I think some people grow up believing in their heart and soul that they are loved and accepted and so therefore don’t have to depend so much on other people to give them their daily dose of attaboys, the approval ratings that determine if they’ll be able to function properly throughout the day.
I know, in my adult, neo-cortex, sophisticated part of my brain that I am loved. But the reptilian, immature brat part of my brain does most of the thinking in my noggin. So this girl is petrified of not being liked, of doing anything that might hurt somebody’s feelings, of the slightest confrontation, because whenever she raised a concern in the past, the reprimand for challenging Person A was far more painful than the reason she raised her voice to begin with. I learned that the more comfortable way to live was to keep that trap shut at all times in terms of opinions that go contrary to the way the river is flowing.
But you know what happens when you do that for too long? You body starts to collect pockets of Cortisol, the evil stress hormone that mucks up every organ in the human body, especially the brain. Stress hormones in the prefrontal cortex of your brain do bad stuff — killing off cells and diminishing nerve regeneration — that make you into, well, a whackjob like me.
Thus, where I’m at, this very moment, is an uncomfortable place.
A few days ago I made a bold move… professionally. I didn’t ruffle a few feathers. I blew that chicken or turkey, or whatever the hell it was, away with a good gust of wind.
That’s very unlike me.
But I believed in something so strongly that I couldn’t let my people-pleasing nature stand in the way of doing what was right.
Had I sat pretty and smiled for everyone, I’d end up in the same position I was two Christmases ago, when, at a holiday party, a boy got hurt and my son David was falsely accused. I went with my friend’s story because to challenge it and defend David would have created awkwardness between her and me.
I went for convenience over truth.
I did the wrong thing.
A day later more details were learned, and David wasn’t the villain at all. I apologized profusely to my boy and promised him that I would always hear him out first, before jumping to accusations or punishment.
And I should hear myself out too. Because my work situation felt like that.
It involved standing up to some people from whom I desperately want approval. It risked being disliked from a handful of folks — friends of friends, and enduring, I suspect, some hurtful rumors and trash talk behind my back.
“When will I care less about being liked?” I asked my mentor, Mike, last night. I was experiencing the physical symptoms of flexing my non-people-pleasing muscle and it hurt like hell. I hadn’t slept in five days. I’d lost my appetite. And I had that familiar knot in my stomach that makes concentrating on anything else practically impossible. “When will I wake up and not care about what other people think about me?” I asked him.
“The more times you exercise that muscle,” he said, “the easier it gets, the less severe your symptoms will be.”
I suspect that’s true.
As is this reminder from spiritual author, Henri Nouwen:
For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props…. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.