This blog is part of my recovery, and I would like it to remain a safe place for me to share parts of myself and my life that people close to me may or may not know. As a result, while I'm not going crazy with privacy settings, I do ask that if you find this on your own and suspect you may know me, please respect my privacy by checking with us before reading any further. This obviously doesn't apply if one of us has given you the link!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Conquering The Need To Please

Anybody who knows me at all, knows that I am, possibly above all other things, a people-pleaser. As a child, it was a necessary part of my survival - as an adult, it was, I believed, the only way I would ever be liked, let alone loved. So for a long time all of my value came from having others like me, from doing and being everything everyone else wanted me to be. I was a chameleon and I wore whatever skin I thought the other person wanted to see.

If (I thought) you wanted someone to listen, that's what I'd do. If (I thought) you wanted comfort, that's what I'd give. If (I thought) you wanted advice, I'd offer it. If (I thought) you wanted to hear you were wonderful, that's what I'd say. Everything came second to that need to please - everything. I would stay up all night to support an acquaintance; give money away to anybody who asked, if they said they needed it; drop everything for everyone.

And it worked. I had a knack for it. I was good at being what everyone else wanted me to be - too good. Somewhere in all of that, I lost who I was. I lost who I wanted me to be. I lost my substance, and all that was left was the need to please everybody else. And I was fine with that because, you see, most people did like me... to a point.

People loved that I would do anything for them. They valued that I would value them so much... but they, for the most part, didn't have a lot of respect for me. Why should they, when I so clearly had no respect for myself?

2008 was the beginning of a turning point. In 2008 I came face to face with the concept that although most (real life) people "liked" me, nobody actually particularly cared about or for me. I was everybody's friend, but nobody counted me as theirs; as far as they were concerned, I was a hanger-on, an amiable and pleasant caricature, but I was not and had never been, any more than that.

Even after I recognised that, though, I didn't connect the dots. I couldn't understand how everybody could like me so much and not actually like me. (If you're confused, perhaps thinking of it as the difference between an acquaintance and a friend may help.)

And even when I did connect the dots, when I finally made the link, I was too afraid to do anything about it. My entire worth as a person hung on whether others liked me; if I started trying to worry about how I felt about things, everyone would see that there was nothing worth liking in me. So I didn't change much. By this stage I'd agreed to do DBT because that was (I thought) what my case manager had wanted for me. I stayed because (I thought) that was what the group coordinator had wanted.

I dropped everything when (I thought) somebody wanted me to or believed they needed me to. Even as I recognised the re-emergence of my self, my needs, my wants... I put them aside for others. And generally not selectively, either; there was a level of hierarchy, but for the most part, anyone who (I thought) wanted something, got it.

And then... something changed. I don't know if it was gradual, sneaking up on me, or if it was fairly sudden, but I do know that something has changed.

I've started to speak out. I don't just tell people what (I think) they want to hear, these days. I tell the truth as I see it - I try to be compassionate and diplomatic about it, but I'm still learning how to balance that with being true to myself. I'm still learning what it means to have a self to be true to.

I'm interested in helping people, in offering more than a virtual snuggle; I want to challenge people because we cannot grow without challenge. I'm not interested in walking on eggshells for the rest of my life. I'm not interested anymore in putting aside everything I need, everything I want, everything I am, to please somebody else.

Unsurprisingly, I'm less liked now.

Surprisingly, I don't mind nearly as much as I thought I would. It still hurts a lot, and it's very hard, still, to say no to my desire to please someone else. I don't always choose to do it, even when I know I 'should'. It's a learning curve, and this is just the beginning of another journey.

I used to think the world would end if I upset others, if I put myself first, if I failed to please someone...

Let me tell you, the world hasn't ended.

Yes, I'm less 'popular' now, but I feel, in some ways, like I am much more loved. People I truly admire -- people who are imperfect but never give up; who are good, kind, thoughtful people who have learned or are learning to respect themselves and put themselves first sometimes; who understand the value of change and challenge; who aren't afraid to give and take -- have noticed the change in me, in a good way. I feel like I have earned something much more valuable to me than mass outward approval - I feel that I have earned, dare I say it?, the respect of people I look up to. And I have earned something else, somehow, too, because I discovered something when I realised how much I have changed.

Not only would I would much rather have the respect and love of five* of those people than be universally liked; I'd rather respect myself than be universally liked, too.

*(I just wanted to put a number here and since I prefer numbers to be in multiples of 5...)

Cheer-leading / Challenge Statements:
It's okay to be proud of myself.
I don't have to be perfect.
I'm an okay person, and choosing to look after myself and my needs first doesn't change that.
I'm not responsible for other peoples' emotions.

Take care of yourselves until next time, and may we all find our own small fences along the way.


  1. it was gradual, imo. i mean, i dunno if the feelings were sudden or not. but the presentation has seemed gradual.
    also, yay.

  2. I know what you mean -- so many of us in the BPD community are natural people pleasers. *sigh* It's a process.

  3. Excellent post - its hard to go out on a limb and just be who you are and let others accept you or not. But I think you are right.. by being the real you rather than an inoffensive, generic, vanilla version of what you think people want you to be you can actually create stronger relationships built on truth and mutual respect. Thanks for sharing!