Sometimes, we all like to feel that our words or actions are making someone else feel good. That other person is often important or special to us—a friend, family member, significant other or business contact. And, if you’re female, society seems to especially encourage you to nurture and care for others. However, you need to be very careful that pleasing others doesn’t become an automatic choice, and that you don’t inadvertently harm yourself in the process. Some examples:
The Pleasing #1: Dina is 18 years old, sociable, smart and pretty. One night, she went on a movie date with Alec. They had talked for a couple of weeks, and he seemed like a nice guy. During the movie, Alec quickly started being aggressively physical with Dina. She didn’t want him to do that, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She tried to joke it off and laughingly push him away. He told her to relax, and mocked her for trying to pay attention to the movie. When they left, Dina got in the front seat of the car, and Alec pulled her to the back. Dina didn’t want to get in the back, but also didn’t want him to be upset. She didn’t say yes, and didn’t say no, but allowed him to quickly, and without any pretense of affection, have sex with her. Dina didn’t want to have sex with him, but also didn’t want to upset him or create an awkward situation. When she felt increasingly uncomfortable, she made a mild protest, but continued to please Alec, rather than taking care of herself. The next day, Alec sent Dina raunchy explicit texts, and she responded similarly, not wanting to be rude to him, until her terrible feelings about the incident became overwhelming, and she talked to her friend who told her to end the contact.
The Peril #1: In this example, Dina’s decision to please Alec was very much at her own expense. Besides the obvious physical risks, Dina had a terrible experience, and ended up feeling sad, dirty, ashamed and confused. In this particular example, the next-day texts also open up the possibility of widespread knowledge of the incident and subsequent social consequences.
The Pleasing #2: Rachel is 45 years old, and a stay-at-home mom to her two young children. Twenty years ago, Rachel was spending many of her hours focusing on building a promising career. She met her husband, fell in love and married him. Rachel wanted children, but not right away. Her husband wanted them right away. Wanting to make her new husband happy, Rachel got pregnant….and then got pregnant again. Rachel’s husband wanted her to stay home full time, so she let him talk her into it, though she would have preferred to return to work at some point. One day, Rachel’s husband found a fixer-upper house in a neighborhood that Rachel hated. Because she wanted to make him happy and let him pursue the project of his dreams, she pretended to be happy about the house. So now, Rachel spends much of her time trying to complete projects around a house that she hates, while her children are at school and her husband is at work.
The Peril #2: Rachel’s long-standing habit of passively agreeing to her husband’s wishes created a life where she doesn’t like her home and neighborhood, and is stuck there until the renovation is complete. She also regrets not pursuing her profession, and feels that essential time was lost in that area. In her marriage, Rachel’s choices contributed to creating a dynamic where her husband has primary decision-making power, and her contrasting opinions are rarely acknowledged by either of them. Rachel loves her family very much, but finds it difficult to be content with her life.
The Pleasing #3: Lindsey is 12 years old, and already very good at pleasing other people. Lindsey’s mother wants her to hang out with a particular group of friends at school, because her mother is friends with some of their mothers. In past years, these “friends” have been very hurtful to Lindsey. They exclude her from certain parties, sometimes mock her publically and talk about her behind her back. Lindsey doesn’t want to be their friend, and would rather hang out with another group from school. But, Lindsey’s mother has made it very clear that she expects her daughter to be in the group that mistreats her. When Lindsey tries to explain her unhappiness, her mother minimizes the problem and tells Lindsay that her adult friendships will suffer if Lindsey isn’t part of that group of daughters. So, Lindsey doesn’t want to be treated badly by her “friends,” and wants to spend her time with other people, but she instead remains in the original group so her mother isn’t disappointed.
The Peril #3: Lindsey’s situation involves two layers of pleasing others at her own expense. First, she remains in the mean-girl group to please her mother. Second, within that group, she tolerates the on-going bad treatment, pretending to laugh at herself with the others. Lindsey ends up with a toxic social situation, the absence of alternative friends and a strained relationship with her mother. She didn’t want any of those things. At her young age, Lindsey probably needs somebody to help her develop the internal strength and the interpersonal skills to pursue positive friendships and be true to herself.
If you find yourself frequently pleasing someone else at your own expense, it’s time to start protecting and respecting yourself. Whether your decisions are driven by low self-esteem, an uncertain self-concept, conflict avoidance or an overzealous tendency to take care of others at any cost, it’s time to prioritize taking care of yourself.
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