Let’s face it: we all want to be adored, admired, loved, and accepted, but not all of us go about fulfilling these desires in healthy ways.
There was a time in my life when I struggled with relationships deeply. My precise struggle was in the arena of people pleasing. I would bend over backwards for everyone, especially people who didn’t deserve my love and affection. In fact, the harder someone was to please, the more I tried to prove my worth, which got me thinking: Why swim oceans for someone who won’t even jump a puddle for me?
I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy trying to please people who didn’t deserve my affection—friends, family, boyfriends, bosses, coworkers, acquaintances, and lovers. I didn’t know how to say no and waited on people, hand and foot. When a request came in, I dropped everything I was doing to accommodate. Last minute change of plans, midnight phone calls, favor upon favor—nothing was too much to ask. Until, of course, I reached my point of exhaustion and collapsed. I was cursed with the disease to please, circling the drain in a toxic loop with no end in sight.
When a request came in, I dropped everything I was doing to accommodate. Last minute change of plans, midnight phone calls, favor upon favor—nothing was too much to ask. Until, of course, I reached my point of exhaustion and collapsed.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that when I was helping others, I was betraying myself. Since when did someone else’s needs become more important than my own?
“Know thyself” is a common refrain that is especially important to keep in mind when we are engaging with others. But how can we set boundaries for ourselves when we don’t know who we are? How can we set healthy limits for ourselves when we don’t know what they are?
To have healthy relationships, one must start by knowing thyself, and then one must have the courage to stand up for oneself. We can’t fill from an empty cup.
Kindness is a currency.
You can only give what you get in return.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we must go through the world guns ablazing. We can, and should, be kind to others when possible. But let’s be careful that our kindness is not our default, especially around people who are likely to take advantage of us. This is even more important for those of us who have yet to develop the courage and skill to stand up for themselves. Let our kindness be deployed for those who deserve it, and when earned.
Remember that our kindness is currency. Most of us aren’t filthy rich. We don’t have an endless supply of it. Let’s make sure we don’t spend our currency on a bad return on investment either. Like a boyfriend who constantly betrays us, a friend who gossips behind our backs, or a family member who doesn’t respect our opinions and shuts us down at the dinner table.
Bad behavior will continue for as long as we allow it. If you are anything like I was, and suffer from the disease to please, please repeat after me:
>>No more filling someone’s cup who leaves mine empty and drained.
>>No more wanting to give someone an inch but letting them take a mile.
It’s also important to keep in mind that we permit what we promote.
If we permit bad behavior, like people who disregard our boundaries, they will continue to do it forever. It’s worth noting that people who disregard our boundaries are also the ones who benefit most from it. Try setting some boundaries and see how people respond.
For example, next time a friend pressures you to take a shot with her at the bar (when you don’t want to), tell her you’ve enjoyed her company but you’re ready to call it a night. Then wait and see how she responds. If your friend starts pouting and saying, “You’re no fun,” your friend doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
I am happy to report that I rarely struggle with setting healthy boundaries anymore. I know myself and I know my limits. Of course, there are times when I slip up, but I usually catch myself before I fall. It has helped that in addition to setting healthy boundaries for myself, I have learned to shift my focus on people who deserve my love and affection.
Today I’m all about win-win relationships. Maybe my standards are high, but if you’re not an A+ person, you can’t be in my life. And you certainly won’t find me bending over backwards for anyone.
This behavior change is simple, not easy, but totally possible.