People-pleasing knocks a hole in my accountability. Act 2.

A jagged hole ripped in paper
Photo courtesy Pixabay.

Last week I shared Act 1 of my people-pleasing story.

As a reminder, my husband and I gave explicit instructions to an electrical contractor about where a new wall-switch should go, but for whatever reason, the assistant knocked the hole in the wrong place.

I didn’t yell or make a scene, and I have no regrets about that. There are times when it’s appropriate, even preferred, to keep a neutral stance. But it was my failure to act even slightly annoyed that bothers me.

My people-pleasing ensures that no one feels bad–No big deal! Don’t worry! I hate when that happens!–except me.

My people-pleasing is an act to hide my anger. And when I do that, when I stuff down my negative feelings, it feels disrespectful to them–to my feelings–and to myself.

My people-pleasing got the better of me the next day, too:

The day after the hole-in-the-wall incident, “Ed,” the contractor showed up, and I pointed out his assistant’s error.

“I can fix it, but what can you do for me?” I asked, hoping to get a few bucks knocked off his bill. (Yay me for asking! Even that is outside my comfort zone.)

“You want me to pay you to fix it,” he said, staring me down with his chest puffed out. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement dripping with arrogance.

But I didn’t back down. (Yay me!)

“We explained why the hole shouldn’t go there,” I said, “but there it is. And I’ll fix it, but I’d like you to take something off your bill for it.” (Yay me!)

“You want me to pay you to fix it,” he repeated, his eyes and body as rigid as a two-by-four.

What I wanted to say, what screamed in my head, but what my people-pleasing kept me from articulating in words and tone and perhaps a gesture was…

“YOUR GUY F***** UP AND I WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA DO ABOUT IT.”

I didn’t say that. (Boo me.)

I don’t remember exactly how I replied, but the contractor finally offered not-so-nicely to waive the fee for his visit that day. I thought his offer was monetarily fair, and I wanted to end my discomfort, so I agreed.

So what’s the problem? The incident was resolved, right?

The problem is that I disappointed myself–not in what happened, but in how it happened. I choose my words carefully, but there was an absence of expressed anger.

This situation called for me to be angry–not about the hole in the wall, but about the contractor’s arrogance and condescension. He was a paid worker in my own home, and I allowed him to talk disrespectfully to me.

I allowed him to disrespect me in my own home, and I didn’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s my inaction that gives me regrets.

In my memoir, I tell the story of my son’s undiagnosed, and then frighteningly diagnosed illness. I didn’t cause his illness. I couldn’t have stopped it. But our family saga shone a spotlight on the times that I didn’t stand up for myself, and in so doing, didn’t stand up for my son.

Talk about regrets.

I won’t be that woman anymore. I’m not that woman anymore. It’s an arduous process to change my sixty-year pattern of behavior, but I’m doing it.

So the next time someone wrongfully knocks a hole in my literal or figurative wall, they’d better do it right, or they’ll answer to me.

And the only person I’ll aim to please is ME.

As a people-pleaser, my truth holds me accountable.

Workman wielding a hammer near a brick wall.
Image by kalhh from Pixabay.

A couple of years ago, we hired an electrician—I’ll call him Ed—to install a ceiling fan on the front porch and a new wall switch in the foyer.

Because there was a light switch in the living room on the other side of the foyer wall, the new switch would have to be installed lower than usual. My husband explained the situation to Ed, who understood.

Ed’s assistant—I’ll call him Jack—came the following day to do the work. I was in the kitchen when I heard a muffled curse and immediately knew what had happened. When I went to investigate, sure enough, there was a gaping hole in the plaster, exposing the back side of the living room light switch.

The correct and incorrect location of the wall switch. As a people-pleaser, this presented a challenge.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the misplaced hole.

Damn. I hated seeing that hole, but, even more, I hated the conflict it presented. As a people-pleaser, I’d rather scrub a toilet than face a conflict.

There were a number of ways I could have responded:

1) I could have yelled and make a fuss:

This is exactly what I feared would happen! We told your boss the switch couldn’t go there. You’d better fix it and it had better be perfect!

The very thought of making a scene like this gives me the heebie-jeebies. For better or for worse, I’d rather have a hole the size of New Jersey in my wall than yell at the person who put it there. Jack already felt horrible, I assumed, and I didn’t want to make him feel worse. The damage was done, literally, and yelling at him would not patch the plaster.

A people-pleaser is usually more concerned with another person’s feelings than their own.

2) I could have calmly expressed my anger in tone and words:

Jack, this is really maddening. We explained to Ed why the switch couldn’t go there. Didn’t he tell you?

This type of response wouldn’t patch the plaster either, but it would honor my feelings. A mistake was made, and I had every right to be mad and to express it. Most of my regrets in life–not that I dwell on regrets, but I try to learn from them–happen because I hadn’t honored my negative feelings, and didn’t speak up about them. I wish I had learned early on in life to express anger appropriately, but what I learned was to not express it at all. As you suspected, I didn’t choose this option.

A people-pleaser often doesn’t know how to express anger constructively.

3) I could have squashed my feelings and minimized the problem.

“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. These old houses are always tricky. The hole can be fixed.”

Sigh. I’m sorry to say this was my choice. No problem! is my default. Face-to-face, in-the-moment, person-to-person conflict makes me so uncomfortable, I often pretend there isn’t a problem. I pretend I don’t care or that I’m not mad or upset or disappointed or annoyed or ready to explode.

I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth.

I’m telling my truth to hold myself accountable.

A hole in the wall rates only a meh in the scheme of life. But by “outing” myself about these minor incidents, I hope to better understand and come to terms with the incidents that really matter, like the story in my memoir. And I hope to outgrow my toxic agreeability.

I tell my truth as a way to hold myself accountable.

I tell my truth in hopes that it will inspire others to explore and free themselves of their own people-pleasing habits.

I’m telling my truth to inspire other people-pleasers to free themselves.

The hole-in-the-wall scene is Act 1 of my wall-switch story. Dealing with Jack was the easy part. Confronting Ed, his boss, was the hard part–the part that left me with regrets. I’ll tell that scene next week.

(If you’re not subscribed and you don’t want to miss Act 2, just find the “subscribe” button and provide your email.)

If you’re a people-pleaser and you’d like to call yourself out, feel free to email me your story at contact@karendebonis.com (just click on “Contact” in the menu bar) and I’ll keep it between us.

If you’re feeling bolder, please add your comment below. (If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post and scroll to the bottom.)

Who knows? If my story inspired you, your story may inspire others. Together, we’ll grow stronger backbones and thicker skins. Together, we’ll be free.

Twas the morn before Christmas…

My wish to you.

Twas the morn before Christmas and outside my house, not a car was stirring, nor even a mouse.

I had zipped my winter coat over my pajamas this morning to bring our recycling to the curb. When I stepped out onto the porch, it reminded me of the mornings when my boys were young and we woke early on Saturdays to take them to hockey games. Those days were hardly quiet. It was always a rush to get breakfast into their bellies and gear onto their bodies and all of us into the car.

On Sundays, we woke early for church. Monday through Friday, it was work and school. Never a day to sleep in. Never a break, it seemed.

My mom used to talk about how much she loved getting up before anyone else and enjoying the quiet. When my kids were little, what I wanted more than anything was to sleep in.

But I always relished that moment on a winter morning when I stepped outside into the cocoon of the stillness and silence. If someone had boxed up that feeling of peace and put it under my Christmas tree, I’d have needed no other gift.

These days, my kids are grown, and I have my fill of solitude. I’m much less in need of cocooning but I still appreciate the gift of quiet, peace-filled moments. They are opportunities for reflection.

This holiday season, I wish you many of those moments. I hope they allow you to reflect on life, and I hope you find reasons for gratitude, even if you have to dig deep, as I know many people do. If it helps, pretend I’ve wrapped the gift and placed it under your tree with a fancy bow and a tag that says,

“From Karen. To my friend.”

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, pretend the box is on your table or windowsill or already in your hands.

Unwrap. Enjoy. Repeat every day.

Until next year, I wish you all the best.