Last week, we talked about people pleasing and how it's really not about pleasing other people at all.
But we didn't talk about two things that I see happen when people do partake in people pleasing behavior patterns. And yes, those two things are resentment and rebellion.
Resentment is the more obvious side effect of people pleasing, and it goes like this. We do something we don't necessarily want to do in order to try to control someone else's thoughts and feelings, and then ... we resent that person, even though they did literally nothing and it was totally our choice to take the action we took.
I know what you're thinking - is it really totally our choice? Did they really do nothing? What if they actually asked or insisted that we behave a certain way?
Here's my answer to that: no matter what anyone else says or does, we always still have complete agency over our own actions. Even if they're our client or our boss or our mom. We might choose to behave a certain way because we want a certain outcome or want to avoid another outcome, but we still get to choose.
The real reason we feel resentful after engaging in people pleasing behaviors isn't because of the other person. It's because of us. It's because we are telling ourselves that we don't have a choice. And that's a lie. We totally do have a choice. We totally did make a choice. We just also don't like some elements of our own choice, and we're blaming that on someone else.
Here's the thing. There's nothing inherently wrong with doing this. It doesn't make you a bad person. But. It's not super enjoyable and it's not creating anything you want.
This is one of those ways in which we have things completely backwards. We think that resenting the other person or the situation makes sense. We think that resentment is a way to assert our power. But we're the only ones who feel our resentment, and y'all, it doesn't feel very good. It feels like shit, actually. And yet, most of us choose to feel resentful instead of choosing to take responsibility for the fact that we are the only ones directing our own lives.
Part of the problem is, resentment can actually feel good for a little bit. Right when it starts, it almost seems empowering, the same way that anger can seem empowering. Righteous indignation feels good because it comes with the certainty that you're in the right and the other person is in the wrong.
But, here's the problem with that: once you get over the initial dopamine hit of believing that you're right and the other person is wrong, you're left feeling trapped and powerless and small. Because when you don't take responsibility for your own actions, then you also lose access to the place where all your power is.
And the double irony is that the more you feel disempowered, the more you'll engage in behaviors like people pleasing. You're trying to people please to get your power back, but you wind up with less and less of it instead.
And then there's the other side effect of people pleasing: rebellion. Rebellion is what happens when that one part of you gets tired of always trying to do the right thing, always trying to make sure that everyone is happy and that no one is upset with you. It's an impossible order, because you can't control other people's thoughts and feelings.
You've probably experienced this yourself. You've been striving and pushing and achieving and maybe even bending over backwards a little bit. And then suddenly, part of your brain is like, "Fuck it. Who even cares about this? Let's go get a coffee. I'm not even going to change my Slack status. I'm going rogue. They can't control me." And you do the energetic equivalent of popping the collar on your bad-kid leather jacket. You feel wild, and it's a little thrilling to be honest. It feels dangerous, even though you also totally know it's not. It's just a little rebellion. You'll be back to perfectionisty overachieving within the hour, the day, the week, or as soon as a new emergency pops up.
This may seem pretty innocuous, and in many ways, it is. But (you knew this was coming, didn't you?), there's a dark side to this, too.
And here's what it is: when you overperform and people please yourself to the point of rebellion, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Why? Because you are creating an internal system where you are both the mean parent and the rebellious teenager. You're both "we have high standards in this house," and also, "you're not the boss of me."
And it doesn't just play out at work. It plays out when you have personal goals, like exercising twice a week, or getting up early to work on your novel, or finally creating that budget you've been talking about. When the only way we know how to perform is to over do it, be resentful, and rebel, then that pattern will show up everywhere. Again, this isn't inherently wrong. It doesn't make us bad people. But it does divide our efforts and keep us stuck in situations that we desperately want to get out of.
In a way, part of why we do this is because, in addition to trying to people please others, we also try to people please ourselves. It seems weird that we would do this, but we do it all the time. Instead of asking ourselves what we really want, we do what we think we should want, and then we get mad at ourselves when we aren't happy with it. Instead of being honest with ourselves about what we don't want to do, we tell ourselves that we don't have any choice, and then we think our only option is to feel resentful and rebellious.
But here's the good news: it doesn't have to be this way. People pleasing is a habit, and you can change it. Resentment and rebellion are also habits, and you can change them, too. When you notice yourself feeling resentful, you can get curious instead of getting mad. Why do you feel this way? Did you do or say something that you wish you hadn't done or said? Are you feeling disempowered? Why? And if you're feeling rebellious, you can get curious about that, too. What are you trying to get away from? Are you bored and tired of it but not ready to admit to yourself that you want a new role at work? Are you at your limit with stress over a project you're working on? When you spend your time being curious about your feelings instead of acting them out, you'll figure out what's really going on. And when you figure out what's really going on, then you're in the position to actually create a change in your life.