Just my Thoughts

People Pleasing

As a follow up to my post on saying no that was hosted over at Making The Moments Count, I want to take some time to discuss another issue that seems to effect women more than men – people pleasing.

A while back, Kristen at Motherese posed a question via a quote from American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  The question was essentially are you mutable and shape-shifting or fixed and unbending.  Not only did that question and the accompanying quote from American Wife make me think about people pleasing, so did the quote I received several days later in my email.

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

– Bill Cosby, comedian

It seems that the females in society, myself included, tend to spend time trying to make everyone happy, bending to please every person.  As Bill Cosby said, that is the key to failure.

If we cannot set our own goals and work towards them – not trampling on others but keeping our own aspirations in mind, how can we consider ourselves successful?  I am not saying that we should all just stop trying to please others.  I think helping others, within reason, is important to all lives.

Often by trying to put everyone else first, by not saying no, we put ourselves in a lower place in our priorities than we should.  Women tend to do this more but it is by no means a female-only trait.

The same email with the Cosby quote contained these last few lines:

Remember that helping yourself and doing what you feel is important should be valued. Find worth in your own opinions and viewpoint, and don’t let your desire to please others compel you to keep yourself in the background. Falling short of perfection only proves that you are a normal human being.

Do you value your own desires? Do you occasionally put others first? Do you realize that you are human and not expected to be perfect?

17 thoughts on “People Pleasing

  1. Yes, I do realize I’m human. That does not make me stop trying to please those around me. I think it goes hand and hand with mothering. As you attempt to lead your children down the best path, you become beset with anxieties. Are you doing enough? Are you being the best? Is/was there anything more you could have done to prepare them? Each of these questions may lead you to be more cautious in your relationships with other people.

    I don’t think this is all bad. It can be a useful tool in teaching how to be more compassionate. Like with everything, balance must be utilized.

  2. Nicki, Um, let’s see, do I occasionally put others first? Okay, just the last 14 years since I became a parent! I don’t mean to, I want to be better at keeping my time to myself, at carving out a real peace and tranquility, but, guess what? They do. You’d think my husband was just some amorphic blob living in the house with no brain the way they have to come to me for all their homework. And I absolutely can’t be trusted with Math or Science.

    So, I’m getting better at valuing my own desires, and, I guess till their out of the house at college, I’ll be balancing.

  3. Hi Nicki – I tend to look at these things through the lens of story. The archetypal nurturing female story is powerful, and it operates at a deep unconscious level. There are good parts about it, to be sure, but it’s so easy to become possessed by it. And often I don’t think we even realize that we’re people pleasing. It just seems to happen, again and again. I think we moderate it by recognizing its power, and placing care for ourselves at the top of the priority list. But having said that, it doesn’t always work for me!

  4. I have to thank you three for commenting. I just re-read what I wrote and have decided I should not blog at night. I had had this post rolling around in my mind and it did not come out at all like I imagined.

    Parents do tend to put their children first but to be good parents, we must find the harmony in life that allows us to put ourselves first at least occasionally. Without that rejuvenating ability, we find ourselves dragging and being of little use to those we try most to please.

  5. Nicki – I don’t think you should apologize for posting at night or anything. In this post, I think you hit on a salient theme/question of adulthood – how to pursue and realize self in an overwhelming and often rough sea of other. How do we stay true to our own desires while giving ourselves to others? I don’t pretend to know, but this is a question that does echo in each and every one of our lives.

    1. Aidan – It is not that I posted at night but that I am a morning person. I just don’t know that I got everything I wanted in the post as I was tired. I am also unsure if I was coherent. You are right, though, that this is a salient theme throughout adulthood.

  6. God, I need to learn how to say no. I suck at it. And then I am resentful of the obligations I agreed to. Which makes me an angry little hypocrite a lot of the time.

    Please teach me how to utter that one simple word?

    1. TKW – I am not sure we can teach this. I had to learn by overload and things at home falling between the cracks. That is when I started re-evaluating what I was saying yes to and started saying no.

  7. That quote from Curtis Sittenfeld really stuck with me because I felt, in a way, that she was describing me: the shape-shifter who can conform to any situation at any time. Recently, though, I feel like I’m gaining a stronger sense of self and am learning how to prioritize my own interests. This is ironic, of course, because with an infant and a two-year-old at home, I have less time than I used to for taking care of myself.

    1. Our inner selves speak to us at odd times, Kristen. I felt like I found mine when I had the most crisis and chaos going on in my life.

  8. I struggle with this question so often. And it causes me to wonder what is it about womanhood that makes us want to please? Bill Cosby said that it’s the key to failure, but he’s a man. I can’t help but think that the keys to success and failure are different for women and men. Nevertheless, to harness critical. And if we can do that without putting others at our expense, all the better.

    1. The question of pleasing comes with the feeling of being a nurturer, I think, Gale. As we nurture, we feel that pleasing that person(s) is required.

  9. I’m with Gale…women are expected to “please others” in ways that men typically aren’t. Probably a massive generalization, but I do think we cock our heads and look inquisitively at women who aren’t all about pleasing others. And yet…I look up to the women who DO make their own goals, and chart their own path. Where does that leave me? No clue…

  10. I loved Aidan’s comment. That is exactly the difficult balance to strike. My life became a whole lot easier when I realized I couldn’t please everyone.

    1. The “B” word! I think balance may be a worse word than B**ch some days. It is totally unattainable in my life but I work towards a harmony daily.

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