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.