I’m a people-pleaser.
There – I said it.
Definitely not all the time. But enough of the time that it can be annoying to me (and probably others around me).
I use the term “people-pleaser” to mean that I try to avoid conflict whenever I can. I might witness an argument and hold opinions, viewpoints, or perspectives in common with one side or another, but I might decline to join in the discussion.
It’s not necessarily that I’m a coward, per se, or that I’m weak or characteristically-flawed; it’s just that disagreements cause me a lot of stress. I don’t thrive on them; I crumble under them. They send my heart rate racing and give me that weird adrenaline taste in my mouth. I lose the ability to think. I lose the ability to function.
Sometimes, this isn’t true; sometimes, I’ll act as a warrior of sorts, spreading what I believe to be true and crusading for what I think is right.
What determines which way I’ll respond? Usually the other people involved, and also the temperature of the disagreement. If it’s a situation where a troll is attacking a friend, that’s when my sword comes out and I’m not afraid to say anything. I care nothing for the troll or what they think of me. There is no relationship there, and I have no interest in forming one.
If the debate is relatively emotionless and purely academic/cerebral, I might chime in, depending on the availability of time in my world to do so. I’ll toss in my two (or three) cents.
But if the debate gets heated and I care for the people involved, I’m more likely to stay silent. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want to lose a friend.
Sometimes, that bites me in the arse. By not taking sides, both sides have a tugging effect on me. I’m not blaming them for this; this is purely within me. But it’s still difficult to navigate and resolve. I become deeply affected.
And that’s when the people-pleasing comes in.
(Potential Trigger/Content Warning regarding the next paragraph only.)
I’m not here to make excuses for that, but I am here to offer explanations. Each of us is a product of a combination of our background and our nature or tendencies. Our backgrounds might include trauma – someone might have been sexually assaulted, whereas another might have been bullied, and still another might have been physically abused or verbally abused. Others may have faced oppression or discrimination, either overtly or covertly. And still others may not have had any of those events happen to them. (End Potential Trigger/Content Warning.)
Now, factor in a person’s nature; some us are more warrior-like, whereas others are more passive. Some of us are more sensitive than others, and those of us who are may have different ways of dealing with or expressing that. Some of us (including myself at times) jump on others suspected to be acting a certain way or saying certain things, while others retreat fearfully (also including myself at times).
My nature is somewhat dual – in some situations, I can go in with guns blazing, swords drawn, and cannons loaded. Under other circumstances, I can be very passive and non-confrontational, preferring to duck and hide.
In the instances in which I duck and hide, why? What encourages me to do this?
I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, and I’ve identified a few possible theories.
It may come from insecurity and not being sure of myself. I’ve taken missteps throughout my life, resulting in pain and anguish that I had not expected nor seen coming. And I’m always afraid I’ll take another one of those missteps. I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing either out of sheer emotion or before I have all of the facts (straight). I also don’t want people to think badly of me (who does?)
At times, I think it can also come from a desire to fit in and be accepted, after years of painful rejection, and a tough time making friends; I’m scared to lose them. I had never felt like I “fit” anywhere before, so every friend I make, I hang onto. I don’t cling, per se, but it pains me greatly to lose a friend or to fall out of touch with one. It’s happened before and not a day goes by that I don’t think of them.
It may also come from the vague intuition that somehow, I was irreconcilably different from everyone else, and thus, I have historically always been outnumbered. I’ve always been in the minority, and I’ve always “stuck out” despite the fact that I was trying to “draw in” and remain inconspicuous and unnoticed. The very things I wanted (anonymity, acceptance) were the very things I had never gotten, despite trying every strategy I could think of to make it happen. I failed every time. Always outcast, never embraced.
I also figure that it comes from an extra-sensitivity to criticism and a strong desire not to hurt anyone. I don’t want to hurt anyone else, and I don’t want to get hurt myself, either. I’ve long been the target of criticism, as have many of us – parents, teachers, role models, friends, classmates, siblings, etc. In my case, even my younger sibling joined in, and there’s a semi-significant age difference between us. The humiliation was incredible.
At times, the people-pleasing isn’t actually a desire to please, but rather, an apparent waffling as a result of being able to see multiple sides at once. If both sides make valid statements, then it’s even harder to interject. In so doing, it might turn out well, in that both sides are placated, but I also run the risk of one or both sides becoming angry with me.
And of course, there’s that lifelong effect of over-analyzing everything. Should I say this? Should I do that? What if they take what I say the wrong way? How should I word this? If I’m debating online, how many smileys do I add, and which ones? What’s over the top? What comes across as desperate? What comes off as flippant? What might get perceived as detached or cruel? Do I have all the facts? Am I missing something? Was there a hidden meaning in that comment? What tone of voice am I hearing? Was it sarcasm? Was it meant to hurt? What perspective are is that person speaking from? Are they feeling ill or having a bad day? Are they spent? Was that remark passive-aggressive or not? Did they really say what they meant? Did they really mean it that way? How should I word my thoughts – will this get misinterpreted? Will they think I’m ableist? Is that an ableist word? Is that a forbidden word? Will I come across as an asshole? Am I truly informed enough to render an opinion or make a statement? Is this the right time? Should I speak up now, or wait until it blows over? Should I approach them when it’s over? Should I offer them support? Should I speak up out in the open, or do it behind the scenes? Am I a coward if I approach them privately? Will I be seen as two-faced? I’m really not trying to be two-faced. I have to tread carefully here…
And this goes on and on, whether the interaction takes place online or in person.
I think it also comes from my INTJ nature; I’m an introvert who doesn’t want to make waves. I don’t want to rock the boat, don’t want to stir the pot. The world is full enough of chaos and conflict, and the last thing it needs is one more person to add fuel to the fire. I don’t want to be the one that causes anyone pain. I don’t want perpetrate in any of the behaviors that others have inflicted on me.
Again, these are just theories, possible explanations, as to why I am the way I am. Since learning that I’m autistic/an Aspie, I have had to review and decode my life, revisiting situations that caused pain and misery, in hopes of perhaps healing from them and transcending them once and for all.
Conflicts continue to arise, in accordance with the nature of the world and the nature of human interaction. That’s not anybody’s fault, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. I don’t shun conflict; I think that if two people have differing ideas, they have every right to air those ideas and be heard. If someone disagrees with someone else, then they have just much of a right to their own opinion, and they have a right to voice it. If someone witnesses injustice or prejudice in any way, they have the right to call out the person making the unjust or prejudiced statements/actions.
It’s just that sometimes, I’m uncomfortable speaking up myself. Again, this isn’t always the case; if I witness something that I think is wrong, I’ll speak up, too. The more wrong I think it is, the more likely I am to speak up. I tread more carefully, though, when it’s a conflict between friends. An unjust viewpoint is still that – unjust – but somehow my affinity for people can get in the way of my ability to call anyone out. This holds even more true if I hadn’t seen or joined in the conversation fairly early on; the more the conversation progresses and the more heated the emotions become, the harder it is for me to feel like I can say something.
Again, that’s no one’s fault. It’s my own nature; I take full responsibility.
So, what can I learn from my self-analysis? Can I change?
The truth is, I’m not sure. I know that being able to look back through my new spectrum lens is useful for explaining why I am the way I am and where it all came from. I know that being able to combine that newfound lens with the events that happened to me as a child, both at home and in school, has also been useful for decoding my present approach.
But I’m not sure whether or not it will change. I’m still scared at times. I still don’t like rocking the boat. I still don’t like losing friends. I’m not sure I’ll ever make peace with those concepts. They still affect me a lot.
But I also don’t think it’s right to stay silent in the event that someone truly is bullying another, making questionable statements, or expressing negative views. I will still fight for what I think is right, when I find that it needs to be said, and if I can get to it in time.
I’ve always wanted to please people. In the past, I’ve even tried to please people I disagreed with. I used to lie down even when someone was harassing an innocent person. Today, I can honestly stand tall and say that I don’t do that anymore, that I’m not afraid to call out over-the-line behavior/statements when I see them, if indeed that behavior has clearly crossed the line. I can say that I’ll stand by and not let a friend be harassed or put down.
I can also say that it’s definitely a work in progress. These old habits die hard. ❤
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(Image Credit: Tugba Sevinc)