From Where I Sit – Diagnosis: People Pleaser

“I can only please one person a day

Today’s not your day

And tomorrow doesn’t look good either”

So goes the message on a t-shirt spotted during a mall sidewalk sale. My first reaction was a grin as I thought ‘hey, that’s cute’. On second thought maybe just a wee bit arrogant.

Because I’ll read anything that isn’t nailed down, this sort of thing grabs me. But being a thoughtful (or is that anal?) person I always want to take it one step further. Can’t leave well enough alone, gotta figure out not only the “what” but the “why” as well.

Though the message is funny, the underlying theme is not. It references what Oprah has dubbed the “disease to please”. Women are particularly vulnerable to this malady.

Generations of women, through a bizarre combination of genetics and role modeling, have been stricken with the condition. Victims may be as young as pre-schoolers. In severe and chronic cases, people-pleasing may be the unofficial cause of death.

Girls and women are taught through not-so-subtle cues to put everyone—and I mean everyone—else first. In the beginning the praise, approval and validation we seek comes from parents and teachers. Boyfriends, husbands and men in general are next. Then employers.

We continue to try to win the approval of our peers whether in grade 7 or down the hall in our workplace. And parents are something else again. From 6 to 60, we still want mom and dad to be proud, to acknowledge us, to give the good housekeeping stamp of approval.

In this crazy quest to be validated, we will do almost anything. We will suppress opinions, goals, ambitions. We will change hair color and length. We will dress a certain way. We will take or stay in jobs we hate. We will never say ‘no’ to others because to do so, may really mean saying ‘yes’ to ourselves and what we want. We will stay with the wrong men and make excuses for screwed-up children all for the sake of appearances. We will kill ourselves trying to do and be what society and the community expects of us.

Perhaps most damaging though is the tendency to let others dictate our choices and destiny. We want to keep everyone happy, not make waves, not make a scene. As a result, dreams are postponed. We live vicariously through spouses and children. We don’t do or become the person we were meant to be. We’re so busy taking care of, nurturing, and encouraging others that we’re left tired, bitter, and empty. Not only don’t we come first, often we’re not even on the list.

So today, choose to please yourself first. Take back your courage and your integrity. Say ‘no’. Graciously, firmly, repeatedly. Choose the one or two or twelve things today that would make you feel great. Be true to yourself. And tomorrow, repeat the process. And so on and so on. It’s vital from where I sit.

* Reprinted with permission

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