Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations at Unpolished Journey
If you read Morgan’s last post, you’ll know she brought up three different unhealthy roles in relationships which are doormats, enablers, and pleasers. Well, I undoubtedly fall within the category of pleasers, which as Morgan puts it are “those who focus more attention on pleasing others than what they actually need.” I do this because I have believed the lie that the only way people will like me is by putting their needs first.
This has stuck out in a lot of relationships in my life but two more significantly than others.
When I was in high school, I started dating a guy in the middle of my junior year. It was exciting as it was my first boyfriend. A guy I could finally spend and enjoy time with, right?! That was the dream of what I thought our relationship would be. But that was far from reality.
Pretty quickly into the relationship I found that he was obsessed with appearance. He made comments about how we could perfect my skin (as I dealt with pretty severe acne), as well as how neither of us had very good “side views” for taking photos. When he said those things, I didn’t want to disagree. I didn’t want to cause conflict so I just nodded, told him he was right, and moved on. Of course, this made me lose a sense of self-worth and made me believe I wasn’t beautiful. And since body-image was already something I was insecure about, this lead to a very negative thought process. But I let things like that happen over and over because I was the pleaser – I knew how to agree but I didn’t know how to say no or get angry and assert that those comments were not okay. I just couldn’t.
The second relationship that stands out in which I became the pleaser was my freshman year roommate. I went into freshman year imagining that my roommate and I were going to become best friends. We both had dealt with body-image issues, and I had dreams of us lifting each other up and supporting each other throughout our first year away from home. Well, again, things did not go as I expected. My roommate began to overstep boundaries. She began to use me as her therapist daily. She began to project her insecurities on myself and because of this, I began to take on more insecurities than I had to begin with. She wanted me to be her friend, her sister, her roommate, her mentor, her therapist, her everything. And as we all know, this is just not humanly possible. But again, me being a pleaser, I let her ask these things of me. I felt like it was my duty to attend to all of these roles in order to allow this situation to work. I was giving from an already empty cup, leaving me feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. This time I did try and speak up. But even after talking with her, she kept pushing the boundaries. She kept overstepping. I talked to her again, and she didn’t listen time and time again.
I have realized that once people recognize they can overstep my boundaries just once, they begin to continually take advantage of me. And when I do finally try and ask them to stop, they don’t listen. This has also taught me that it’s not worth trying to tell them no because people don’t care to listen! In hindsight, I know it is because I failed to set the boundary in the first place. If you have difficulty saying no and take that brave step to intentionally say no to someone, but they ask again, you are likely to succumb to the request the second time because it was hard enough to say no the first time.
So what’s my advice? Be willing to say no from the beginning. If you see something that is not okay, don’t let it happen once or more than once. Stand up for yourself. Use your voice (as scary as that might seem, it’s really powerful).
Secondly, stand your ground. If you say no and someone asks again, say no again. Honestly, this will encourage people to respect you a lot more. I know I personally respect people who are willing to be upfront about boundaries. It’s really counterintuitive, isn’t it? We think saying yes is what will make us liked, when, in reality, holding true to our own authentic selves and saying no when we want to does just that. I hope that gives you confidence in learning to say no.
My third piece of advice is that us pleasers have to recognize our part in the relationship. I was talking to my therapist about how I attract people who are willing to push boundaries and how I know it is due to my people pleasing nature. And she responded saying “I’m glad you realize your role in it and that obsessive people aren’t just waiting to approach you on the street corner.” It made me laugh. Because yeah, I get it. People meet me and think I can get whatever I want out of this girl. And for people who push boundaries to begin with, I’m like a pot of gold. Us people pleasers have to be willing to see that we have to work to change our own thoughts and actions and not put all of the blame on the other person.
Maybe some of you can relate to this. Maybe some of you can’t. Wherever you stand on this topic, I want to ask something of the people who can’t relate to this. Next time you are in a conversation with someone and they have difficulty saying no, maybe consider that they feel obligated to say yes. Consider that they believe if they say no, you won’t like them anymore. Because for me, saying no is as risky as deciding to run and jump off of the edge of the cliff even though you don’t know how far the drop is or where you’re headed towards. Yes, it is that hard. So, all I ask is that you consider the other side.
I used to believe that the way to make people like me was always saying yes. It was to put their needs before mine – to agree with them and let them have their way. I look back on this period of my life with a heavy heart because I wish I would’ve stood up for myself in those moments. But I also know that without these experiences I would have never learned some very valuable lessons. I would have never learned the power of saying no and setting boundaries. I would have never learned how much I appreciate those who are willing to voice their own boundaries. I will say that I’m still learning how to set boundaries and say no when I need to, and that I still struggle with this daily. But I’ve improved. And each day is a new opportunity to practice, no matter how small the boundary I’m setting may seem.
Oh, and to the guy I dated in high school: I don’t know what you’re looking at but I have a damn good side view.