You Call It Selfish, I Call It Survival

by Bill Brenner on July 21, 2014

A friend once lamented that she tries to make everyone around her happy. She’s a self-described people pleaser, and it’s led to a world of hurt. She wanted to know how I got past it and was able to out myself. Here’s my attempt to answer the question.

Mood music:

I used to be a people pleaser. I probably still am to some extent. But nothing like how I used to be.

I wanted desperately to make every boss happy, and I did succeed for a while. But in doing so I damaged myself to the core and came within inches of an emotional breakdown.

It caused me to work 80 hours a week, waking up each morning scared to death that I would fall short or fail altogether.

No employee gets back 100 percent of what they put in to the corporate machine. Sure, you can make your direct bosses happy, but the folks many layers above them in the food chain still won’t know who you are or care that you work 80 hours a week.

I wanted to make every family member happy. It didn’t work, because you can never keep everyone happy when strong personalities clash. To this day, my relationship with some family members is on ice. Part of the problem is that I failed to keep them happy and take care of others I needed to be paying attention to. I reached a breaking point that has caused pain on all sides. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is.

When did I reach the moment of truth? I don’t think there was one defining event. It was just a gradual realization that if I kept trying to please everyone, I wouldn’t be alive much longer. I would have had a complete breakdown and plunged into my addictions until they killed me with a heart attack or a blood clot to the brain.

It was a simple matter of survival.

If I’m trying to please every boss, friend or family member, I can’t be present for my wife and children. And I certainly can’t be present for God.

Of course, that realization doesn’t make it any easier to stop trying to please everyone. Even today, I’d much rather keep my bosses happy than piss them off. As for family, I’d still prefer we all get along.

Several things have made it easier not to try to please everyone:

  • Years of therapy have helped, because you’re forced to peel back every layer of every relationship by a trained professional who has no stake or relationship with the people in your life.
  • Prozac must have helped, because sometime in early 2007, when I first started taking the medicine, I stopped worrying about what my bosses would think of every move I made.
  • My former office mom, Anne Saita certainly taught me that it’s better to stand up to people then to live life on your knees.

I’ve found that the longer you go without being a people pleaser, the easier it gets. And then something else happens: Most of the people around you start liking you better when your nose isn’t cemented to their asses.

man's hands bound in chains

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet (ocdtalk) July 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I think this is such an important post, as you address an issue that is common to many OCD sufferers. And I so agree with you: Once you stop caring so much about pleasing everyone else, people will like you more! Great post!

chris December 2, 2014 at 9:32 am

good post – I deal with people pleasing myself. It’s a hard habit to break.

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