Help! I’m a people-pleaser

A letter writer is afraid of being a burden. Our elder has some tips on how she can build her self esteem.


Dear EWC

Hello! First of all, thank you for reading this letter! Just being heard by someone makes a big difference! I’ve been a people-pleaser all my life. I’m always afraid of being a burden and I fear that people will leave me the second I’ll stop being nice, helpful, funny and supportive. I let people use me, I say what they want to hear (not what I really think), I always agree with their point of view and I always feel terribly anxious if I say something that they might not like. Maintaining a friendship for me is not about having a good time or relaxing. It’s about making sure people like me. Yet, every day I fear that they will abandon me, that they secretly don’t like me, that I’m boring and not doing enough in return for their kindness. It’s very tiring and lately I’ve been feeling extremely unmotivated and tired. I can’t focus on college and I’m afraid that I might start falling behind. I just don’t have any mental energy to do homework so I distract myself with YouTube all day and then hate myself for this even more. The truth is, I hate social interactions, I’m afraid of emotional closure and I always end up having a mental breakdown after any social event. I act normal around other people but then cry and hate myself at home. I’m just so afraid of being left out, being alone and not being enough. But at the same time, I hate talking to people and actually developing a healthy and strong relationship. This is what I’ve been struggling with for many years. But lately it started to become too overwhelming and I feel so lost. If you’re still here, thank you! Sorry for so much whining. And sorry for any mistakes. I’m not a native speaker.


Grandpa-Matt replies

The anxiety you experience comes from the self-judgment that describes behaviors stemming from a lack of self-confidence in social areas. I think that the social pressure you often deal with has its basis in fear of rejection. That is one of our deepest fears. We all have a longing to belong, and we fear being seen critically. 

Where did this fear originate? The fear of rejection goes back at least 200,000 years. When people lived in tight groups and depended upon each other for food and protection, it was life-threatening to be rejected and kicked out of the community. Wild animals and hostile individuals from different tribes would jeopardize the survival of that person separated from the “family.” 

Our ancestors learned to seek acceptance by their group. They have passed this need down in our DNA. In modern times, the thought of rejection is still alive within us, but the consequences are not as physically harmful, but the negative emotion still feels threatening. The fear of abandonment is a motivator for many of our behaviors.

Since I don’t know you, nor am I a therapist, I’m making some guesswork about some typical behaviors of folks dealing with this issue. If I am incorrect, please let me know.

 I believe that at some point in your early life, you got the message that somehow, you did not “measure up” to the expectations of those to whom we looked for approval. We took on the fear that we are not enough, good enough, smart enough, valuable enough, acceptable enough, or likable enough, for those folks who influenced us as youngsters. 

It doesn’t matter where you got that idea, whether from parents, teachers, strangers, or wherever. We think we failed somehow and that perhaps we’re unlovable, dull, and unlikable or have little worth or value. The people who said that you didn’t measure up was their invented idea of how you should act according to their thoughts about you, based on manipulating you to conform to their wishes! What then happened is that not being educated enough to know the difference, you bought their story about you and concluded that you were not enough. 

You have carried their story around to this day and adopted your life to fit these fears. Back when you bought the idea that there was something wrong with you, this affected your confidence and self-esteem to the point of judging and blaming yourself for defects in your attitude and behaviors. 

As a defense against the rejection and abandonment you feared, you have adopted a strategy of manipulation. Your attempt to control people to accept you by acting friendly, helpful, funny, and supportive even though this “people-pleasing” act called for social interactions that didn’t comfortably fit your style or desire.

Part of the price you pay for your defense strategies results in a lack of motivation for your studies. Let’s talk about motivation. Motivation is a minute-by-minute decision, just like walking, where you continuously choose to take one foot and move it in front of the other, the next step, the next, etc. The minute you decide not to take that next step, you are at a standstill. You will stay in that position forever until you choose to move forward. 

You are in charge of your thoughts. In each second, you are in control of what you think. Motivation is another word meaning choice. Be clear that you are choosing to stop working the moment that you stop. This is your responsibility. Take charge and keep choosing to move ahead. Right now, in my view, you might be choosing the path of failure. Maybe it is to prove that you are right in thinking that it is hopeless for you to create a long-term series of successful actions. Only you know the answers; we are looking at the possibilities.

If, for example, your favorite person’s life depended on you completing a group of tasks, would you do them quickly and to the best of your ability? Or if $5million tax free were given to you to complete tasks, would you put the immediate effort into working to get the money? I’ll bet you would get right on the job. Or if $5 million wasn’t enough, how about $10 million? I believe everybody has a price. It is all down to a question of motivation. 

What will motivate you to action? In the sport of greyhound racing, an artificial or mechanical rabbit is used as a lure to encourage the dog to chase it as fast as possible. With these animals, their drive is more instinctual than psychological. Here is where you differ from the animal in the metaphorical race in which you are engaged. I don’t think the animals choose whether to do their best or not. Human beings do have a choice. 

Many people procrastinate because of the deep-set fears we mentioned. Often it is based on the false evaluation that you are not competent or capable enough to succeed. Rather than fail, a person will put off going through with the task in order not to admit failure. In a way, accepting defeat in a job gives a person evidence that confirms the judgment that they are not good enough. 

The error in that type of thinking is that people haven’t separated in their mind what a person does from who they are. For example, when I consider who I am, I know that I am a bright, intelligent, and resourceful man. And I do fail in a lot of things. I can’t dance, I can’t solve Sudoku puzzles, and a great many other things. But those are things that I cannot do, yet I am not a failure as a human being. Competent people often fail at some tasks, but that failure to perform doesn’t make anyone a failure as a human being. 

The only problem with failing is the harm we do to ourselves for judging ourselves as not good enough. We forget that when we learned something new, like riding a bike and then, in the beginning, fell, we didn’t beat ourselves up as not good enough.

Your job is to build your self-worth and self-esteem. You are 100 percent responsible for how and what you think about yourself. You can build your self-esteem. You don’t need anybody to agree or vote about your worthiness. There is a website that can assist you in regaining your valuable self. 

You are now using this temporary roadblock to prevent you from moving forward to a better future. They are actually metaphorical stepping stones on a path to success. Please write back and let us know if this advice is working for you. 

Article #: 473296

Category: Friendship

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