Preoccupied with Others’ Perspectives

If you’re a people pleaser like me, it can be hard not to become paralyzed with worries about the way others perceive you. I always catch myself basing my decisions and actions on the way they will come off to someone else, rather than on my own feelings and desires. Not only is this exhausting, but it isn’t even worthwhile. How could I ever possibly hope to know how someone else is going to interpret my behaviors? For all I know, I could be acting against my own wishes for the sake of someone else when they would have preferred a different response anyway.

I think a lot of the time I delude myself into thinking I know what other people are thinking or what they want, when in reality I could be completely wrong. I know from my own perspective that what I like or want can change drastically from one day to the next, from moment to moment, or even depending on the person I’m interacting with. For example, you may notice that someone likes hugs, but depending on your relationship to them and the context of the situation, that doesn’t mean they would enjoy a hug from you.

Constantly worrying about the way others perceive you is just wasted energy. It feels like doing this will help me make sure everyone around me is always happy and approving of me, but no matter how hard I try, that will never be the case 100% of the time. For one thing, a lot of people pick up on the fact that you’re just saying what they want to hear and dislike that in itself. I’m definitely one of those people. When I meet someone who is always eager to agree with me or try to flatter me, I get annoyed. It feels disingenuous and gross. It feels like I’m being lied to and manipulated. I’d much rather get to know who someone genuinely is even if who they really are isn’t exactly what I’d prefer them to be.

Always worrying about what other people think of me is also a great disservice to myself. In essence I am saying to myself that I am not good enough as I am, that I have to work to conceal who I really am to please others. Each time I alter my behavior for the sake of what I believe someone else wants, I am reinforcing that idea. It’s important for us to hold ourselves in high enough regard that we can move through the world without wearing a mask. You will surely encounter friction and meet people that don’t like you, but that’s okay. You will find yourself in this position whether you are genuine or not, so you may as well take care of yourself before worrying about others.

Part of the mask I wear in order to please others is also a shield from criticism. If I am not being my genuine self and others decide they don’t like me, I can always fall back on the idea that “well, they don’t know the real me.” However if I am being exactly who I am and someone doesn’t like me, it hurts a lot more. But the reverse is also true in this regard. When I reveal myself for who I am and someone embraces that, I feel truly seen and validated in a meaningful way. Whereas even when my people pleasing works, the positive feedback I receive feels hollow and fake. Inside I still think, “they wouldn’t feel that way if they knew who I really am.”

Another part of people pleasing is the desire to avoid any and all conflict or confrontation. I’ve always been insecure in my relationships, fearful that the slightest disagreement or unpleasant interaction will destroy them. But hiding from conflict only reinforces that fear. I can see in other people’s relationships that not only does conflict not end the relationship, it often serves to strengthen it. We have to believe that the relationships we have in our lives are strong enough to handle difficult moments. One negative interaction or argument isn’t going to be enough to completely change someone’s opinion of you. I obviously don’t write people off for such small, trivial matters. I can see the way other people stay together through far more than I can even imagine. Once again I am selling myself short by believing I mean so little to my loved ones that one false move would sever our bond entirely, even when past experience has shown me that isn’t true.

It may feel safer to always try to be who others want me to be, but at the end of the day, I have no idea who that person even is. I want to learn to like myself enough that my wants, beliefs, and opinions come first and don’t change depending on who I’m talking to. It’s been so long since I’ve considered what I want that sometimes I’m not even sure. It may be scary, but I know it’s worth it to practice being brave and showing my true face to the world and the people I love. Besides, while I might not know what other people want, I can say that when I talk to someone, all I want is for them to be themselves and to trust me enough to share that with me. That’s more than enough.

People Pleasers Anonymous - Home | Facebook

Two Faced

I haven’t heard this term used as much as I did when I was in high school, so in case you haven’t heard it before, I’ll explain what it means. Someone who is “two-faced” acts differently depending on who they’re around, more or less. This is usually seen as more than the normal differences we all show depending on the context we’re in. It has a negative connotation. You are friendly to someone, then talk badly about them behind their back.

For me this never made much sense. I would rather someone who didn’t like me, still be nice to me in general. They’re free to say whatever they want when I’m not around. Doesn’t hurt me if I can’t hear it. It always seemed more considerate to me to air your grievances out of earshot. Why hurt someone unnecessarily when you’re venting? We all need to complain about one another now and then, even when we generally get along.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this morning. I went to my company’s other office earlier to help out. As usual, once I’m back in my office, I regret the things I said there. It’s not that it was anything particularly harsh or cruel. I just have some small points of irritation with a coworker at my office. Don’t get me wrong, I love this man. He’s incredible and I even think of him as a father figure sometimes. His small bothersome qualities are far outweighed by his amazing ones. However, it’s still nice to vent sometimes to people who understand. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I still feel guilty. I’m horrified to think that he would find out about and feel hurt by anything that I may have said. That certainly was never my intention.

Another aspect to this is my tendency to people please. If other people are complaining about someone, I’m apt to join in with whatever my issues with that person are. However, I would rarely ever care enough about these things to address them with the actual person. I hate confrontation, and I will happily go along with the way someone likes to do things even if I find it tedious or tiresome. I’m too afraid to do anything besides agree with whoever I’m speaking with at the time.

This people-pleasing, anxiety ridden nature of mine is usually my excuse when faced with these types of situations. Yet I worry that’s just a copout. I can’t just cry, “anxiety” whenever I do things that aren’t socially acceptable. Am I just trying to avoid being held accountable for my actions? Is this the way other “two-faced” people feel on the inside? Or do they actually have malicious intentions? Does it even matter when all others see are the actions we take? Then again, maybe I’m just over analyzing as usual.

ArtStation - Two Faced, Deniz Aygün

People Pleasing

Stop People Pleasing! A People Pleaser Self-Love Intervention

Whether I like someone or not, it’s really important that they like me. I have an overwhelming desire to be liked by anyone and everyone I encounter. Even if I hate someone, I will be devastated if they hate me back. I really have no idea why I care. For the most part, I don’t like people anyway. Why does it matter so much to me whether or not I’m liked? Perhaps it has something to do with anxiety and my fear of confrontation. It does seem safer to be friends with everyone in that regard.

Today I’d rather talk about the problem with people pleasing in general rather than my own pathology. People pleasers like me try to become whoever they believe the other person would like them to be. Sounds simple enough. But how can any of us really know what someone else wants? We may spend years cramming ourselves into a false persona when the person we are doing it for would have preferred who we really are. Or maybe they secretly find us extremely annoying, but mask their true feelings out of politeness. No matter how hard you try or how “good” you become at winning people over, you can never really be sure of what someone else wants. Knowing this, your best bet is always to just be yourself. You’ll never be able to make everyone happy. But if you remain true to who you are, at the end of the day you’ll at least have your integrity.

Otherwise what happens when you are in a room full of people? Whose needs do you cater to? You may find that the person you are with friend X is someone that friend Y would utterly despise. Then what are you supposed to do? I suppose in that situation I choose the persona that fits more closely with who I really am. Any backlash from the other party is buffered by knowing that I have the friend I prefer there to have my back. Yet you always run the risk of being found out as “fake.”

That term always interests me. What does it really mean to be fake? I always hold true to my main beliefs no matter who I’m talking to. We all have slightly different versions of ourselves that we present for different situations or occasions. At what point does it become fake though? We all have to be a little fake in order to conform to societies standards.

The biggest issue my people pleasing has caused me is when it comes to my work. Social work is not a great field for people pleasers like me. No matter how atrocious the parents or clients I deal with are, I desperately want them to like me. I once brought cigarettes to an old man I worked with while he was in the hospital, because I was afraid he’d be mad at me if I didn’t. I really struggled the other day not to agree with this mom who was outraged that she got in legal trouble for giving her 10 year old daughter a tattoo! These types of situations are incredibly hard for me to navigate.

As someone who is probably on the autistic spectrum, I learn most of my interpersonal skills from direct observation. I think the only reason I’m as good at blending in as I am is because I watched so much TV growing up. It may not be the best reference for real life situations, but it does give you a good idea of how to talk to people in a wide variety of scenarios. I am always eager to observe someone else in a situation that I would have no idea how to respond to. Luckily I’ve gotten the chance to watch our therapist at the office for the last few years and learn from her. I would love to be a fly on the wall of her therapy sessions and meetings with the parents so that I could absorb even more.

At the end of the day, however, no one is going to be liked by everyone. No matter how good of a communicator you are. Eventually we all have to accept that we just aren’t going to get along with some people. Rather than continuing to practice the best ways to be liked and accepted by others, I’d like to spend some time finding out how to like and accept myself. Maybe ultimately that is what makes a people pleaser, someone who needs external reassurance in order to feel okay with themselves. Unfortunately any positive feedback rings hollow when you’re simply playing a role.

About people-pleasers and how to stop being one – Miss Lovage