Reality Check: Ups and Downs of People Pleasing

Jo is upset. She would like to please her friend Maggie but if she does, she’ll end up unhappy with herself.
Maggie is insisting that Jo spend essentially all of her free time with her. We all know that no matter how delightful the friend, we don’t want to spend all of our free time with them. We have things to do. Or not do, for that matter.
Adding to Jo’s distress is that she doesn’t really enjoy her time with Maggie.
Much of the conversation is negative, with Maggie freely offering advice on how Jo and others should be running their lives. Jo nods and smiles, with no intention of following through. It’s tiring, to say the least.
Now Jo has vacation time coming up. She can imagine her ideal days—quietly reading, wandering the beach, capped by evenings laughing with friends who don’t meet Maggie’s approval.
But already, Maggie is “planning” Jo’s vacation, and it involves a lot of Maggie-led activities. This has happened before and Jo dreads it happening again. The more Jo tries to avoid these plans, the more insistent Maggie becomes. Jo already has a headache and has resorted to spending way too much time in bed. At least when she’s sleeping, anxiety and resentment don’t overwhelm her.
Why doesn’t Jo stop the frustration? Just stop participating in the charade? Because she can’t seem to muster up a way to say “no.”
If any of that sounds familiar, then you may also be familiar with the term “people pleaser.” People-pleasing is not rare; there are plenty of books about it. I have one of them, titled “The People Pleaser’s Guide to Loving Others Without Losing Yourself” by Dr. Mike Bechtle.
In theory, wanting to please others is a positive trait. It could mean that you’re sensitive, empathetic, kind. If that’s so, then why would you be unhappy? Sadly, people pleasing can lead to unhappiness. Even when you do manage to please others; you may not, in fact, be pleasing yourself. Just ask Jo.
Dr. Bechtle doesn’t denigrate the people pleaser; in fact, he sees that he’s one himself. He suggests that one find ways to become more effective—to please others but also importantly, to please yourself.
One suggestion he offers is to be proactive. Take charge of your choices. If you’ve been reading these columns, that idea won’t come as a big surprise.
A proactive question that Jo could consider from Reality Therapy is: “What do you want?” Good relationships have tremendous value, but the key is “good.” Does Jo want this relationship? If so, how would she like it to be?
Bechtle also poses an interesting question: “What choice would I make if I wasn’t worried about what others would think?”
Jo is ultimately in charge of how she spends her time. What could Jo say to Maggie? How about, “Maggie, I appreciate that you want us to spend time together. I’m available for coffee Monday. I’m not available other days, but thank you for asking.”
Will this cause an outburst? An ugly scene? Perhaps. But Jo, think about what you want. It’s true that your clear, honest statement may change the relationship. However, your constant headaching could be telling you that the current relationship isn’t working so well for you. Perhaps change is worth exploring.
If Jo asked you for advice, what would you tell her?

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