For most of my life, I thought of myself as a people pleaser.
I spent many years perfecting my people pleasing skills - saying yes at work because I thought I should, accepting and extending social invitations that my heart wasn’t really in and holding back from speaking my truth in many situations where I thought I was sparing someone else’s feelings. I thought that feeling good about what I did and who I was was dependent on the approval of others. I thought that personal success depended on being recognised by another for my success.
It’s not surprising. We are taught to be people pleasers from a very young age.
If you grew up in the 80s, you might have had your hand slapped at school for simply voicing an observation that a teacher didn’t like to hear. You quickly learned to behave in a way that had her not slap your had any more. ‘Don’t make her angry’, ‘Say the kind of things she likes you to say’.
You may have been taught to apologise for things you have done with the purest heart possible, but because of how they were interpreted by someone else, it was perceived that you had hurt someone else’s feelings. ‘Apologise!’ First, as very young child, you were confused but then you learned how it works - it isn’t what you intend that matters, it’s how your behaviour is perceived and you quickly self corrected, silenced your truth, curated your behaviour so as to avoid offense. You learned that you are responsible for causing another to feel how they do. Conversely, we’ve also been taught that other people’s behaviours and actions cause us to feel a particular way. That we have an expectation of what others should do or say to cause us to feel comfortable or pleased.
We’ve got it completely wrong.
Other people don’t cause us to feel a particular way, ever. How we feel in any situation is determined by our thoughts about the situation.
Have you ever said yes to doing something that you really didn’t want to do because you thought the person you were it doing for would acknowledge you, appreciate you, promote you, include you…?
This is manipulation. You were dishonest. You said yes because you thought that you could get the person making the request to feel a particular way about you, which would help you get what you want.
Maybe you said yes to taking on another engagement that you really don’t have capacity for. You said yes because you wanted your Partner to appreciate your commitment because ultimately you want her to nominate you for promotion in the next round of nominations.
But why do you want the promotion? Maybe you want to feel successful and accomplished or recognised and rewarded. Maybe the next promotion round is the one where you get the company car and the title on your business card that’s the one you really think needs to be under your name.
Maybe you offer to tag team with your husband on taking care of the kids on Saturday morning, because you hope that if you do so, he will enjoy having some time to himself and that he will appreciate you. You will get to feel appreciated and then you get to go out with the girls on Saturday night with a clean conscience. You feel appreciated and deserving.
What’s wild is, it isn’t the promotion, the car, the title or what your husband says about you that makes you feel successful, appreciated or deserving. It’s your thoughts about those things that create the feelings you are chasing. And your thoughts are completely optional, completely in your control.
We only want anything because of how we think it will make us feel. Feeling successful or appreciated or however it is you want to feel is available to you today.
You decide how you want to show up at work today and plan out your day. You hold yourself to account for sticking to that plan without getting distracted on the internet, without believing your own excuses as to why you should procrastinate, and you get to feel successful this evening. Maybe you say yes to something additional but because you want to experience that opportunity presents, because you love the challenge and it’s completely aligned with who you would like to be when you are operating as your best professional self or because you genuinely care about your colleague who has asked for your help and you know she’s struggling, you want to help her out because that’s the kind of person you are. And you like that person.
You decide how you want to show up as a parent today and you do that. You don’t need your husband to tell you you’re an amazing parent for you to believe that because you will already know it. You’ve been the parent you want to be all day long, even when that meant you had some work to do about what it meant to be down on the floor playing Playmobil when you would rather have been reading your book - you chose being the person you wanted to be and created the feelings you wanted to have for yourself. Your husband’s appreciation of how you parent is lovely to hear but it’s nothing on the appreciation you feel for yourself when you’ve really been the intentional, deliberate parent you wanted to be. And yes, do tag team on a Saturday morning if you both decide you want that time to yourself, or take the kids out so he can sleep longer - because you want to, not because you need him to think a particular way about you, so that you can get to think something on those lines for yourself.
People pleasing and manipulation is the long way round getting to feel how it is we really want to feel.
As you probably already know, it almost always doesn’t always work out. Maybe your boss doesn’t appreciate your yeses any more because she expects them now, you’ve taught her to - by always saying yes. Maybe your husband wasn’t delightedly appreciative when you arrived home with the kids because he was right in the middle of something and didn’t have time to turn the delight on when you came in the door, so you interpreted him as unappreciative and had a fight about that.
Free others up of the expectation to create those feelings for you and free yourself of the misery, disappointment and annoyance that comes from realising that other people are really not that great, as well as very inconsistent in creating the feelings you want to have for yourself.
You can create the exact feelings you want to have, consistently for yourself, starting right now by dropping your excuses and starting to live exactly as you want to and expect yourself to.