I love people. It’s rare I don’t get along with someone. I find people very fascinating. What they do, what they say, what makes them interesting. But mostly I connect to what they don’t say, what their body tells me. I am a people person but it was during a conversation I had with my husband, some years ago (before he even was my husband), that something really sang out. I was upset about something that happened at work. I felt misunderstood. I was crying and felt my job (me) being threatened. My husband said, “We need to be liked by everyone”. That statement rang in my ears for weeks, months and as you can see years. Why had I never noticed it before? I am a people pleaser; yes I am and have been all of my life.
Now I’m seeing the same ‘people pleasing’ behaviors in my sweet daughter. I see it when she feels like she might get into trouble with her dad. I see it when she’s playing with her friends. I even notice her do it to me, of course, because I taught her this, didn’t I? How do I help myself but more importantly help her? Why do we NEED to be liked by everyone? At what point do these behaviors start to self-harm?
“If your number one goal is to make sure that everyone likes and approves of you, then you risk sacrificing your uniqueness, and, therefore, your excellence.”
I’ve been sacrificing my excellence
…and I didn’t even know it.
Are you doing the same thing?
I bend over backward to help those around me putting my own needs last. But I can argue that this is part of my uniqueness as well. I’ve unknowingly given up bits of myself trying to gain approval. In the beginning, it’s innocent, you just want to help out and be nice, but what happens when these acts of kindness are not reciprocated and you keep trying to please the same people or type of person? They start to become ‘takers’.
Do people pleasers create takers or is it the other way around? Takers definitely feed on people pleasers that I know for sure. Living this way is proven to be unhealthy because it’s not sustainable, it catches up with you and breaks you down. Did it take seeing the same behaviors in my daughter to finally open my eyes? How do we help and serve those around us without falling into a ‘taker trap’?
As long as I can remember I’ve always tried to be liked by all. People are nice to people they like and I was (let’ be truthful, still am) never good with rejection or dislike directed at me. It started at home. I was one of five children, the middle child. I’m sure being one of five kids needing attention from my parents is where it started. I did my best to be the perfectly behaved one and became an overachiever in life or a perfectionist.
My older brother already had the role of the one who did the wrong thing and got all my mother’s worries. My little brother was the baby and my little sister played to role of the snoop and victim. My older sister paved the way for all of us, challenged my parents with all the firsts. I idolized my older sister. I loved everything about her and wanted to be just like her. I would follow her around the house annoying her with my obsession. Before she became a teenager, she always had time for her four younger siblings. Just because she didn’t want to spend time with us anymore didn’t mean I didn’t want to spend time with her. She started to resent me and wasn’t very nice. She started to change and the smallest of questions or comments got your head bitten off and soon she wasn’t any fun to be around. I lost my sister to teenage-pregnancy. She became a mother at eighteen and I became an aunt at twelve. It didn’t change how I felt about her. I just now had a sweet little niece to love and play house with. My sister ended up getting married very quickly to her boyfriend and moved to Italy where he was stationed in the Navy. I missed my sister and my little niece very much. I can trace my needing to be liked back to my older sister. I tried everything in my power to get her to like me again, but I didn’t understand all that she was going through at the time and I blamed myself. I wasn’t cool enough, I wasn’t tall enough, old enough. This seems to be my earliest memory of this type of behavior that will follow me throughout my life.
We all have different talents. That’s what makes us so unique and interesting in our own way. I have always been able to understand people’s feelings. It’s like I can look directly into their heart at times. I seem to be extra sensitive to people’s emotions. When I was young I thought everyone could feel this. Because of what I felt, I took on the responsibility of trying to make everyone around me happy from an early age.
My parents were divorced when I was eight-years-old. It was messy for all seven of us but I remember feeling that their divorce was my fault. Why did I feel this way? How could such a young child feel this? This seems very odd to me now that I am a mother myself. I would never want my children to feel the need to take on such responsibilities, such adult responsibilities that even as adults we don’t understand or choose to take on.
As I hit my 40’s things started to make a little more sense; a missing link was revealed. I was finally ready to learn and let it sink in. I discovered that the ‘wants’ and the ‘needs’ of people are blurred to me. It’s my job to ‘de-code’ the wants from the needs to then be able to understand someone’s true desires. For all of my young life, I have mistaken people’s desires and wants for needs. I feel I have been put on this earth to serve and help others. It brings me happiness. Most people I help just want my love, support & understanding. Everything I give to these people comes at no risk to me. In fact, helping them strengthens me. But when I give to the ‘takers’ I hurt myself in the process. They tear strips off me and over the years I’ve given too much of myself away, especially in those tender teenage years. I felt their desires but misread their wants for needs. I finally understand the difference and I need to help my daughter understand the difference.
Now how do I put this into practice?
I ask myself a simple question. Do they just want something from me or do they enjoying being in my space? I can usually tell by people’s behaviors, words, actions, body language, life morals, the stories they share with me and the most telling signs are the way they treat other people, especially the people they love.
What can be tricky for me is if I’ve just met someone, i’ll need to rely a lot on my gut. I trust my gut, however, this is where the battle within begins. When my gut instinct does not match what my head and heart are telling me. My head always wins over my gut and my heart usually wins over my head. My head is logic, my heart is emotions and my gut picks up on everything else. My gut picks up what my head and heart don’t see or choose not to see. That’s why it’s been so easy to get it wrong a lot.
I have felt so low about myself that I needed others to want and need me to feel any self-worth. It makes me sad to think about that heartbroken young Kaylynn with all her muchness draining out of her helpless to stop it and desperate for anything, even a band-aid fix.
I only want to see good in everyone, with me everyone starts out with greatness in their soul, a clean slate. I see my daughter giving everyone a clean slate too…and this is not a bad thing except when her excellence starts being sacrificed.
The world needs more random acts of kindness. Kindness changes hearts from both directions. This week do something for someone else. Something that can change a heart.
The world is full of selfish people. We can change hearts by showing gentleness toward each other and ourselves. Let’s lift and care for each other without tearing strips and hurting each other.
Kindness begins with me.
Feature photo by Spencer Pugh on Unsplash