A very wise client of mine recently told me about a very helpful book she’d read called, “The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome” by Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D. And being the studious and curious therapist that I am, I ran out and got a copy and have not been able to put it down!
While researching Dr. Braiker’s work on the internet, I was saddened to learn that she died suddenly at the age of 55 from complications from pneuomonia. Dr. Braiker was an internationally recognized authority on stress and women’s issues who was always in great demand as a public speaker. I can’t imagine how many women’s lives and hearts she touched with The Disease to Please. How many of us suffer from this ‘illness’ (and I agree that it is one) of “people-pleasing”? I know I do and so do the majority of my clients.
Here are The Ten Commandments of People-Pleasing from Dr. Braiker’s phenomenal book, The Disease to Please:
- I should always do what others want, expect, or need from me.
- I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not.
- I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
- I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
- I should always put other people first, before me.
- I should never say “no” to anyone who needs or requests something of me.
- I should never disappoint anyone of let others down in any way.
- I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others.
- I should always try to please other people and make them happy.
- I should try never to burden others with my own needs or problems. (p. 17)
Can you relate to most or all of these? If so, you, my friend, are most likely a full-fledged people-pleaser and you need help. According to Ms. Braiker, this constant ‘shoulding on yourself’ is a toxic practise. She says that while you think you excel at making other people happy, what you’re actually doing is making yourself feel miserable and inadequate. In fact, she goes as far as to say that people-pleasers, while aspiring to be as “nice” as they can be, fail miserably when it comes being nice to themselves.
Plus, the habit of people-pleasing doesn’t necessarily make others think you’re a “nice” person anyway. In fact, being around someone who is always putting others’ needs before their own can be annoying and downright irritating. So even if you move mountains to make other people comfortable and you are as nice as you can be, they may actually be repelled by your actions and end up NOT liking you- the exact opposite effect of what you were initially striving for by being so damn nice in the first place!
In this fabulous book, there is an entire chapter called, “It’s Okay Not to Be Nice” which will both shock and hopefully, soothe you. Perhaps this was the lesson we learned from good old Sandra Dee in the movie Grease. Story goes something like this: good girl acting all virtuous and people-pleasing and gets walked all over, then realizing this doormat approach to life is a real bummer, flips overnight into a spandex-wearing, high heel toting, red lipstick clad, smoking vixen and gets all the respect she always wanted (and the man- if John Travolta is considered a “must-have”).
I’m not suggesting that you follow in Sandra Dee’s footsteps- I’m guessing she regretted the smoking habit later on, and perhaps dating Mr. Travolta. What I do think makes sense though is to find a balance between being nice and embracing your ‘inner bitch’. I highly recommend reading The Disease to Please so you can learn how to stop the people-pleasing habit and become the incredibly strong, confident woman you want to be who doesn’t care too much about what everyone else thinks of her. I’m guessing you’ll feel a whole lot lighter and freer to be yourself. I would also wager a bet that you might even have some extra time to do an activity you really enjoy…