adage, “You’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea” holds harshly true. Being a people pleaser is an unsolvable equation. A never-ending cycle with no discernible result. A continuum of toil and effort in pursuit of an unachievable goal.

At a recent event at MummyPages HQ in Dublin, myself and my fellow Voices writers were treated to a wonderful talk by Alison Canavan, an author and Wellness Coach.
I’ll admit I was cynical. I don’t do mindfulness and meditation. I do wine, working into the early hours and anxiety medication. But Alison’s talk moved mountains in me.

At one point, Alison had us all put our phone cameras on selfie mode and say “I love you.” I couldn’t do it. I felt angry and stupid but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t say it. Alison suggested for anyone unable to say it, they should say, “You are enough” instead. I just about got those words out but my mind was racing with “You’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough…”
The same deluge of insults attacks my thoughts several times daily.

But then Alison made a comment that will stay with me forever. She said that the most important relationship you’ll have in life is with yourself. Everyone will drift in and out of your life, even your children when they fly the nest. But the one person there from the very start to the very end, is you.

It made me realise that I haven’t been taking very good care of such an important relationship. If I spoke to my husband the way I speak to myself, we’d probably be divorced. If I spoke to my children the way I speak to myself, they would have an emotionally abusive mother. If I spoke to my friends the way I speak to myself they wouldn’t be my friends. Those realisations shocked me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to please everyone around me and the one person I forgot entirely, was me.

I won’t ramble on any longer in case you’re bored (see – the people pleaser in action). I have a long way to go but I’m working on staying true to me more. Listening more to what my gut is telling me (in emotional sense and not just in a “feed me cake” sense) and understanding that making myself happy has to get more of a priority.

There may be sacrifices. People who put up with me when I was trying desperately to please them, mightn’t like me when I’m not.

I will no longer apologise for swearing, drinking wine, not going to church, oversharing, not being to your tastes…because I don’t feel the need to make you like me any longer. I’m just a recovering people pleaser trying desperately to learn the art of not having to validate myself to others.

And so, for now, I’ll just be working on me liking me.

(I want to thank Alison Canavan for her inspiring words last Friday and my sister for all the WhatsApp messages telling me in no uncertain terms to stop moaning and get on with not giving a f**k.)

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3 Comments

  1. Jonny
    18th February 2018 / 9:22 pm

    So familiar and so so true.

  2. The Mummy Bubble
    18th February 2018 / 10:11 pm

    Love how honest this post is Gemma and so beautifully written too. I was once doing some training at work with a very happy, clappy individual. He asked me to list all the things that make me great (god knows why!!) and I couldn’t get beyond I work hard. I just didn’t know what to say, totally speechless. I really related to your words here and I love those words of advice about your relationship with you. I definitely need to be a little kinder to myself. Loved reading this xxx

  3. 19th February 2018 / 9:46 am

    Stopping people pleasing has without doubt been one of the kindness things I have ever done for myself and you will do for you. By the way, I think you are exactly my cup of tea xxx

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