I wish I could make everyone happy. I really do. I wish I never disappointed anyone, never let them down, always met their expectations. I wish I never had to feel that drop in my stomach of realizing someone is upset with me, frustrated with me, mad at me. If I could only be a Perfect People Pleaser…
…then what? I could avoid awkwardness. I could avoid confrontation. I could avoid the unpleasantness of conversations I don’t want to have. I could find my worth in knowing that I am a perfect friend, a perfect wife, a perfect daughter, a perfect student. I wouldn’t have to confront the fact that I fall short. And other people wouldn’t have to confront that fact either. Selfish? Yes. But it’s true.
And at the same time, if I was always able to fill all the roles perfectly, would that really be the best situation?
“It is extremely important to be able to make negative assertions. We must be able to say what is ‘not me’ in order to have a ‘me.’ What we like has no meaning unless we know what we don’t like. Our yes has no meaning if we never say no. My chosen profession has no passion is ‘just any one would do.’ Our opinions and thoughts mean very little if there is nothing we disagree with.” (Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud)
Changes that Heal is a book that I read (most of) during senior year of college (a.k.a my fourth year…having an intentional 5-year program makes labels like ‘senior’ rather confusing haha). If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t believe in God, I think it has a TON of really helpful topics about developing boundaries and interacting healthily in relationships.*
The question of people pleasing goes two ways: What happens when I don’t live up to the desires and expectations of others? And what happens when they don’t live up to MY desires and expectations?
“Love cannot exist without freedom, and freedom cannot exist without responsibility. We must own and take responsibility for what is ours, and that includes our disappointment in not getting everything we want from another person. The disappointment that comes from our loved ones exercising their freedom is our responsibility. We must deal with it. This is the only way to keep love alive.”
I have expectations for people in my life: my husband, my friends, my teachers, my family…the barista at the coffee shop. But they all have freedom, and part of that freedom is freedom to make decisions that will disappoint me, whether they mean to or not. It is up to me to determine how I will react to that disappointment and to determine what I will do with it.
“This is true even when others’ freedom leads them to sin against us. The pain we feel is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to deal with it.”
What does it mean to deal with the pain felt? I think that actually feeling it, processing it, confronting it, accepting it, analyzing it, acknowledging could all be parts of that process. I also think that having a conversation about it with the person involved could be part of the process too.
A few years ago I went on a trip with a group of people I didn’t know. We spent 6 weeks together and endured some pretty life-changing experiences together. We learned a lot about one another and shared some of the deepest parts of ourselves during those weeks. Near the end of the trip one of the girls said something to me that I think I will never forget. I was hurt in a way that felt irreparable. But blaming her for that hurt didn’t get me anywhere. In fact, it kept me from seeing how unintentional the comment was. It kept me from moving on.
On the other side of the coin, in a different friendship, I was constantly tiptoeing around this person’s feelings. I would do or not do things, say or not say things because of how I thought this person would react. How they would feel in response.
“If we feel responsible for other people’s feelings, we can no longer make decisions based on what is right (or healthy); we will make decisions based on how others feel about our choices.” (parenthesis added by me)
And isn’t this so often how we live? It is for me at least! Constantly worrying how what I say, do, or choose will cause others to feel. As if I can CAUSE another person’s feelings. Yes, I can impact them, but I cannot single-handed MAKE anyone feel anything. And neither can you.
“Some of you may thing that this approach is mean and insensitive. Please hear something loud and clear. We should always be sensitive to others’ feelings about our choices. But we should never take responsibility for how they feel.”
Soooo… after that long, rambling post of me trying to process what is my responsibility and what is not… I think my conclusion is that this, like everything is a balance. Of course I don’t want to be outright rude, mean, critical, or hateful. Of course I don’t want to purposefully or maliciously disappoint or hurt others. However, there will always be times when I am doing the best I can, choosing the options that I feel to be the healthiest, having to say ‘no’ to people… and there will still be conflict. Relationships are hard. Having (and maintaining) boundaries is hard. Recognizing and accepting the boundaries of others is hard. Especially when it leads to disappointment. And then humbly accepting the fact that I am imperfect and fall short of what others desire from me and for me is one of the hardest of all. Well, that, and also knowing where to go from there… what to do next when someone I care about is hurt as a result of something I have done. How to reconcile without compromising who I am and what I believe. How to apologize for what I am truly sorry for but not for those thing that are not my responsibility, things not in my yard (to use a phrase from the book). How to even know what that includes!
Man….life is such a learning process. Let’s talk about it. Is there anything you have found particularly helpful related to this? What are your thoughts on boundaries and responsibility for feelings? Comment below :) Let’s chat.
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*Dr. Henry Cloud is a believer so he tends to relate the concepts in this book back to biblical stories/ideas…that’s why I make the God comment. I never want people to be taken off guard by things like that (hmm, me taking responsibility for your feelings? Or being sensitive?) …when you go and google it and see the summary thinking I am somehow trying to manipulate or “trick” you into reading a book about God. (I used to always roll my eyes when things like that would happen. Or when I would go to a site thinking it was going to be one thing, but finding out it was just a ploy to make money. So frustrating. I don’t meant to be that at all.) It is just genuinely a helpful book.