Burning Pleaserville to the Ground

Here’s a problem a lot of nice people run into. They spend a good chunk of their life living for other people because maybe they grew up in a religious household, or maybe they had overly-strict parents, or maybe they were afraid of failing, so they learned to play life safe; small. If they do something wrong, they aren’t to blame – they were just trying to help; to do what was expected; to follow the rules.

Eventually the luckier of these pleasers find that life isn’t working out the way they had hoped. They come to an expanded sense of who they are. Or who they might be. They realize they aren’t living authentically. But they’re married, they have kids, or they have a role in their family or friend group or church or job or community that depends on them being the same person they have always been.

They don’t want to let anybody down. They don’t want to cause anybody pain. These people have built their lives around being what others want them to be – and those people aren’t going to let go without a fight. The tentacles of domesticity are many and strong.

At the same time,  they no longer want to be who they’ve always been—they want to be who they really are—whatever that is.  Parker J Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak, would agree–He says that it is better for a person to be whole than it is to be good.

If you’re ready for meaningful change, know that it doesn’t come without ripples. Ever renovated a home? You’ll toss a lot of things that are salvageable-but-not-necessary to make room for the deliberate improvements you have committed to bring forth. And it’s going to get uglier before it gets pretty. There will be walls to tear down, cabinets to rip off, and windows to replace. But eventually the building will begin. And at first it will be structural, and then it will be aesthetic. And eventually, it will reach a point where everybody can see what all the fuss was about and most will agree that the new version is better than the old. Not that it matters what other people think.

If you are a pleaser looking for emancipation, there are a few things you can do to not be a complete asshole. But know that if you have to be a complete asshole, that’s ok, too. Being an asshole is underrated. Still, if you want to mitigate the pain you cause, remember these 6 things:

  1. Be clear about your intentions. As soon as your heart tells you something, and you decide to listen to it, don’t waver. This will undoubtedly lead to chaos in your life for a while, but at least you’ll feel the strength that comes from having integrity and being clear about something. People may not like what you’re saying, but a part of them will respect the determination with which you do it.
  2. Don’t question yourself. This is how you got into this problem to begin with. Nice people often fall into this trap because they want to be open to the thoughts and opinions of others. But only you can live your life. Of course, that’s easier said than done. You want to be different, you want to be authentic, but you don’t want to be a horrible person. You don’t want to be an asshole. You don’t want to be selfish, but you also don’t want to live small anymore. This is your life. You have a responsibility to live it as fully and as well as you can. You don’t know that you get any other life, and nobody can do the living for you.

    As Nietzche said, “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.”

  3. Remember: Candor is Kinder. To a pleaser, the two don’t mix – if you’re honest about how you feel, your partner may get mad or hurt. But if you’re not, you’re disrespecting yourself and your needs. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn to say the hard truth, while being as kind as you can. Are you breaking up with your boyfriend and do you need to tell him it’s time to move out? Be direct. Be clear. Don’t assume you know what is best for them. And sometimes it’s more compassionate to make it clear that there’s not a chance you’ll get back together and that you no longer have feelings for them.
  4. Embrace your informed perspective. Pleasers have a tendency to put the views of others before their own. But that’s all changing now. It’s time you see that the changes you are making are indeed the best changes that can be made, because they’re the changes you need to make. Stop pretending like you know what is best for everybody; stop trying to bend reality to adjust to what you think someone else wants you or needs you to be. You have been enabling others to live in delusion. In a way, it’s dishonesty, and it’s time to be open to the fact that you can live a deliberate life, and that others can still find happiness and fullness without you being their support/companion/monkey. In fact, they’ll have a better chance at finding fullness and happiness – they just won’t like the path at first.
  5. Take the leap. This is the hardest part. This is why so many couples end up in affairs – because they need a vehicle of emancipation. Living a deliberate life is hard – living a deflective life is much easier. But healthier approaches exist – and you can find one. Have the conversation. Mark it in your calendar if you have to. And then jump. Did I ever tell you that story about when I jumped off a waterfall in costa rica? No? Well, there is a moment when it’s just you on the edge and you could stay there forever, or you could step backward, or you can jump.  So jump. It’s going to be ok. Take the leap and try not to lose yourself. You’ll be ok. Everybody will be ok.
  6. You are not harming them. People that don’t want you to change; people who have built their world on the inauthentic version of you will say a lot of horrible things to you in the hopes that you’ll give up these crazy notions of being so selfish. They’ll want you to talk to a therapist. They’ll have prayers said for you. They’ll remind you of your responsibilities, and your promises and your vows and your commitments.

This is normal. It’s part of the process. You’ll get through it and so will they.

Don’t worry about being selfish. Don’t worry about causing pain. Feelings are going to be hurt. Some damage may be done, but everybody will get stronger and will have the chance to be a better, fuller version of themselves in the end.

Be selful, and enjoy the ride. Welcome to your new world.