The Bear in the Cage: A Narrative of a People Pleaser

In Personal Development, Philosophy by Eudaimonia Comments

I need to put some thought into myself, and my life, and stop distracting myself with human indulgences. I’m sick of people. I’m sick of pleasing. I’m sick of being kind. I’m sick of being sweet, and I’m sick of giving a flying fuck what anyone thinks of me. Fuck people, and their selfish, self-centered, arrogant, self-pleasing, agenda-motivated asses. They can figure shit out without my help. I’m looking out for myself, and myself only right now. -thoughts from a people-pleaser

THIS is an excerpt of a text I sent the other day to someone I really care about. Someone who knew this wasn’t about them, someone who is a people pleaser herself, and someone who knows the feeling of a life in bondage to pleasing others. While I’m far from proud to publicly air my texting tantrum…I’m at least being real.

THIS may be the most raw and emotionally charged blog piece I ever post (certainly to date).

THIS is what happens when you’ve pleased people your entire life.

THIS is the tipping point, or the crest of the wave as it rolls over before breaking, and this is what happens when the bondage of codependence is broke.

THIS is what happens when the bear finally breaks out of the cage.

When the bear strikes, and how the bear will react is uncertain, but one thing is certain – he certainly doesn’t take orders from the man with the toy squirt gun anymore.

It’s burnout folks. I suppose if you wanted to be technical, burnout could describe any portion of my life, but in my current state it’s burnout from pleasing others.

Lately, I’ve got to seem as mad as a hatter to anyone who’s known me for a while. In my mind they’ll ask, “Well why is he not as sweet as he used to be, why is he jaded, and why is he defensive?” but in reality nobody will notice.

Nobody notices I’m drowning because they are all drowning themselves. Everyone is flailing his (or her) arms to stay afloat, and nobody realizes I’m right there with them. Nobody realizes my kindness as a lifeline, a shining star in the midst of a dark night to help guide them from the rough seas. They’re all too busy with their own problems and lives to give a shit. -thoughts from a people-pleaser

I know it’s hard to accept. For me, for years I’ve tried my very best to raise the human spirit. I’ve been kind, I’ve been tolerant, and I’ve shared myself and given my last dollar to those in need. I’ve sent kind notes to people on regular days. I’ve sent supportive messages to those going through the hardest of times. I’ve been the shoulder to cry on, the post to lean on, and the nook to lie in. I’ve treated friends to any array of experiences without a suggested notion of anything in return. People routinely describe me as the sweetest guy they’ve ever met. I always think of others first – and that, my friends, is the root of all my problems.

Repeat the affirmation – “I’m a people pleaser and I’m here to recover from this horrible affliction.”

Pleasing people is something innate in certain people, or perhaps it’s a learned behavior instilled at a young age. Hell I don’t know, and to be honest – I’m not looking up the causal rationale of the people pleasing personality – in order to please your ass (oh, you’re offended by my vulgarities in this post- well don’t read my blog then, and fuck-off for good measure)

Insert references you ask? Shit I’ve got a lifetime of experiential evidence that I can recite on a moments notice – I’m not going through the trouble to find some ass-hat’s opinion, someone who wrote something less intelligible than myself, to cite in order for your validation…because I’m out of the cage, and I don’t give a damn about your validation right now.

How it came to be…

For me personally, my parents and teachers whipped the act of pleasing people into me at a young age. I’m not one of these whiny people who blame all their problems on their upbringing, so I’m not going to go into the specifics – other than to note my childhood was a tough one emotionally.

My father was continually battling a brain tumor, and was in and out of the hospital with surgeries for years. Combine this scenario with myself being an exceptionally bright child, while being the oldest sibling, and you have all the ingredients included to describe the reasons why I learned to please.

I never had a choice.

Things were tough. I never knew if my dad would return from the hospital alive after surgeries. I tried my best (to be the best) and help my mom take care of my younger siblings.

I tried my best (to be the best) in academics…so that nobody (including my parents) would worry about my schooling.

I tried my best (to be the best) in athletics so that I might go on to get a full-ride scholarship to the university of my choice later on in life.

I tried my best (to be the best) so that I would go through grad school, attain my doctorate, and save peoples lives someday by (and here’s my romantic side) contributing to a cure for cancer.

I tried my best (to be the best) friend a person could ask for, a friend who would support and continually elevate their standard of living.

I tried my best (to be the best) partner and lover so that I could help her to move beyond her issues and see life as the beautiful thing it is.

I tried my best (to be the best) for all the wrong reasons.

While I have experienced tremendous joy in all of these activities, there has always existed a small sliver of people-pleasing driving my decisions, and it is exactly that small measure that has always eaten at me.

Who do we please, you ask?

We please our parents. Please our family. Please our friends. Please our bosses. Please our lovers. Please the authorities (whoever the fuck that might be). There are endless people and boundless means to please if you’re so inclined.

Enough with it all…be gone!

The bolts on the lock have snapped and the door of the cage has collapsed. The bear is loose. New knowledge comes from being freed from an oppressive nature you hadn’t fully grasped.

What I have learned so far…

  • My merits are completely independent of the good or bad opinions of others.

Those people I have so wanted to please don’t really notice, nor care (all that much) about the niceties I provide. It’s not their fault though, it’s entirely human to be the center of your own universe – I cannot hold that against them.

  • The opinion presented as a result of my acts, which I perceive from others may (and in all actuality will) have nothing to do with my act or performance.

If my actions performed with kind intentions do not please someone, it could be due to the fact that they are just not able to be pleased at the moment (they’ve had a bad day, year, life etc.). If my actions do please someone, it could be because a culmination of events led them to need me to please them (or they’re super happy anyway because they got laid last night, or won the lottery, etc.). The subjectivity of everyone’s own life experience ensures a disingenuous response to the act of pleasing.

  • The only way of judging success for myself is through my own independent means.

If I see the world for what it is, I realize that gauging my success has to be done internally. I cannot afford to let a figment of my imagination regarding people’s opinions of myself guide my life. Only I can empirically know my own success.

  • By people pleasing I put on a mask hiding the real me.

While pleasing others, I’m uber-flexible, and I’m just like everyone I meet. I accommodate beyond my comfort level. I assimilate and I acquiesce. I blend in, and I’m disregarded. Being a people pleaser makes me feel fake and inauthentic. Moreover, people can sense it and nobody respects inauthenticity. Having a goddamn backbone is what makes people do a double take, having the balls to be yourself without regard for others pleasure grabs peoples attention.

  • There is a difference between compromise and compromising yourself. This is probably the most important thing I’ve come to realize. Every day you and I will need to compromise in situations that present themselves. Being able to compromise is an essential skill set in life, it’s important to find common ground and cooperate with others. Being a spineless, indecisive twat – who compromises personal integrity, principles, and boundaries, in attempt to please others, is a horrible way to go through life.

You’ll know when you are compromising yourself when you feel emotions boil beyond the normal simmer of daily life. Your gut will wrench, and you’ll feel encaged. You’ll feel like lashing out, but you won’t. You know you won’t lash out – because you’ve learned to calm that rage. You’ve learned to play along with society. You’ve learned to sit in your place, take your number, and wait for it to be called. You’ve been domesticated to please the wills of others, and others know it.

Unless…

The jig is up, the bear is loose, and you realize the sly little ways you force yourself to comply. Unless…you’ve dropped your need to make people happy, dropped you’re undying want to be loved by everyone, and you’re no longer a people pleaser.

Where does the bear go from here, you ask?

As cliché as it sounds, I think life in regards to how you interact with others exists as a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum you find the archetypal people pleaser willing to do anything for anyone on short notice, continually putting their interests behind those of others. On the other end of the spectrum you have a beast, a horrible person with no regard for anyone but themselves, who on all accounts is likely a bit of a sociopath as well. The trick is to find yourself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum remembering that compromise is a necessary function of life, but also knowing that it is perfectly okay to take care of yourself and place your needs above those of others.

panda pleasing

May your inner bear always be content with life. Realize it’s short, and realize that by taking your needs into consideration you’re giving yourself the love and respect you deserve.