If you try to please all, you please none. (Aesop)
Trying to please everyone is tiring.
It’s also a waste of time! When you try to be all things to all people, no one is happy. Obviously, you suffer because you give and give but don’t receive in return. Your health and well being are depleted and you grow tired and resentful. And despite your best efforts, other people aren’t happy with you either. You might be able to please one person only to turn around and find someone else is now displeased. And of course, some people just can’t be pleased; they find fault no matter what you do.
It truly is a no-win situation.
In Aesop’s fable The Miller, his Son, and the Ass, a man and his son walk alongside their donkey as they take it to market to sell. They encounter a group of travelers who laugh at them for walking when they could be riding. So, the son climbs onto the donkey. Next they meet some men who scoff at the son for not respecting his elder father and allowing him to ride. Although the man didn’t mind walking, he trades places with his son. The next folks they come upon criticize the man for making his son walk while he rides. And so, the boy climbs up and both of them ride until they meet more passersby who say the poor donkey is overloaded. The man and his son certainly don’t want to upset these strangers, so they carry the donkey to market! Two men carrying a donkey attracts a lot of attention which upsets the donkey and he breaks free of the ropes and falls into the river.
The moral of the story is that when you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one (and you lose your donkey).
Have you ever felt like this man—like a puppet on a string bowing to everyone else’s demands? It starts out OK. You’re just being polite and good natured. You want to help and do good in the world. Plus it feels nice to be needed and make people happy. What’s wrong with that, you ask.
Well, what’s wrong is that the requests get more time consuming, more demanding, and more out of line with your true purpose and passion.
You may become so busy pleasing others that you neglect yourself. This could be your health by staying up too late working on mountains of projects or you’re anxious and short tempered due to the stress you’re under.
Just like the man and his son, over time you’re doing things that are further and further from what you want and believe in. You end up being a people-pleaser out of fear of disappointing people or fear of conflict. Eventually you’re carrying a donkey just because someone criticized what you wanted to do!
It might sound ridiculous, but what are you doing to please others? Are you overcommitted, but still taking on more? Do you do things that go against your values? Do you spend time on things that don’t move you toward your goals in order to make others happy? Do you deny your own feelings? Do you feel taken for granted? Do you worry that people won’t like you?
Some people don’t like you
One way to move away from people-pleasing is to accept that not everyone likes you and that’s O.K. You don’t need everyone to like you; you just need some people to love and accept you exactly as you are. When you try to be someone that you’re not, you may be accepted and liked, but the price is steep. People-pleasing is like diluting yourself.
If you keep doing it, you water yourself down to nothing and the facade that everyone likes isn’t even you!
Be selective with who you try to please
It makes sense to try to please the people you’re in close relationship with. Even so, you can’t please your parents or your partner all of the time. A strong relationship can withstand some disagreements and boundaries. You deserve to be in relationship with people who want to know the real you, including your differing opinions and telling them “no” from time to time. You can do this by slowly letting down your perfectionist mask and showing them who you are.
Or you may find you want to invest in some new relationships where you can show up as your imperfect self.
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©2017 Sharon Martin. All rights reserved.
Originally published on PsychCentral.