I did not learn this lesson early enough in life, to be sure. I learned very early on that there were people who liked me more when I didn’t disagree with them, didn’t have an opinion, and laughed at their jokes. I invested time and effort into spending time with them, and shutting down who I was, and became who they wanted me to be. I was like a chameleon, over-adapting to different groups of friends and different people. But oh my god, was that taxing.
About half way into my college years, I experienced something traumatic that made me pull back from my many friends and social groups. Social life wasn’t a priority as I was trying to make sense and heal from what had happened. Now, I would never wish what happened to me upon anyone else, but I did find out who really cared about me during that time. And I got so lucky that I did have people to help me pick up myself and support me on the journey of healing and caring for myself again.
When shit gets real, the ones who truly support and love you will be there, no matter what. These are the friends that want to hear my thoughts and opinions, who don’t give a shit if I laugh at their jokes, who call me out and tease me, who cheer me on.
So why do people pleasers waste time and energy on people who don’t give a shit about them? It’s because you want everyone to like you! That’s enough of a reason, and a totally valid one. You’re taught as a kid (especially little girls) to be nice and polite to everyone, to share and keep the peace, to not be too noisy to bossy. This is ingrained in your programming. Of course you want everyone to like you! That’s what you were taught was important.
I’m here to tell you, it’s so much better if you don’t feed into toxic relationships. It’s important to have quality friendships; to cultivate rich connections rather than giving into something that will never return the love.
Sometimes, I have been the toxic friend, I’m the first to admit that, but I’ve also been in unhealthy relationships where I’ve just tolerated behavior that I didn’t deserve. With experience on both sides of the coin, I have some tips that have helped me to identify those relationships in my life that I keep around because I don’t want to “make anyone mad”, I want to keep the peace, or I don’t want to burn any bridges.
How I identify if the relationship is no longer healthy:
1. Does this person support me when I’m at my most vulnerable, stressed, anxious, beautiful mess? Do I support this person? Mutual support, in my opinion, feels beneficial for both parties. For me, it feels rewarding and nourishing to be helped or to help a friend. It literally could be sitting on a couch, drinking tea, and listening to each other. When it’s all about one person, the other person doesn’t get to have a space in the relationship.
2. Do I find myself swallowing my opinion or my true feelings to avoid confrontation? Can I communicate honestly? In most of my friendships, I feel free to be called-out and to call-out my friends. What I mean by this is, you make each other better people by holding each other accountable: voicing feelings, opinions, thoughts, and ideas. If you can’t do that in a relationship, then you’re just their sounding board.
3. Am I tense or stressed when hanging out/spending time with this person? Yo, hanging out is supposed to be fun. If I’m not happy to grab coffee or lunch with someone--if I am not comfortable spending an hour or two chilling with this person, then what am I wasting my time for? It’s not good for me or them; we both should feel comfortable and free to express. It’s hanging out and connecting, not a job interview.
4. Am I happy for this person? Do I wish them well? Or do I compare myself to them/resent them for being happy/doing well? Resentment is a funny thing-- It can show up in the most interesting, subtle ways. Let’s say a friend got a promotion or got an amazing opportunity: if I’m not excited for them, if I immediately think about myself (on the verge of throwing a pity party), this is an unhealthy relationship for me. If I don’t want to uplift and support someone as they move into a better life for themselves or when their down in the dumps, why am I in this relationship? If I’m not motivated by them, inspired by them, and visa versa, then what’s going on?
5. Is this person using you? Are you using them? If I’m using someone, or being used, we are not friends. It’s one-sided and unhealthy. Plain and simple.
Now, I am not recommending cutting anyone out of your life because they “qualify” as an unhealthy friend from the above list. I’m simply saying, if you care about yourself, cultivate the relationships that mean the most to you. If your friendship is worth your time, then communicate how you feel so you can have a more rich foundation and friendship. Friendships aren’t always easy, sometimes they take compromise (as long as you’re not compromising who you are), so maybe some of these things happen, but you’re both working to be better. If you’re shut down by someone for voicing your needs and opinions, then perhaps it’s time to consider moving on. Ask yourself if you’re friends with this person for the right reason.
Chronic people pleasers know that it can be hard to say “no” to someone, to create boundaries, to give yourself the care you deserve. But it’s necessary.