Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me

On the phone with my sister Carolyn in Hawaii last night for our Easter chat.  C confessed to being very bothered by something. Someone she’d thought of as a friend had suddenly turned ice cold and “dropped” her.  I thought my sis was better off without this person, and told her so. But I completely understood her upset. It’s how I live my life.

You see, I am a compulsive people pleaser. I come by it naturally. My mom Joanie couldn’t bear to have anyone on earth dislike her. To that end, she was constantly bending over backwards to be warm and friendly and always agreeable.  Mom, 70 years later, remembered, and OFTEN talked about, her failure to keep a classmate’s friendship in elementary school. Apparently this child was a big stinker, but that didn’t matter—little Joanie took everything she said and did incredibly to heart. In later years, our across the street neighbor took delight in switching moods on Mom: one day a delightful buddy, the next, a nasty adversary. Mom always blamed herself, and redoubled her efforts to please this un-pleasable woman.

Joanie (left) with a true friend
So that was my role model growing up, and I was an excellent student. As a result, my “friends” included a parade of girls who would invite me over to play, and then send me home in tears. I kept coming back for more, though, because my ever-shaky self-esteem ruled the day. In high school, I utterly exhausted myself in my quest to be universally loved. It never once occurred to me that there might be people who wouldn’t like me if I stood on my head and spit nickels. No, no—surely there was something I could say or do to win over the whole world!

Me at age 11--what wasn't to like?
Well, I haven’t improved all that much. At 56 I still often yearn for complete acceptance by every soul I encounter. It’s not just a matter of being generally nice to folks—there’s nothing wrong with that. But when I obsess about people who, for whatever reason, don’t care for me—well, that is a huge waste of time. And besides, why do I think I’m so swell that the entire population has to find me irresistible?

I am working on it, and there are small signs of progress. Being left off a guest list here and there is not a calamity. In fact, it may be a good thing, a sign that I’m finally beginning to own my personality, to be the real me—even when “me” rubs somebody the wrong way.

Among my kids, I have a couple of people pleasers, and I hate that I’ve been a poor role model for them in this area. If I could give them one message today, this would be it: just be yourself.  God made us all unique for a reason. Rejoice in your uniqueness. Revel in the people who truly love you. For the rest, be nice, and if they still don’t like you, let it go.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elise:

    I could so relate to this post. I don't need to be liked by everyone though, just the people I like. God forbid I should like someone who doesn't like me back! I'll obsess on that for a good while. A bit of cognitive therapy helps. I remind myself that "Hey! There are people YOU don't like, and it's okay. It doesn't make them unlovable or even unlikable. Your personalities just don't mesh." As you say, Elise, we need to let it go. (Unless nobody likes you, then you might want to think about that.)