Wednesday, February 01, 2012

On the Need to Please Others

I have struggled my entire life with needing to please other people. At times this has placed me in situations of mostly unnecessary misery. I’ve really come to see this clearly in the past several months, which have been among the most acutely miserable of my life.

It all began just after I moved last September. I was working my first day on a new job, when I received a message on my cell phone from another potential employer. I had interviewed for both jobs on the same day and was almost immediately offered a job by the first. Now the second company was also offering me a job.

I thought the second company would be offering me a full time position with benefits, but the job they offered me turned out to be only a part-time position. I wanted to turn them down but felt almost obligated to accept the job offer from them, because I had told them I would rather work for them. To say no now would make me look bad. Instead, I ended up accepting the job from them, then attempting to work out a schedule that would accommodate both jobs. This was a mistake.

The next day, in part, I believe, due to the stress I put myself under trying to please what I perceived as other’s expectations, I became sick with a sinus infection. As I have already written about previously, in a former post, this sinus infection became a chronic illness that I am still fighting, although I am currently much better than I was for some time.

After two months, I finally determined, with the help of friends, that I should leave the second job, due to my chronic illness. I wrestled with this decision, in part because I was still concerned about disappointing other’s expectations of what I should do. I was afraid that some folks would see my quitting as irresponsible. Once again, I stressed myself out due to my fear of disappointing people. Thankfully, due to continued wise counsel from others, I stuck with the decision.

As time passed and I continued to be sick, I came to realize that even my failure to get better became an opportunity to feel I was disappointing other’s expectations. All of my friends and co-workers wanted me to get better and every time I saw any of them, the question of my health became a prime topic of conversation. I got tired of being asked how I was feeling since the answer was always negative. I felt I was disappointing other’s hopes for me by not getting better. This made me want to withdraw from people.

As I’ve reflected on this experience recently, I’ve come to realize just how deeply the need to meet other’s expectations controls me. I could give numerous other examples of this. I can’t help but wonder if it’s one reason that I like to spend so much time alone. Being alone, even when it’s painful, is often easier than being around people who you might upset or disappoint in some way.

So, the question that confronts me now is “Having become aware of this character flaw, what will I do about it?” It is easy to say that I will try to live differently, but it is difficult to break the hold of a mindset you’ve lived with your entire life. The short answer is that I don’t know, but I hope that I can begin to learn how to live my life without carrying the burden of having to please other people all the time. While making people happy can be a good thing, obsequiousness is not a virtue. It can paralyze us and inhibit us from becoming the people God has called us to be and from truly accomplishing what He has given us to do.


Judah said...

Heart felt post man. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if there is some "fake it to make it" action that needs to be part of fighting this. Sometimes the best way for me to learn how to do something I don't think I can do is to pretend that I can...then I usually find that its possible and easier than I thought.

Word Space said...

Miss T said...

I'm with you on this one, Gordon. Being the people pleaser has done plenty to my health and sanity over the years. I think about the only time I get selfish and turn people down is when it's in the name of pleasing someone else--like your situation. It's a tough role to break out of.