Last night I spent some time with a dear friend, and our conversation led her to say, “It isn’t your job to make others understand.” Her words resonated with me and inspired me to write this post addressing what so many of us struggle with: the co-dependent tendency of people-pleasing.
It’s in our nature as human beings to seek connection, intimacy, and yes, understanding. Yet the feeling of being misunderstood and rejected runs deep in many of us, usually due to childhood and feeling like our true selves were shamed, punished, or ignored into silence. The imbalance of our natural desire for connection, versus the subconscious belief that we are “rejects” leads to self-sabotaging tendencies known as people-pleasing, a hallmark trait of codependency.
I had considered myself a people-pleaser in the past, and I considered it a good thing. Little did I know that being a martyr, and sacrificing what I knew in my heart for the good opinions and (perceived) well-being of others, was doing no one any favors.
The truth is, every one of us has our own hopes, dreams, passions, and goals. No two of us are the same, even our best friends and partners. This means that everyone will have their own opinion about your lifestyle choices, whether they be good or bad.
Don Miguel Ruiz said it best in The Four Agreements. “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.” This goes for positive and negative things: for example, if you like my hair, it’s because of your opinion and beliefs about what is pretty. If you hate my hair, it’s also because of your opinion and beliefs about what is pretty.
In the words of The Big Lebowski, “That’s just like, your opinion, man.”
All this to say, that people-pleasing and attempting to justify our personal choices is a huge, massive waste of time. Because whether other people like it or not, their opinion is merely a reflection of their own belief system.
It can be scary to accept this fact, especially when we are used to acting and living according to the validation of others. It can feel like a ship without an anchor when we start living life according to our own beliefs, because for the first time, we accept that our opinion is the only one that truly matters.
I am in the process of making huge changes in my life, changes that I have been preparing for for years now. As I plan to announce these changes, my old people-pleasing and co-dependent ways are popping up.
I am thankful for these feelings of “what will so-and-so think? What will so-and-so say about me?” because they give me an opportunity to put into practice all that I’ve learned. And what I’ve learned can be summed up in my friends crystal-clear words, “It is not my job to make other people understand.”
My only job, and your only job, is to identify what it is that you want in this brief life, and then go for it as if it were a matter of life and death. Because if you want to live fully and freely, it is a matter of life and death. So many of us live half-lives because we are afraid of identifying what we truly want and going for it with everything we’ve got. We are afraid of the negative opinions of others, and we are afraid of the positive opinions of others, because what if we fail and let them all down?
Yes, support is nice and even great, but you need to prove to yourself that the only support you really need is the support that comes from within your heart.
At the end of the day, we all have our own hopes and dreams, and we all end up projecting our own beliefs and ideas onto those around us. This is called being human. But a mature, strong, and capable human being is aware that we are all different, and takes responsibility for his or her own life. We take responsibility for our wins, and we take accountability for our losses. We learn, we grow. We become better people, and enjoy the miraculous journey called life.
But we cannot journey along our life path if we are unable to claim it. We cannot move forward toward our dream if our dream hinges upon the opinions or support of other people. We cannot have the power that we need to fight for our lives, if we are giving that power away to other people.
It feels so good when I claim my own desires and dreams, and I receive the support of those around me. I feel happy, and the support of my loved ones makes me feel empowered. But I know that I cannot allow anyone to be in control of whether or not I go for my dreams.
People-pleasing is a habit learned early on, and it can be a scary one to break. We must face our fears of abandonment, of rejection, even death. But once we do break free and learn what it means to live life for one’s self, there is no going back.
And maybe that’s the scariest part.
Who will you be when you stop living for others and start living for yourself? Will your friends and family even recognize you? Who knows. But you will recognize your self, and you may be surprised at how lovable and wonderful you truly are.