How many of us have been afflicted with the disease to please? Where we have found ourselves putting others' needs ahead of our own, times when we have wanted to say 'no' only to find ourselves saying 'yes'? Perhaps we have people-pleased as a means to get closer to others, to have them accept us, or as a means to avoid being rejected.
A friend of mine coined the phrase with me only the other day and it really got me questioning, did I have the disease to please?
In considering this question, I discovered, Dr Harriet Braiker's book, 'The Disease to Please', where she identifies the ten commandments of people-pleasing:
- I should always do what others want, expect, or need from me.
- I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not.
- I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
- I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
- I should always put other people first, before me.
- I should never say “no” to anyone who needs or requests something of me.
- I should never disappoint anyone or let others down in any way.
- I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others.
- I should always try to please other people and make them happy.
- I should try never to burden others with my own needs or problems.
Do any of these resonate with you?
For me, the good news (yes good news!), was that I wasn't living and breathing the full ten commandments, but there were certainly a couple, particularly, commandments four and seven, that resonated quite strongly with me. Let’s take commandment four for example, 'I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings', now it got me thinking, if I adopted this commandment wholeheartedly, which on the surface seems like an admirable way to be, but going deeper, how much bad behaviour might I be standing by and potentially being accepting of I did? I've no doubt we've all been in situations at one time or another where we've been in conversations with, or in the vicinity of, people who are speaking ill of others, whether it be gossip, or something more confronting. But if we stand by and say nothing with the view that by speaking up we may hurt their feelings then does that make it right? Sometimes it is actually the fear of being the subject of the criticism or shaming ourselves that keeps us from speaking up, but remember you do not need others to validate you, stay true to who you are, the isolation you may feel for speaking out might be uncomfortable but the isolation you feel when you are compromising who you truly are is much much worse.
Commandment seven, I should never disappoint anyone or let others down in any way...
On Saturday, I had a masquerade ball to attend but I knew my heart wasn't in it. I was running low on energy and I desperately wanted a quiet night at home. I wrestled most of the day with the decision, should I go or should I stay at home? The masquerade ball was also an opportunity to support a friend who had been nominated to receive an award that evening, I really didn't want to let her down.
As I considered my choices I reflected on a quote I'd heard recently at my practical philosophy class, and that was to ‘speak the truth pleasantly, never speak a pleasant untruth’. It helped me recognise that whilst it would be hard expressing my desire to stay at home, it was my truth and if I wanted to live a life on my terms then I had to accept that truth.
I made a decision, applied that principle and followed my heart, staying at home for a quiet evening. Whilst I initially felt guilty for choosing me, I also reminded myself that self-care was not being selfish. What I learned was that the fear of my friends’ judgement was far worse than the reality. They were generous in their love and asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. The grace at which they accepted my decision to stay at home touched me, and I knew then I needn’t have feared making that choice.
I realised that if I looked closer at the relationships I have forged I would have recognised that I have surrounded myself with people who have adopted the same principle. One's who accept that each of us have good days and bad days and never expect us to be happy and upbeat on every occasion.
The disease to please afflicts all of us in many ways but the irony is that most people aren't actually fans of people-pleasers so most efforts are futile and leave us feeling empty inside.
Next time you are confronted with a conflict of your heart and mind ask yourself 'do I have the disease to please?'