People Pleasers: Managing Conflicting Priorities

Posted at 22:12pm on 5th November 2008

Trying to please everybody frequently results in pleasing nobody – least of all yourself. The old maxim: You can please all of the people some of the time; some of the people all of the time; but you can’t please all of the people all of the time is one, I suspect, that must be familiar to many politicians, and not a few parents.

But what if you’re someone who seems to have an inbuilt urge to please all of the people all of the time – and you have what’s termed a people pleaser personality? What if you’re the firstborn child – the eldest child in the family – and other people have expectations of you that they don’t have of other family members? What if you’re none of those things, but simply believe that everyone – everyone except you, that is – has a right to expect love and respect?

OUR STATEMENT OF PRIORITIES

If we find ourselves constantly under pressure from the demands of others, then for our own sakes and the comfort and dignity of those we love, we need to establish, for ourselves, a statement of priorities. And to do that, we need to understand certain things:

  • Accept that there’s no pleasing some people
  • You need to look after Number One
  • Expect respect – but don’t be surprised if you don’t get it

THERE’S NO PLEASING SOME PEOPLE

Some years ago I wrote a book titled Healed Within – the biography of a young woman who was struck down in her prime but who nevertheless learned to live life to the full in a wheelchair. As part of my research I spoke to others who were disabled, and to their carers. The message that came across loud and clear was this: no matter how ‘independent’ or appreciative the patient, no matter how kind and considerate the carer, neither can ever say of the other, that he or she has done enough. ‘The fact is,’ said one woman, ‘the person you’re caring for expects the world to revolve around them. They have to, for survival.’

There's a lesson there for those of us who are people pleasers. Because what is true for the physically disabled and mentally impaired is true, too, for people who suffer emotional myopia. They are simply too blind, too self-centred, and too demanding to notice, let alone acknowledge or appreciate, what others are doing for them.

EMOTIONAL MYOPIA

I remember being told, many years ago, of a woman whose husband had been raised in what was then part of the British Empire. Used to servants who were on hand to do his every bidding, he extended this expectation into his marriage. For years his wife met his every need, his every whim, in the mistaken belief that to do otherwise would be un-loving.

Then one day, after hearing someone speak, or perhaps through reading a book, she woke up to the fact that what she was doing was condoning his bad behaviour: call it selfishness, laziness, what you will. ‘I knew then,’ she said, ‘that to go on picking up his clothes from the floor, putting away his discarded shoes, and replacing everything he pulled from the cupboards in an effort to find one item, was not the loving thing to do. Because I was condemning him to a life of childishness. My actions were actually preventing him from growing up.’

DON'T CONDONE SELFISHNESS IN OTHERS

Obviously, those more vulnerable than ourselves deserve all the love and respect we can give them. But for the average, able-bodied adult like this man, we need to take care that we are not condoning and encouraging their selfishness. So how can this be done?

  • Establish, in your own mind, those chores that you do because you CHOOSE to do them, and what you do because it’s expected of you, and you want to please.
  • You may want to talk it through with someone whose values you trust.
  • It may be helpful to write down what you will and won’t do in the future and your reasons for reaching these conclusions.
  • Talk with (not at) the person in question to let them know what you’ve decided.
  • Choose a quiet time of day to do this, when neither you nor the other person is busy, tired or distracted.
  • Be firm, without being adversarial.
  • Be true to yourself, without being self-righteous, self-pitying, filled with false guilt, or caving in.

Finally, don’t put off taking a stand. You will only make it harder for yourself and for others.

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