people pleasing: a case study

Many of you lovely readers responded to my mention of being a people-pleaser the last time we wrote about apologizing (Katie’s here, Maria’s here) and it got me thinking: non-people-pleasers must be a little baffled by how people-pleasers go through their days. I’m surprised to learn that there is a scientific term for people-pleasing—sociotropy—and Urban Dictionary was very helpful in offering this thoughtful, gentle definition:

People pleasers are doormats who let high expectations, resentment, and saying “yes” when they mean “no” run their lives.

care2.com

I thought I would observe an anonymous volunteer for a day and summarize my findings:

  1. In the morning, Subject 1 goes to the acupuncturist for a possible foot problem. (This part doesn’t have to do with people-pleasing as much as hypochondria and an obsession with alternative medicine.) The acupuncturist says that she wants to look at Subject 1’s tongue, as is standard procedure in Eastern medicine for assessing overall health. The subject promptly excuses herself to the restroom where she begins to get nervous about the appearance of her tongue. She feels guilty for not having consumed the recommended 8 glasses of water the day before and also for having coffee after brushing her teeth that very morning. As her heart-rate increases and perspiration levels rise, she begins flushing out her mouth with water from the sink, rubbing her tongue with her fingers, and searching frantically for any sort of device she could use to further groom the tongue and rejuvenate the taste buds, all in order for the acupuncturist to discern that Subject 1 is a Good Person Who Takes Care of Her Health. Subject 1 settles on scraping her tongue with her driver’s license, which further increases her guilt, this time directed toward the State of California, as she has not yet complied with the law stating that new residents should update their license within 10 days of moving to the state. It had, in fact, been over a year since Subject 1 became a resident and she spends the morning regretting that she ignored her husband’s prompts visit the DMV sooner.
  2. In the afternoon, the subject takes her 3 young children to the park. There she meets a retiree from Virgina who is visiting her daughter, a local resident who is about to give birth to her third child. The retiree has just flown in that morning and is attending to her grandchildren while her daughter rests at home. She tells Subject 1 that she refused to come out unless her daughter promised she would take drugs for the pending delivery. “She gave birth naturally to the first two,” says the retiree, pointing to her grandchildren,”and it was just crazy. My son-in-law kept telling her, ‘You can do it, You can do it.’ ” Subject 1 begins to wonder what she might have to offer to the conversation, as she had extremely positive experiences with drug-free births and very much believes it is an empowering decision that should be left to the person giving birth. However, she very much likes the retiree from Virginia and wants her to feel welcomed and comfortable, considering she’d been traveling since 4:30 that morning. “Anybody who gives birth without drugs is crazy, don’t you think?” asks the retiree. Subject 1 attempts to remain quiet, which is unusual for her, but the retiree clearly wants an answer. “Aren’t those women just crazy?” she asks again. The subject considers forsaking her own opinion on the matter for the first time in her life and lying, but as she begins to nod her head, and she finds herself saying, “It must be hard for a mother to watch her daughter suffer and not be able to do anything.” This is sufficient for the retiree and Subject 1 finds that she can then change the topic of conversation to the retiree’s love of playing bridge and drinking scotch.
  3. In the evening, a friend of Subject 1 surprises her with  a CD recording of one of her favorite bands. “It’s a boot-legged recording of their live performance in Vancouver, so the sound quality isn’t very good at first,” he explains. “Oh, that’s OK,” says Subject 1, “I prefer poor sound quality. It makes the music more interesting.”

You PREFER poor sound quality ???

Maria. Stop. Talking. For once in your life, just smile and say, “Thanks.”

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38 thoughts on “people pleasing: a case study

  1. Hmmm. As someone who exists on the opposite end of the spectrum – a supreme and confirmed NON-people pleaser, I think I can assess this somewhat objectively for you.

    1) Fairly ridiculous only because of how far the incident progressed. Most people, when seeing a doctor of any kind, feel guilty about the state of their junk, twat, teeth, bad breath, anus, unshaved legs, hairy nipples, or whatever the medical professional happens to be checking. This is a normal thing to feel. However, most people also let it be a passing thought and, with a shrug of the shoulders, think, “Eh. Surely they’ve seen worse than ME before,” and then let it go. So it’s possible you have some work to do on that front. 🙂 As for the driver’s license thing, don’t sweat it. I did not update mine to Missouri (after moving from Oklahoma) for a full year because I wanted to let my Oklahoma license officially expire. Those things cost money. I wanted to get my money’s worth. And there was no penalty when I finally did go and get a Missouri license, though I guess I can’t speak for California.

    2) The inner dialogue leading up to your actual response is a bit stressed, but it resulted with you providing what was actually a courteous, polite, diplomatic, tactful response, and I admire you for that. It was extremely considerate of you to turn the tables and make it sound like she was just concerned for her daughter rather than a crazy controlling nag. Of course, since you’ll never know the full context of that family’s stories and relationships to one another, it was probably best to offer a response that neither compromised your personal values nor made her feel she was intruding on those values, nor did it make her feel attacked or needing to be defensive. So on this one, I applaud you. Well done. Learn to recognize the line between being diplomatic and being a people pleaser and give yourself credit for it more often, because a lot of people pleasers have the diplomacy ability in spades; it often just gets overlooked due to us non-people-pleasing people recognizing the doormat quality much quicker.

    3) This one is just funny. And I think you are aware of that.

    Good post, Maria. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh Maria, this speaks volumes to me. Being a people pleaser sucks. This is why, since I’m also a supremely honest person who feels the largest guilt at the smallest lie, when my neighbor calls and wants our kids to play (her child is disobedient, rude and disrespectful), I will actually load my kids in the car and leave the house so that I can legitimately say, “Oh sorry, we’re just leaving the house!” rather than say, “No, we can’t play today.” Oh well – I probably get more grocery shopping accomplished that way. And it’s why I’m just signing with my first initial because if she were to ever happen across this message, I don’t want to hurt her feelings. If you ever find a cure for this, please post.

    • PS – kudos on your diplomatic answer to #2. You didn’t compromise your own values, but were also respectful of her opinions. As great an achievement as a people pleaser can hope for!

  3. Enjoyed this. I am know doubt on the people pleasing spectrum also, but for me there is a line when it comes to matters of justice. I do need to speak out and risk offending. It is not a comfortable position. But a worthy one in the long run I hope!
    It is interesting to consider whether other folks acquiesce/ choose to remain silent out of wanting to please? Or is it simply to stay out the spotlight and go with the flow – whatever that may be? Not sure. Thanks for your words.

  4. Funny. Funny. Funny. Loved this post! Please contact me if you find a cure. I’m most interested since I’m always the butt of all jokes among my family and friends when it comes to PP. Thanks!

  5. I’ve opened my internal monologue to outsiders recently. It helps people understand why I do the things I do and builds trust. It works for me.

    Interesting word, sociotropy. Hey, speaking of, can I borrow 5 dollars?

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