“Hi, my name is Mia, and I’m a people pleaser.
I was raised on ‘conditional’ love growing up. I know many people feel they were raised similarly, but my own sense of safety became tied to the happiness of others. I was rewarded when I got A’s on tests and slapped for C’s. I was treated well when I said yes and punished for saying no. I was only given love when I did something which pleased the people in my life. This created a belief my safety was directly correlated to happiness of others. My parents would say, ‘Show me your homework grades.’ I would pull out my homework and if there was a C or lower, I got punished. Or my parents would say, ‘Did you leave the hallway light on?’ If I did, I would get punished. One time as a child, I accidentally peed my pants, and my dad hit me. I remember feeling so scared to get off the school bus and walk into my childhood home. I would pray to God, ‘Please let a car or something hit me so I don’t have to face my parents.’ Mind you, I was a really good student and my GPA was around a 3.2. So my fears SHOULD HAVE been unfounded. But they weren’t.
Sure, it felt good to make others happy, but it mostly relieved me of my extreme fear or anxiety of being hit or hurt if I didn’t please someone. In school, I had such social anxiety tied to being disliked I would hide out in bathroom stalls to avoid seeing people. I would even eat my lunch there! This would happen probably 2-3 times a week, because it felt safe. If I didn’t please a friend it seemed like they immediately stopped talking to me. I would try to make my friends happy by buying them gifts I could not afford, and bringing my teachers apples or hand written notes. I was also overly complimentary to everyone. Every day I would tell a friend, ‘I love how you did your hair today!’ Or, ‘That top looks amazing on you,’ whether it was the truth or not.
To me, pleasing someone meant ALWAYS saying yes. I was so afraid to say no to anyone, because a part of me assumed if I did, my safety would be in jeopardy, or I’d be emotionally abandoned in some way. I didn’t even know I was ALLOWED to say no, which really hindered my life. I had to say yes to everything an adult told me to do, whether it was morally bankrupt, or deceitful. My parents told me, ‘Grownups are ALWAYS right.’
After 18 years of extreme ‘people-pleasing’ conditioning, I went off to college and my boundaries were completely skewed. I said yes to anything a guy wanted. When it came to sex, I always said yes, because I thought if I said no, the man would hurt me. When it came to underage drinking, I said yes, even though it tasted gross. I thought people wouldn’t like me if I didn’t participate. I ended up saying yes so much in my 20’s I lost sight of myself. My social anxiety peaked in college and I was so afraid to wear my hair curly, so I straightened it everyday. I wore colored contacts to look more like the favored girls with blonde hair and blue eyes. I said yes to my professor’s inappropriate advances which led me to being alone in his office where he tried to sexually harass me. Again, I was fearful he would give me a bad grade if I wasn’t nice to him which connects back to being abused by my parents.
I became so involved in doing what other people told me to do, I never discovered who I really was. I wanted to be everything to everyone. You know what they say, ‘If you try to be everything, you will become nothing.’ In trying to please everyone I became nothing to myself. My lack of boundaries and inability to say no led me into really bad relationships where the guy was always in control. One ex-boyfriend told me, ‘I HATE when women tell me no.’ No wonder he liked me, I was his perfect victim! I agreed with him all the time and felt miserable. I agreed to his drinking habits, substance abuse habits and rarely spoke up about his abuse to anyone.
It wasn’t until my 30’s, after going through therapy, counseling, meditation and soul exploration, I discovered I was doing a disservice to myself by always pleasing others. I was ruining myself just to be liked by someone who didn’t even care about me. I finally started to say no at work and in my relationships and my life INSTANTLY started to change for the better.
I still had extreme anxiety in breaking my old habits. I would get so scared telling someone, ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘No, thank you,’ I’d start to shake or even feel like I would pass out. This happened so often I went to the hospital for high blood pressure at 28 years old! I would even have to rehearse conversations in the mirror or in my car before talking to people. For example, a friend asked me to be a bridesmaid, but I didn’t have the money or time, and I knew my social anxiety would flare up. I would sit in my car practicing how to say no by saying, ‘Hi Sara, I would love to go to your wedding but I can’t at this time.’ In my head, I would think, that sounded weird. Let me redo it. ‘Hi Sara, thank you so much for the invite! I am broke right now.’ Eek no, because what if she offers to pay for the dress but I still don’t want to go? Okay, here is the final try, ‘Hi Sara, it was so sweet of you to think of me, but I am going through a lot right, but I am happy to attend as a guest, if it is okay with you?’ I would feel so much anxiety telling friends something so simple.
Eventually, I didn’t feel the burden of trying to make people happy. I felt pure freedom to fearlessly be ME! What I valued and liked came first, and it felt so good! I still have some anxiety when I have to ‘disappoint’ someone by telling them no, but I learned it’s important to hold true to my boundaries even if someone is upset by it. Nothing I say or do can, truly, control how someone else is feeling. Their happiness is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to my OWN happiness. No matter how much I was taught everyone has to share the responsibility for joy, the only person who can make me happy is me.
If someone asks me to do something which makes me uncomfortable, I simply say, ‘No thank you.’ If they get angry or try to threaten me because I wont do what they want, I remind myself this is NOT a real friend. I recently told a friend I felt uncomfortable with her throwing me a surprise birthday party because I have social anxiety. My friend responded by saying, ‘You’re basically calling me a horrible person. I feel terrible now knowing you don’t like surprises.’ My friend tried to make me feel bad for expressing how I felt about my birthday. See how she flipped it on me? She wanted ME to apologize for telling her how I felt. By saying no and staying true to how I feel, I am slowly shedding the negative friends and toxic people in my life. I’m staying true to myself.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mia Bally. Follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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