Deep down, most of us are insecure in some capacity. Whether it’s the slight bump on your nose, the extra 10 lbs. you recently gained or that one crooked tooth that ruins your otherwise Hollywood smile, no one (not even Angelina Jolie) can live up to the impossible standards of beauty and perfection society promotes. What’s worse is that oftentimes in childhood, we are subjected to bullying and teasing. So, if we weren’t already feeling “less than fresh” about these seemingly minor personal blemishes, “meanies” point out these flaws of ours, skyrocketing our self-conscious tendencies to a whole new level. But bullying frequently doesn’t just stop there!
In the infamous words of Madonna, “we are living in a material world” (ie: we’re focused on the surface of things), meaning that based on the “cover” of each individual’s “book”, we make assumptions about the kind of person they may be. What god gave you, the clothes you wear, your makeup habits, how you speak and even your gait can all affect how greater society views you…and therefore treats you. In fact, psychological research has proven general trends that we go so far as human beings to believe that those who are physically attractive undoubtedly ALSO possess attractive “character qualities” (ie: they’re assumed to be smarter, more competent and more honest just cause they’re good looking! But we all know what happens when you assume…) Unfortunately for those of us who were NOT born in the likenesses of Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, it’s a much tougher battle trying to win people over. The result of all of this societal pressure is the employment of some sort of defense mechanism in order to cope.
Admittedly, I was one of those persons ostracized and belittled in my formative years. If it weren’t my gothic/punk-inspired personal grooming habits I was being mocked for (and even spat on! Damn conservative ultra-conformist Catholic school!!!), it was my eloquence with words. Funnily enough, these so-called “flaws” of mine are largely responsible for my success and many opportunities I’ve been granted, both career and otherwise, as an adult (Oh, the irony is not lost on me). Importantly however, it’s not simply the existence of my individuality that has helped me get to where I am. After all, we all bring unique qualities to the table. Rather, it’s my attitude and how I learned to cope with these “childhood traumas” that has allowed me to progress as I have.
Essentially, you have three major choices:
1) You develop a “thick skin” and come to the conclusion that it’s quite literally impossible to please everyone; therefore, those who truly matter will accept, love and support you no matter what.
2) You overcompensate for your insecurities by developing a sense of cockiness, insensitivity and bravado, making wild claims that NOTHING affects you emotionally (we’ll talk more on this later).
3) You become the subject of today’s discussion: a constant “people pleaser”. You limit your self-expression and change “with the tides” in order to win EVERYONE over in a quest to achieve unconditional acceptance (often because on a subconscious level you didn’t feel loved or appreciated enough as a child). Of course, when this backfires and for no justifiable reason someone just frankly doesn’t like or accept you, it becomes evident how dangerous this coping strategy truly is.
In case you’re wondering, I went with door number one; a choice that was and continues to be compounded by my experiences in the music biz. Now, I’m not suggesting for everyone to become as cynical or as jaded as me, but having a sense of REALISM when it comes to life and human interactions is essential if you are striving to develop “psychological maturity”.
While Freud is primarily known for his controversial (and in many people’s eyes, disturbing) psychosexual theories, he had an interesting view of humanity that I believe rings true, especially in this circumstance. Allow me to paraphrase:
Humanity is inherently selfish in the sense that at the end of the day our primary driving force is to ensure our own personal survival (and that of our kin) at any cost. But throughout evolutionary history, we realized the benefit of collective work (ie: it increases efficiency/productivity which allows for more personal free time) and therefore we formed complex societies. Because our natural tendency is to be “me-oriented”, we had to create and implement rules, regulations, laws and mores in order to successfully function as a group and limit (as much as humanly possible) acts of deviance (Civilization and Its Discontents).
With all of this said, I’m sure you can appreciate just how mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting of a life it can/will be if you choose to try and “people please” when 99% of the rest of humanity lives according to the aforementioned mindset.
This is NOT to say you should become an asshole toward people without cause or assume that everyone will be an asshole toward you (don’t confuse “characteristic selfishness” with “evolutionary selfishness”). That kind of pessimistic “woe is me” thinking is just as dangerous as “people pleasing”. Essentially the secret is in finding a balance: you don’t want to lose yourself, but sometimes (particularly when dealing with authority figures), you cannot always express yourself unapologetically and without censorship.
Be sure to judge each circumstance as individual, but remember, you should NEVER compromise who you are to such an extent that you can’t even recognize the motives behind the actions in which you’re engaging. That my friends would lead to regret and that’s a whole nother can of worms in itself.