The truth about people pleasing

The 'excuse' of people pleasing
The ‘excuse’ of people pleasing

People pleasing is said to be one of the character traits in many people suffering from unhealthy habits. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. Being nice and helpful to others is a good thing, as long is it feels right.  The truth is that often we feel just the opposite: fear, anger and frustration. Why is this and what can we do about it.

Elsewhere in my posts I have explained how we create an image of ourselves as a result of what is taught to us by our parents, teachers, family members and leaders, in church or elsewhere. With these “lessons” come expectations, both imposed upon us by others and by ourselves. We are taught to be beautiful, skinny, intelligent, male, female, succesful, winners, rich, and so on.  We are even taught and told what the definitions and criteria of beauty, of success, of status, of intelligence and of gender are.

So, we start playing roles and wearing masks in an effort to meet these expectations of being the perfect housewife, husband, colleague, son in law, business man, student, etc.

We pretend to be what we are not. We create multiple identities of ourselves in function of the circumstances and situations we are in: at home, when visiting our in-laws, at work, in public, in our car, in meetings, with our partners and our children.

We become masters in switching roles and changing the masks we feel we need to play or wear to meet the “requirements”. And to do so we even resort to lies, twist the truth and if all else fails, we run and move somewhere else to do the same thing all over again.

This can lead to insane situations where our actions in one role are very likely to clash with our behavior in another, and yet, we are one and the same person. The alcoholic executive, the husband who is having an affair, the homosexual football player, etc. etc.

When we make choices we tend to do this in line with the identity we think we need in a specific situation.  When our boss asks us to fire an employee whom we know is doing a great job, we are likely to go ahead and say “OK”, even when in our hearts we know it is anything but OK. When our commanding officer orders us to shoot to destroy, we obey. When our alcoholic partner is sick the next morning and asks us to call in sick at work for him or her, we often do. Why, because it is in line with the role we play, it is according to the expectations we feel we need to meet.

In the end this means that all we are doing most of the time is creating the illusion of a reality for the identities we have created for ourselves. We convince ourselves and we actually believe in the reality of these illusions.

And since illusions are obviously not real, with this come the inevitable guilt, fear and frustration and the self loathing.