People Pleaser

“Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”

—Matthew 18:15

I am a people pleaser. It’s ultimately why I am going home this year for Christmas. I am sure that I am not the only one who is enough of a people pleaser who find themselves with a difficult family over the holidays. I am just going to do my best to not let my temper get the better of me. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” So, I will try to keep my answers soft and avoid stirring up anger. However, I know I can be pushed too far, and no matter how much I try, I won’t be able to keep my mouth shut

Yet, I am a people pleaser at heart. Being a southerner who believes in being a gentleman with good manners, I was doomed to be a people pleaser. Even if I don’t like the person, I hate them being upset with me. Sometimes, this is to my own detriment. I tried my best to please my family for over forty years, but I never have been able to, and I doubt I ever will. I have said this before, but I feel like I wasted much of my life trying to please others. If I am going to please others, I’d rather do it in a more intimate way that I will also enjoy, if you know what I mean. But I am getting off subject.

Whenever conflicts arise, I most often do my best to make it go away. I will take back what I just said, I’ll change the subject, I’ll even apologize, whatever it takes. Which often meant that even in situations where I should be leaning into a conflict; situations where I am standing up for someone or when I should be standing up for myself, I instead try to appease the other person so I can make my own discomfort go away. 

I’ve learned to be more assertive and to do what is right for me, not what everyone else thinks is right for me. I am not completely there yet, though I am genuinely trying. Even so, I still feel that sometimes it’s best to just surrender or at least compromise to keep the peace. In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “The Way of the Warrior,” Worf tells the Chancellor Gowron of the Klingon Empire, “Kahless himself said, ‘Destroying an empire to win a war is no victory…'” The same is true for us in life, destroying ourselves to prove a point or win an argument is no victory. Compromise is sometimes necessary, but sometimes compromise is also not an option. This can be true in politics also, but again that’s a discussion for another time.

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better about not immediately acquiescing. Now if I get a text, call, or email that sends my heart rate through the roof I wait before replying. If someone says something that hurts my feelings, I am more likely not going to say anything, but my passive aggressive southern nature usually will come out. A pointed stare can say much more than words ever could. I learned that as a teacher. However, I do try to listen more to my feelings, and so, I don’t always shove them aside just to make other people happy. 

I am becoming much better about standing up for myself, especially at work. When I feel strongly about being wronged or have a strong opinion that goes against the grain, I craft a thoughtful email response that lays out my thoughts on the matter or decide exactly what I am going to say in person before I say it to my boss. I usually let someone else read over the email before I send it, and I have some people I use as a sounding board for when I know it has to be done verbally. It can be hard, but my boss is also a people pleaser who is also averse to conflict, so he knows that if I buck the system, I have thought long and hard about it and I am very serious. Usually, he seems my side of things.

I think we all have to take up for ourselves. We can’t always be a pushover or try to please everyone. At some point we have to stand up for ourselves and for what is right. It’s always best to be honest. Psalm 34:13 says, “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” 

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

2 responses to “People Pleaser

  • Michael Brodeur

    Dear Joe, from what you write it looks like you know the way out of your people-pleasing upbringing. The impulse to please at the denial of oneself is not a one-way impulse. We are trained to do so from our earliest years. Perhaps we have a parent who bullies us into doing what he/she expects of us regardless of it’s negative impact on our mental and emotional health. Or a parent who manipulates you by making you feel guilty for not pleasing their narcissistic needs. I have been there. Therapy has helped me to see how I was being used and even denied as an individual by acceding to unreasonable expectations of me. It takes courage and strength to break the pattern. Once you realize that your wishes are more valid than the foisting of expectations on you to please or knuckle under, it gets easier to follow your instincts.

    Growing up in the South, from what I have observed since moving here 20+ years ago, is extremely destructive for gay individuals. The combination of religious condemnation and family embracing homophobia demolishes one’s right to be the people God planned for us. We try to “apologize” for “our condition” because we have internalized the message that we are less than, a disappointment to the people who claim to love us. Love should not be conditional on you living a life of denial, nor should you feel guilty if your parents aren’t accepting of who you are. As hard as it is many times the healthiest decision is to sever our ties with toxic relationships.

    I hope your holidays spent with family will provide you with opportunities to objectively observe the pressure placed on you to conform to what your family wants of you and to stand your ground if you feel they are unreasonable. It sounds like you have taken the first steps by carving out time to meet with your friend despite your mother’s objections. I truly wish that you have a pleasant time with your family or, at least survive with your self-esteem intact.

    Michael Brodeur

  • Jim

    Joe, I can really identify with your feelings and the way you react to family and situations. As a child of an alcoholic, I had to grow up fast and put the needs of the alcoholic before mine. Many in dysfunctional families have to do that. You may have had a dominant parent or a dominant parenting style that did not serve your needs. You may not have had the opportunity to express yourself or stretch your boundaries to give yourself the needed confidence to grow outward beyond their expectations. And being doubly handicapped all those years may have forced you to continue to look inward. You are an amazing man on the right path. It will take time to be yourself.
    Love and support should be your guide. I went home for Christmas after my first year at University and left before Christmas. My eyes had been opened and everything at home brought back bad memories and I fell back into the old routine. Don’t do that. Your eyes are opened now. Keep them open. AML

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

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