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Confessions of a Stage-Four People-Pleaser

Confessions of a Stage-Four People-PleaserMy junior year of college, I bought a used computer for $100. It was cheap because the thing was as huge as it was heavy. The challenge was to walk with this cumbersome piece of technology across campus to my dorm. I was finally to the steps of Holy Cross Hall when I tripped and fell flat on my face.

Did I issue a four-letter word?

Of course not.

I apologized.

To the student who was on the stairs staring at me.

“Why are you apologizing to me?” she asked.

“Because … I’m an adult child of an alcoholic?”

I always think about this story as I prepare my apology for, say, breathing, eating, sneezing, sleeping, talking, existing.

I desperately want everyone’s approval, not excluding the FedEx guy, the bank teller, the barista, the technical support person for

I’m sure it goes back to inner child issues, of being my mom’s counselor as a kid, and wanting so badly to earn the love of my father.

Yes, I’ve been in therapy. For 14 years. But the problem with therapy is that I need to make sure my therapist knows she is doing a good job. Nothing like forking over $125 to make someone feel good about themselves.

I’m definitely making progress, though. Because last week I did something hard.

When I wrote my piece, “What I Wish People Knew About Depression,” I could hear all of the voices of the people in my life who have told me how to cure depression: from the relatives who believed in energy work or reiki with a natural healer (who can only work with people off all medication) to my psychiatrist and all the experts I met at Johns Hopkins who advocate traditional medicine.

They did not agree with parts of the blog. I could visualize the holistic doctor I worked with shaking her head at what I wrote as well as my meditation teachers. My words did not fit into their belief systems. I could hear and see the disagreeing, and the gestures of disappointment, but I kept writing. I arrived at my truth anyway.

And then I did something even harder.

I sent it to a person whom I respect very much and is really important in my recovery from depression. I sent it to her even though I suspected she wouldn’t like a few paragraphs. I should have been prepared for a curt, polite response. But I was hurt when it came.

It felt as though I received a big, fat D on my paper, an essay that, for me, was the expression of 43 years of trying to find an end to the pain of depression, a scavenger hunt through different fields of medicine and pockets of remedies looking for some healing, a quiet place to plant my maddening mind.

“Ah, the imaginary grade,” a friend of mine said to me after I whined to her about my deserving an A. “When will we ever stop giving ourselves imaginary grades from people?”

The Buddha spoke.

I could have listened to my very wise friend and stopped with all my efforts to win A++++++s. I could have told myself that I’d done good, that my piece lived up to its purpose: to make people with depression feel less alone.

But I didn’t.

Because I am not a stage-one people pleaser.

I am stage four.

Instead I brainstormed on whose approval would matter the most, and I came up with Andrew Solomon, author of the bestseller The Noonday Demon: At Atlas of Depression, one of this country’s most celebrated writers on the topic of depression.

If he likes it, I’m cool.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had gotten a curt, polite “stop bugging me, you stalker” message from him, or nothing. I probably would have had to do more brainstorming and written to Kay Redfield Jamison or someone else famous.

But I didn’t have to!

Andrew wrote me a beautiful response, congratulating me on my important mission.

Ahhh. Approval at last.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

Confessions of a Stage-Four People-Pleaser

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Therese J. Borchard

Therese J. Borchard is a mental health writer and advocate. She is the founder of the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue, and is the author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist. You can reach her at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Borchard, T. (2018). Confessions of a Stage-Four People-Pleaser. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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