People pleasers anonymous
Hi, my name is Emma and I'm a people pleaser.
(I'm not sure at what point in the meeting we join hands in a circle and raise them in the air, but it just seems right somehow.)
I'm not an expert in many areas, but I've got people-pleasing down pat. I think I've earned a few advanced degrees in it by now. I'm a seasoned professional in the field. I could give classes. Please review the evidence below:
Want me to join your bike club? Give you my phone number? Come to your discussion group? Give a talk at your parish? Work for you? Come over to your house? Take care of your cats? Fold your laundry? All of the above?
Yes, of course, I'd love to!
These are all actual scenarios from my actual life in the past two months, all of which I've actually said yes to, warmly and enthusiastically, and quite a few of which I've reneged on. The truth is, I have a habit of saying yes to things that soon fill me with dread or regret or anxiety. I regularly go back on my word. My smiles and eagerness can so often be a cover for indecision or, worse, insecurity. And even if I don't say yes, even if I do manage to immediately detect my unmistakable unwillingness to acquiesce to the request before me, I always have a way to soften the blow. Something along the lines of, I'm so sorry to say that I have a conflict and I can't [fill in the blank], but otherwise, I would have loved to! Even if I wouldn't have loved to.
So what's that all about?
I suppose I pride myself on being agreeable, generous, available, sociable, just plain likable. If I say yes to everything everyone asks of me, from projects to errands to social events, surely I'll make friends everywhere I go, right? Surely I'll win the special favor of even the hardest to please? Surely people will think I'm good and kind and worthy of love?
It's a trap.
People who are good and kind say no all the time. (And everyone is worthy of love.) People can say no with maturity and grace, without excuse or apology or explanation. Even generous, thoughtful, attentive people. I know plenty of them. They say no when taking on more responsibility would cause them stress or burnout. When they're guarding needed rest or free time or room for spontaneity. When committing to another obligation would prevent them from being available to the people who matter most.
I'm working on seeing this clearly. A good place to begin, or rather to return to again and again, is the profound truth that I am loved for who I am, not for what I do. My lovableness does not depend on my performance, but rather on my identity as a daughter of God. Of course I want to be generous. But I also want to be earnest and true. I want my yes to mean yes and my no to mean no, as Jesus exhorts.
Will I continue saying yes when I really would rather not? I'm sure I will. But will I also continue to practice confident and unapologetic and loving noes? Yes. And I'll pray for the grace to be truly generous while also retaining my self-possession.
One genuine Yes, of course, I'd love to! and No, but thank you for asking! at a time.