The Cost Of People-Pleasing
My neighbor was telling another boring, long-winded story and I was stuck listening to it.
Lost in a myriad of pointless details and random tangents, I wasn't sure how the story even began. My husband had already averted his eyes and got the hell out of there, but I remained behind, maintaining eye contact and laughing at all the right moments.
I thought this was my best quality.
Here I was patting myself on the back for being soooo good with people. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to get along with anyone. I’m in tune with what people need and what kind of response they’re hoping for. My superpower is making people feel comfortable.
Except it isn’t.
Making people comfortable is really just my way of making me feel comfortable. Because I want people to like me. So I nod and agree and react enthusiastically to things I’m not enthusiastic about.
And then I feel icky. And inauthentic.
This extends into my close relationships, too.
My best friend Kylie is the funniest person I know. I spend the majority of our phone conversations laughing. One day my husband was nearby with our baby and I laughed so loud that I startled my son.
When I hung up the phone my husband asked, “Was it that funny? You never laugh like that with me.”
At first I thought, Of course it was that funny. It’s Kylie! But then I realized I was putting on a little show for her. I wanted Kylie to always know I think she’s hilarious, and the only way to do that was to laugh extra loud at everything she said.
Unfortunately, it’s exhausting.
I realized I was being fake with my neighbor. Was I even being fake with my best friend?
Actor Ethan Hawke explains that performing for others isn’t necessarily a bad thing:
“We want our peers to like us. We want to be somebody respected, we want people to think positive things about us. You perform for Grandma: ‘Yes, ma'am. This apple pie is delicious, Grandma. You're the best.’ Then you walk into your buddy's house and you say, ‘Hey, who's got a joint?’ It doesn't mean you're like the worst person in the world. It means you're bigger than one thing.”
As soon as I cross the border into New Jersey the curses start flying out of my mouth. I literally become a louder, rougher person the closer I get to home. Is that me? Or is that the old me?
Yes. It’s a part of me that comes out sometimes. It’s a balance.
I don’t need to be rude the next time my neighbor launches into one of her long-winded monologues. And I don’t need to stop laughing when my best friend says something funny. But if I’m feeling drained after an interaction it means I’ve gotten too far away from my authentic self.
Making other people comfortable no longer makes me feel comfortable. So I will honor my truth instead. Sometimes people will like me for it and sometimes they won’t. But I will like me for it, and that’s the only person who matters.
Thanks to the Write of Passage Cohort 8 students for their feedback on this one: Dustin Spencer, Ryder Jackson, Randy Garman, Karena de Souza, Kevin Brennan, Brian Gans, and Kris.