I am a people pleaser. You may not think I am unless you know me really, really, extremely well. I'm not the nicest, most considerate and self-sacrificing person you will ever meet. I'm not even particularly friendly all the time. I don't know why the things that I express outwardly sometimes totally clash with the things that I feel inside. Anyway, to me people pleasing means being terrified of disappointing others to the extent that sometimes I need to ask myself if I'm striving towards my own goals, or somebody else's projection of my goals. It means that I will experience anxiety if I refuse an offer or invite or anything along those lines coming from another person and including my presence or contribution. And it means that when I feel like I have disappointed someone I will get a surge of anxiety that makes my stomach turn, heart race, and if I'm in the same space with the person I will get a primal urge to run and get to a safe place as soon as possible.
I will give you a couple of examples of how my people pleasing issue has manifested itself up to this moment.
When I was 16 I saw a psychologist for a while to help me with my issues in synchro skating. I was diagnosed with vocal chord dysfunction, which has a psychological dimension to it - and as I've later on understood, this was merely a symptom of my panic attacks that were never the primary focus of any treatment. So anyway, I met with the psychologist for a handful of times, and she was helping me to notice and break down my own thinking patterns in order to stop the negative cognitive cycles that were feeding into the hyperventilation caused by my vocal chord dysfunction during vigorous exercise. She gave me cognitive exercises to carry out during my skating practice to give me tools to manage the hyperventilation. Every week she would ask how I'd felt about doing the previous exercise and if it had helped and so on. And every time I would tell her that yes, it was helping and I was feeling very hopeful and positive about it.
And yes, the breathing exercises and mental images did 'cure' the worst of my impaired breathing.
But instead of getting in touch with the heart of the issue the visible panic turned inward.
At some point after 'resolving' my breathing issue I stopped seeing my psychologist, and was left to my own devices. I was grateful about not having to suffer a public display of craziness time and again, so grateful indeed that I ignored the internal experience of being trapped inside my own body. The anxiety - physical and mental - would begin to increase on my way to skating practice, reach its peak at some point during practice, and slowly decrease as I got closer to home afterwards.
In a nutshell, I was so concerned about my psychologist's feelings and aspirations for me that I never revealed the whole truth of my pain, and always showed good progress and gratitude for her help.
Another instance where I had to kick myself really hard to see how much harm I was doing to myself was when I'd found out that my ex who I still had feelings for, who knew, and with whom I nevertheless tried to be friends with had been pretty much lying to my face for some time. Or you know, not telling the truth - which in my books constitutes as lying. Even in the initial pain that was more intense than anything I've ever felt before or since, I found it in me to feel sorry for her. I thought that I didn't have the right to be furious because I knew that she had her own issues. I wanted to comfort her because I saw that she was suffering from something as well. And it took me a while to get myself together enough to understand that it doesn't matter if the people who hurt me originally set out to do so, or if they are hurting also. My pain is my own, and if through negligence you do ill to another it is just as bad as a conscious act. I am not responsible for somebody else's mistake, and if it causes me pain I have every right to protect myself from them.
In other words, I have a habit of making everything into something that I contributed to, seeing everything that makes me feel bad as my own fault in some weird and twisted way.
And then to the most recent example that actually prompted me to discuss this issue in the first place. This is something that will hopefully show how my people pleasing sometimes works in very mundane circumstances with no drama involved.
I had a meeting with a Personal Trainer who had come up to me at the gym a week or so earlier because my squats were so amazing (ahem). We went through a couple of upper body moves at the gym and he told me about personal training and what kind of results I could expect and so on and so forth. It was really interesting, and the guy seemed super excited (probably part of his job though) about starting to train me. And I was excited too because I've always wanted a PT who could get me in a superwoman shape. However, I knew that at the moment, there's no way I could afford any PT's rates, and as he got into talking about all of the different offers and training plans that I could take up on, I started getting more and more anxious about eventually having to stop and tell him it was not going to work. I said I'd think about it, and get back to him later on. I got so worked up about the situation that after our meeting I just rushed to the changing room and out of the gym without showering because I felt so claustrophobic in the building. I power-walked home and really slowly started to calm down after an obscenely massive dinner and several brainless hours of doing something on my laptop.
Today I got a text from him asking when we could start and if this or that payment plan would be okay. I typed a long message explaining that I really can't get into this right now, and ever since pressing the 'send' button I've been too scared to even look at my phone in the case he has replied - let alone go to the gym because then I might bump into him and what could be worse than that?
What else to say?
This issue is very inconveniencing and irritating. I am consciously fighting it, and have gotten much better at handling it since my teenage years. But as we can see here, it is still an insistent part of me.
But at least I'm no longer massively petrified of disappointing my parents, which is pretty awesome.