I’ve heard it said that when God gives you a new beginning, it starts with an ending.
Hi, I’m Krystal, and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.
Maybe it was my parents’ divorce or the changes that came with it, but as a child, I somehow went from the girl who (literally) beat up the block bully for picking on my fragile neighbor to a 35-year-old woman with a shaking voice, afraid to speak my mind—even in the most ridiculous situations.
I frequently think back on the time I fought the neighborhood bully. The boy I hit was grades older and much bigger with a large doughy body and slick, black hair. I’m not proud of it, but it was the 80s and that’s how we settled things. (Not condoning it—the 80s were a much different time.) All I remember about that fight are two things 1) how oddly slow the fight felt and 2) he never picked on the neighbor boy again.
I think our childhood selves are our true selves, don’t you? But life has a way of telling us those selves are wrong somehow. Life experiences translate into “you’re too much.” We would be better off if we were less big, less strong . . . and so we start to change, learn to submit.
In a span of a few years, I went from being the only child in a family of three – to being lost in new siblings, and step-families, and trying to find my way. I found safety in allowing little wrongs—by staying quiet, being good. By the time middle school began, I was quite adept at finding a strong person and attaching to them, most likely as a way of preserving my safety. I made myself small to avoid conflicts, to fit in, to be comfortable, to be liked. It worked for me then.
Life went on, and I learned being who people wanted me to be and doing for them, resulted in big wins in the safety department. For the most part, I was liked, I was valued—especially if I made my identity about making other people happy. I became the best gift giver, the most thoughtful friend, the one who always put others first. My identity became what I did for others. Earning the right to exist wherever I found myself at the time.
Then, it started to crumble.
I became a mom, and for a decade, I was able to try and maintain this exhausting persona of being everything to everyone, but it simply wasn’t working.
For one, the submissive survival tendencies I learned to cope with in school and my own family didn’t translate in adult life. It only invited problems—minor bullying here and there, pushy remarks, pressure to do things I didn’t want to, a boss in my 20s treating me horribly, and eventually, someone I was close with suddenly giving myself and my husband the cold shoulder to punish us for reasons I never knew. It’s easy to bully someone who doesn’t fight back. So, that’s who I became it seemed. The punching bag. The more dominant the person, the more I tried to submit. All the trying was seen as a weakness.
And so began a cycle that caused me so much anxiety and strife—all self-created. It was no one’s fault but my own.
The knockout blow came in the form of a “friend” sending a text to me about me. The safety I thought I had with two friends who were so dear to me was the ultimate betrayal it seems. People I loved unconditionally, threw parties for, worked hard to do all the right things for, never said a bad word about didn’t respect me in the least. I was a joke. The ultimate people-pleasing failure, the saddest break up, the worst humiliation, and eventually . . . the greatest gift of my life.
I had no choice but not to care anymore. I started to see these hurts were blessings. The greatest undoing of a pattern I had learned in childhood. The God wink of returning to the 8-year-old girl who was brave enough to fight the fifth-grade bully, the girl who didn’t care about being liked, the person who respected herself enough to stand alone. One who was inherently kind but didn’t have to be weak.
These people-pleasing tendencies might have kept me from some discomfort, but they also kept me from her. These relationship failures were bringing me back to myself—my real self.
I was free. I could do what I wanted, say what I thought, write how I felt, and people might like it or they might not, but it wasn’t about me—it was about them. The charade was over. I was just me.
Did I lose people I loved? Absolutely. Do I miss them? Every single day.
Did other people see the real me and stay? They did. Were there people all along that I never pretended with? I realized yes, there most certainly were.
Sometimes that thing—whatever it is—that we are so afraid of happens, and after that, there is nowhere else to hide.
And, after the initial sting, it feels good. To be honest with others, honest with ourselves. Saying out loud our real truth. I don’t fit in everywhere. Some people don’t like me. I have loved people deeply and they didn’t love me, at least not enough.
I can’t please everyone. I can’t work hard enough to make everyone love me if they don’t want to. I can’t do everything right to keep people from leaving. I don’t want to try so hard for people—real love doesn’t work like that.
At the end of the day, with whatever we choose to do, someone is going to be unhappy, isn’t it our priority to make sure the unhappy person isn’t ourselves?
I can be kind to others. I can be myself. I can try and fail. People might not like what I have to say. At the end of the day, any negative that came with giving up my people pleasing is far outweighed by the inner peace of being that girl—the one who fought back when she needed to, was brave enough to stand up for what was right, and didn’t think for a minute about being liked. I loved being that girl back then. I love getting back to her now.
To myself for the last 30 years, and anyone scared to jump off that people-pleasing platform, it won’t hurt for long. I’m rooting for you.