People Pleasing

If you have been following Redefining Female this past week, you know that I have shared some of my darkest, unhealthiest sides of people pleasing.  But, what I haven’t shared, is that it has taken me over two weeks of writing “almost-posts” to write what I did.  Not because they were masterpieces, but because the subject matter hit closer to home than I realized.

When I started writing two weeks ago, I was feeling like people pleasing was this really needed topic for us to talk about as women, and I thought it would be easy to write a few posts about it.  But, as I started writing, I soon realized everything I said sounded trite or hollow. I hit a writer’s block head on. I got frustrated. I took a few days “off” of writing, and did what I always do when I get writers block–pray!

I then came back to the subject of people pleasing, in a more honest frame of mind. I began to realize that I was struggling to write about this topic in particular because as a new blogger, I have been trying to please you, the reader.  At some point, I became so concerned about that, that I began to doubt myself and what I have to offer. All of these thoughts lead me to reflect on my life of people pleasing, and how I am still trying to  accept myself and become a healthier person.

So that is why when, after reading this week’s posts, my husband asked “are you going to include things that have been helping you with people pleasing?” I looked at him and said:

I don’t have the answer.

I am not always going to have the answer. Life is messy, and very rarely can it be solved in three bullet points. I don’t want to perpetuate my people pleasing by pretending that it can be, or that I do have the answer for everything, because I don’t.

If you could relate to our topic this week of people pleasing, I hope that by sharing my struggles, you can see you are not alone.  If you haven’t ever struggled with people pleasing or have found a way to overcome it–please share!  Either way, thank you for journeying with me, and reading about my struggles this week.

I still believe people pleasing is a struggle for us as women, yet I believe that one day, it won’t have to define us.

Last January, I came home from seeing our families for the holidays to a big change: I came back to a life in which I didn’t have a job. I came back exhausted, grieving that “former life.” And I came back with a question–after seven years in which my focus was often on others, my soul asked:

“What does it look like to take care of and value myself, without becoming self-absorbed?”

As women and as a society, we tend to gravitate toward extremes. Not only that, but we do “extreme” really well, and I think we have a hard time finding the middle ground. According to our perceptions, we are either succeeding or failing (often considering “average” to be failure).  And in our actions, we are either eating too much or starving ourselves, working out too much or not at all, ignoring our appearance or thinking about it way too much, others-focused or inward focused, etc. Very few of us are able to find the healthy balance for eating, work and play, or determining our self worth. Those of us who do, often struggle to keep it.

For me, my greatest struggle to find balance lies in valuing myself. It is a struggle I think many women have. For longer than just this past year, I have wondered what does the middle ground look like between door mat and prima donna?–Only thinking about others, and only thinking about ones self? For most of my life, I have erred on the “others-focused” end of the spectrum, at times wearing myself out to the point of sickness. I have believed anything else would be selfish. I have believed I wasn’t worth taking care of. And when asked, by people who care about me, why this is, I haven’t had an answer.

The middle ground of healthiness that I have experienced, the one that lies between only thinking about others and only thinking about ones self, is a very thin, fine line. “Don’t get too close, or you will become a diva!” Yet I am beginning to realize that the healthy middle ground in my life, has been a very fine line not because it has to be, but because I am so afraid of one extreme, that I have sacrificed myself to the other.

Like I shared on Monday, I have based so much of my life on what other people think of me. I have used others as my starting point for how I focus my life, rather than starting from a healthy, balanced view of myself and who I am called to be in this world. I need to create space for the healthy middle ground so it is a place that I can live out of, a place I can dwell.

While I still am without a job, and I am in this time of waiting, I am beginning to see that part of my current heart-work is creating this healthy middle space. I don’t exactly have a “how-to” set of instructions, but I am blessed to have this time to figure it out with God’s help.

How about you? Do you live out of a healthy middle ground?

One of the many things I learned from working with junior high students, is that the biggest question we all have in 7th and 8th grade is “do people like me?” Before then, I always just assumed that in 7th grade, I was the only one who desperately wanted to be liked and accepted. My time with students helped me see that insecurity in one’s early teen years is a universal experience. But–through working with parents, volunteers, and other adults–I also realized that for many of us, our desire for people’s acceptance doesn’t leave once we move past early adolescence.

Mine certainly didn’t.  At times, it only got stronger.

It was kind of my uninvited companion, until in my twenties when I began to realize that my solution to being accepted–people pleasing–was leaving me exhausted. I had had a lot of unhealthy friendships, and at one point, I was able to look back and trace a whole string of them that were more about me giving, than give and take.

So, I started to pull back from some of those friendships that were still in my life, while realizing that it wasn’t those friends that were the problem. I was. I had played an active role in giving and not expecting anything in return. I had valued those friendships more than I valued myself or being healthy.  I had been living as if I needed to earn people’s acceptance or friendship–expecting them to reject me otherwise.

I was using people pleasing as a shield, keeping people from really knowing who I am, in case they would decide they didn’t like me.  

Not only that, but I was using it as a shield from truly knowing myself. I was allowing everything outside of myself–my friendships, people in my life, my job–to define who I was, instead of embracing who I am on the inside. So much of my people pleasing was about protecting myself, yet I was beginning to realize it was actually doing the opposite.

What did I do? I started counseling. I started working to change the ways I related to people and I started learning to put up healthy boundaries. Things began to get better, and I began building healthier friendships. But, like building up the walls of a faulty structure, I was still caving on the inside.

Honestly, I am still caving on the inside. But, over the past year of being out of work, I think I am beginning to realize why: I need to change the question that has kept me company since I was twelve years old. I need to stop asking “do people like me?” and instead ask myself “do I like me?” Not, “what do I need to change to like myself?” But rather, “can I accept and embrace myself, flaws and all?” God loves me, brokenness and all–can I live in light of that truth?

Can You?