Living to please?

I am a textbook people-pleaser. You can’t trust me. I probably need help.’

This is my (slightly adapted) favourite quote so far from a series my daughter introduced me to recently. She had been telling me about it for ages, to the point where I agreed to watch a couple of episodes just to stop her. But then I fell in love and now, well, I’m going on about it here, to you. Sorry. There’s a point to this (eventually).

Brooklyn 99 has been around for a long time so you’ve probably seen it. First aired in 2013, I believe the final episode went out last month. It follows a group of detectives in a New York police department. Among others, there’s the hilarious and unconventional, Jake Peralta, his rule-conscious partner, Amy Santiago, and eager friend, Charles Boyle. There’s also Angry Rosa and their boss, Captain Holt, whose unsmiling personality contrasts brilliantly with the team’s levity. It’s the kind of comedy that fills a quick half hour when you don’t want a film (too much commitment), has an overall story line (there are 8 seasons) and always leaves you feeling better inside (we need this). It has thought-provoking moments too.

Boyle makes the people-pleasing comment when accused of changing his position on something. I laughed like a drain for a week. It’s such a good line, I wish I’d written it.

It also made me ponder people-pleasing. I’m much better at this these days (or rather much better at not-this) but, although I was never as bad as Boyle, I’ve had my moments. In my worst moments, in an effort to please, I’ve gone out with someone I didn’t like, accepted a job I didn’t want and offered on a house I wasn’t crazy about. I must stress these things were years ago and the current boyfriend, job and house are testament to the fact the best is possible even for die-hard people-pleasers, of the sort I used to be. I gave my daughter the same advice a wise friend gave me over 40 years ago, when I was agonising over some bloke at uni:-

‘Deb, it’s simple. If you don’t like a situation, get out of it!’ Obvious perhaps, but sometimes we need to hear it. So, each time, I did. The estate agent was really nice about it actually. (He was the house, not the boyfriend btw).

I’ve been reading a wonderful book called ‘Irrepressible’ by Cathy Madavan. It’s an inspirational read, outlining 12 principles for leading a more resilient, satisfying life. Oh no! Not one of those ‘Do- this-and-you-life-will-be-as-fine-as-mine’ books, I hear you say. Absolutely not. It’s written with humility and honesty, and is very thought-provoking.

Cathy talks a lot about boundaries and how, in order to put them in place in a healthy way, we need to move beyond the fear of confrontation and the judgement of others. Saying Yes to avoid a No is emotionally damaging, particularly if we’ve been doing it for years. And saying Yes to one thing is, by definition, saying No to another. E.g. saying Yes to extra work means saying No to rest or time with family. It takes courage to be assertive and say No, that’s not my job/I don’t have time/This isn’t right for me, if it will cause conflict. But it may well be short-term pain for long-term gain. And there are polite but firm ways of saying No. Age helps, as does faith, practice and rehearsing hard stares in mirrors. Not that I’ve ever done that, obviously.

So who should we live to please? Ourselves? God? The universe? Our own sense of right and wrong? I guess we each have to work that one out. I tell children about that voice in your head whispering things like, ‘Stick up for her!’ or ‘Don’t do that!’ As you get older it can change its tune (‘Say No! Stop talking!) and if there’s no voice, you need to take some time. When asked to do something, my husband advises saying, ‘Thanks, I’ll get back to you’ giving yourself thinking space. Today’s Yes could well have been tomorrow’s resounding No.

If you are a writer, you will have to make peace with the people-pleasing thing one way or another. It can be a challenge in any job, obviously, but once your words are out there, on paper, you can’t take them back. You can’t say ‘When I wrote that, I actually meant…’ People will make judgements about what you write without you having the chance to respond. You want to entertain/please your readers. But you will inevitably describe life/the world, in some way, as you see it. And not everyone will agree.

But of one thing I’m sure. You get to the point where honesty is more important than conflict-avoidance. The prospect of being untrue to yourself and your own beliefs becomes more painful than the disapproval of others.

So this is what I’d say: –

I am a recovering people-pleaser. But most of the time, you can trust me. I’ve had help.

You can find out more details about Cathy Madavan’s wonderful book here

Images with thanks to Pixabay

I’m a freelance writer and teacher with interests in education, mental health and community. I like to blog about everyday life, hope and the silly, incongruous things that shape us and make us who we are. My novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an amazon ebook has now also been released in paperback. It’s the story of what happens when a woman buys a house without telling her husband.

My full length novel, Braver, will be published by Fairlight Books in the summer of 2022. The book tells a tale of unlikely friendships and heart-breaking decisions. With themes around mental health, identity and the need to belong, Braver explores how a local community responds when something threatens its very heart.

8 thoughts on “Living to please?

  1. Thank you, Deborah! As always a perfect blend of sense, humour, and thought-provokingness (?) I love the hard stare from the cat!

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    1. Ha. Yes, it took a lot of practising to get that right! Thanks so much for reading and for your lovely comments 🙂 ‘Thought-provokingness’ is a great word and should definitely be added to the Oxford Dictionary!

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  2. What a blessing to read this and to read your wisdom too. Thank you for the encouragement- we writers need each other! And yea, I’m still learning these lessons on boundaries too!

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  3. This is full of wit and wisdom as always! I am a recovering people pleaser who really needs to find a new series to watch on Netflix, so your blog came at the perfect time. x

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  4. Such an interesting and worthwhile post, and I love Cathy’s wisdom on ‘saying yes to something means no to something else’. That is really worth remembering. I can tell by looking at my diary pages when I’ve forgotten that …. Why does it take a lifetime to work these things out? 😦 Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. I honestly don’t know! But I suppose the important thing is to get there in the end, Cathy’s book has somehow helped a penny to drop into my head. Let’s see if I can keep it there! Thanks, Pal. Much appreciated x

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