Pleasing People

I'm a people pleaser. There are a few reasons for this.

  • I suffered a great deal as a young 'un, so I always wanted to relieve the suffering of others.
  • I'm just extraverted and I want to be smothered and surrounded by people.
  • I know what it's like to not only be alone but also to feel alone.
  • It's a normal feeling that all people experience, to want to be liked and accepted.
  • I grew up with the mentality that I was a loser that nobody liked, so I wanted to become someone that everybody liked.

This feeling has followed me around a long time. I'm extremely sensitive, so the vibe and energy people carry into an interaction also rub off on me. My empathy is probably a bit too high. I've said before that people who are "only" very nice seem mean to me, and I need to be surrounded by extremely nice people. In return, I hate to make people feel like I'm not being nice to them or that they're beneath me, so I make a lot of self-deprecating jokes and dress down to avoid making others feel that way. I anticipate when people might head into a situation where their feelings could be hurt, so I run a few steps ahead and prepare my turn in the conversation to prevent it.

It's a bit condescending if you look at it from a less sympathetic way. In my mind, people's feelings are so fragile that I have to protect their feelings for them, even if it's the truth and they need to hear it in that moment. They're not strong enough to handle the truth, only I am, so I need to coddle and protect them. I don't give them a chance to rise to the occasion by removing them from the equation. (Hey, that kinda rhymes.) I'm the decider of when they're capable of hearing something they might not like, which isn't fair to them. What an ASS.

People compliment me on being chill, cool, nice, whatever, but I've become almost immune to their kind words. I deeply need to be liked, so of course I'm going to make myself agreeable and pleasant.

Let's go on a tangent to view it from another angle. (What an engineer.) Education is one of the only paths to higher status in Asian cultures (West, South, Southeast(, North West? South by Southwest?)). Status and honour are so prized that everything is centered around it, so when an Asian person excels in school, compliments to their performance can be meaningless. Their parents dangled their approval in front of their child in order to motivate them to get better grades, so what good does it do to praise them for their marks? Being satisfied with their school performance could lead to complacency, which could lead to lower grades, which could distance them from their family's "approval." I was chatting with a fascinating person at dinner this week, and they shared how in grade school, their teachers had to have a chat with the entire class because an Asian student didn't perform well on a test and attempted suicide. This happened several times in their year, so the school became very aware and supportive to all the students who felt a similar, intense pressure on their grades. Part of that required instilling a sense of self-worth in the children, to make them believe that they were a valuable person regardless of their performance. Likewise, I put an intense pressure on myself to be liked because I wanted to believe that I was worthy of love. It's still extremely difficult for me to simply accept myself the way I am.

I hear it all the time in church, that God loves me the way I am. I heard it all the time growing up too, but knowing it wasn't and still isn't enough. There's a disconnect between my mental knowledge and my emotional understanding, so here I am, watching myself repeatedly run into a brick wall.

My counsellor once asked if there were even a tiny little chance that I could be good enough on my own, just for being me. Bah! I deflected the question and continue to do so. Being liked is one of the only ways I know how to make myself feel like I'm worthy of love, so I'm gonna keep at it until I figure out how to accept myself.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le