Confessions of an Ex-People Pleaser
BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
I was a people-pleaser for most of my life and it wasn’t a good thing.
You’re probably thinking, Oh Jen! You just made people happy and helped them out!
I wish it stopped there.
I had such a low opinion of myself and felt I had to make everyone around me happy for them to like me. You know that friend that goes along with everything and doesn’t have a personal opinion – the one that just rolls with it the entire time? That was me: I was constantly just saying yes to make sure people liked me.
This led to some pretty terrible situations – one ending in a divorce.
I still remember when the guy at the front desk started talking to me: I just started working at the Holiday Inn as a bartender and my first day was 9/11. We were talking and I liked the attention more than anything else – the guy was nice enough, but I know I appreciated that someone liked me more than anything else.
When we were hanging out, I know I went along with what he was saying more than I would have had I been honest: things like loving the Beastie Boys and 311 or enjoying being “out” every night at a bar. I didn’t have my own opinions on much of anything – just a lot of “Oh, that sounds great” because I wanted to continue to be liked.
Fast forward a bit of time, and I was waitressing in a local Italian restaurant near my hometown of Milwaukee. He came in to eat dinner and I was slammed – but of course, he was sat in my section. During moments of stress, a little bit of myself came out and I remember being so annoyed he would take up a table on a busy night. He sat there for what seemed like forever (a good table, too) and then near the end, he proposed to me.
Sounds cute, right? I was mortified – I was dating this person because he liked me. I was so annoyed with him at that moment – because the sitting in my section at my work on a busy night where I was trying to make enough money to pay looming bills…and then he proposes to me in public? With all my coworkers and random people around? I remember a brief moment of panic…say no, say no, I chanted in my head. This isn’t right – but the desire to be liked is strong. I said yes.
Everyone was so happy!
Everyone was so excited!
We planned a wedding in Jamaica, and…I sobbed getting my makeup and hair done. Not a few sobs – and not sobs of happiness. Full panic attack I don’t want to do this but I’m here and everyone is here and what do I do sobs.
I went through with it because could you imagine the letdown? The folks who flew there, the guy that asked me, all of the money that was spent!
Never once did I think about myself. I never once took a moment to think of whether or not this is what I wanted – then at the moment, it was, because people liking me was what I wanted. Did I know then I was just going along with whatever someone else said to be liked? Not at all.
Looking back on that marriage – and consequently, that messy divorce when passive wasn’t ok anymore – I wish that someone told me I was people-pleasing more than looking after myself.
While my situation is a bit extreme – check-in. Are you doing things for yourself AND someone else, or just for someone else?