Musings From a Recovering People Pleaser

For those of you who don’t know, I’m what they call a “people pleaser” at the core of my nature. I spend way too much of my time and energy thinking about how to make people happy even if it makes me sad; if I absolutely have to say “no” to people, I spend heaps of hours mulling over their hurt feelings and searching my heart for how I can make things better.

I used to think this “people pleasing problem” was really not a problem at all. I mean c’mon, I’m TOO NICE?! I want people to be happy. I want people to like me. What’s the big deal?

However, over the last few years I’ve learned how this is indeed a big deal. It’s exhausting and self-deprecating. I try to take care of other people and be all selfless, and really I only end up hurting myself and being selfish.

My move to Oregon has really challenged this part of me: all in a whirlwind I had to impress my new co-workers and new bosses and new friends and new regular customers at work and make them happy and make them like me. After 6 weeks of being here, this season of “new” and trying to impress has not ended; I still have to make the move to a new Starbucks location, meet new customers and partners, AND meet new classmates and roommates.

You guys, I’m exhausted.

Today someone told me, “You need to challenge that way of thinking. The voice that says ‘Everyone dislikes you and you have to prove yourself’ shouldn’t be listened to. Because, honestly, people are the opposite. They are generally trusting and accepting of others until they are given a reason not to.” I’m going to let that one sink in.

There’s many things a recovering people pleaser has to learn and one of them is saying “no”. This has been so terrible for me. At first it started with a very apologetic, soft spoken “no” that was sure to convince anyone I would change my mind if they waited around long enough and asked a second time. But if you are asked something every single day from multiple people, that hesitant “no” will slowly change.

It’s the seemingly healthy men on sidewalks asking for money, the overly skinny girls asking to bum a cigarette, the non-customers wanting to use the restroom to shoot up or shotgun a beer, the boys you aren’t interested in asking to buy you drinks, and the homeless man asking for a free cup of coffee. It’s heartbreaking, at first, if you aren’t used to it. That is, until you pass the same guy on your way to and from work everyday (where you bust your butt 40 hours a week for minimum wage to put yourself through school). Or until you’re the one cleaning up the blood in the bathroom and finding needles in the trashcan. Or when you realize the boys want to get you drunk enough to sleep with them. Or when a girl steals a caramel bottle from you. Or you turn around to get a sample cup of coffee for a homeless man, only to realize he’s stolen from the tip jar when you had your back turned.

Needless to say, my heart became hardened and my “no” became a “NO”.

I had a moment the other day, though, where I was rethinking my career path. I felt like all of the compassion had been drained from me and that I was no longer cut out for a career in Social Work. I felt forever jaded. One day, I was talking to my new manager, Laura, about the girl who had stolen the caramel bottle. As I was laughing about the situation, Laura said, “Do you know why they do that? Do you know why people steal sugars and things that don’t seem nutritious or filling?” “…Um, no?” “Drug addicts who are going through withdrawals require a ton of calories, but they can’t afford them. So they steal things which will fill them with empty calories to help with the withdrawals. It doesn’t make the stealing right, but at least it helps us understand.”

In that one moment I remembered why I’m passionate about people. I remembered that there is a reason behind everyone’s actions and addiction. I promised myself to fight the urge to become jaded and complacent, and continue to be compassionate and intentional with everyone I meet. I want to still be heartbroken even when I’m used to it. My life style doesn’t allow me to give a dollar to every person that asks for money, and I can’t give away free coffee because it’s bad for business. However, I’m learning that saying “no” to people IS a way of helping. I want to be a Social Worker so that I can help create sustainable change in people’s lives, not to give them opportunities to shoot up in Starbucks bathrooms and become dependent on handouts.



So, that was a lot.
On a more upbeat note, I’m buying a bicycle and purchased a book at Powell’s today! I also enjoyed a wheat-less peanut butter brownie and Au Chocolate (which, from what I understand, is kind of like a cafe au lait with chocolate? Delicious).

The book I’m reading, Adulting is fantastic. I recommend it to anyone in their 20’s. Find the book in stores or check out the blog!

Here are a few other things I’ve come across this week that have inspired me:

Donald Miller’s Storyline Blog post: “Does Trying to Impress People Make You Sad?”

A hilariously true post about our generation’s search for happiness and fulfillment: “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy” 

Anyway, friends. I love you all and hope that life is full of inspiring moments for you, even when life seems dull or unpleasant or scary.

So much love. So much hope. 



118 thoughts on “Musings From a Recovering People Pleaser

  1. Thank you for your blog and this post. I just discovered it. I too am a people pleaser and it took me a long time to create a balance….especially from always trying to please my parents!

  2. I relate to this article so much. I have always been a people pleaser, but it feels like my job has really sucked it all out of me. I work with the opposite sort of people–Ivy League faculty and students. I have been treated horribly, and it makes you lose yourself a little bit. For me, it was the realization that my life is what I make of it, and everyone else has their own set of problems. It is really difficult sometimes, I don’t know if you have the side effect of being the people pleaser that I have: the guilt. It is very difficult to get passed being treated poorly and working toward being a better person when something like that sort of character trait can be used against you.

    It can be tough. Hang in there.

  3. I applaud the courage to see and understand that every issue and addiction has its reason whether rational or not, and also the ambition to pursue sustainable change 🙂
    It is understanding, hope and dreams that nurture the change we wish to see in the world. All the luck to you in your journey.

  4. I just recently discovered and admitted that I am a people pleaser. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without realizing this fact about me. Suppose its time to start the switch.

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