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.

Mom would have been proud.

Mom and me in better days.

Since my mom died a few weeks ago, I’ve felt compelled to write and post here more than usual. Up until now, I’ve honored my pledge to “under-whelm” your inbox by posting a blogonly once a month. That goal was also self-serving in that I didn’t “have to” post here more often. (To clarify, I do write often, just not blogs for my website.)

Mom was one of the biggest supporters of my writing journey.

But here I am, my third post in less than a month. I hope you understand.

Mom was one of the biggest supporters of my writing journey and my goal of publishing my memoir. Before she died, I had told her about a big “first” for me: being interviewed about my memoir on the Midlife A-Go-Go podcast. Mom was excited, but she never got to listen.

I wish I could hear her voice.

When the interview first aired last week, I believe Mom heard it. I believe she knows all that goes on in my life, more so than she did while she was earthbound. But still, I find myself waiting for her call to tell me how proud she is. I wish I could hear her voice. I imagine it, I hear it in my head, but I ache for the real thing.

Since I won’t hear from Mom, maybe you can listen for a few minutes and tell me your thoughts. It would give me a smile. Mom, too.

Please ignore the “You can also listen….” I can’t edit or delete it, but it won’t affect your listening pleasure!

[If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” in the menu bar and send me an email.]

To be, or not to be…assertive. That is the question I pose to you.

My hospital room when my assertive  appendix demanded its release.
The view from my hospital bed on Memorial Day.

Being assertive is a challenge for me, but apparently not for my appendix, which choose Memorial Day to demand its freedom. That evening, I happily complied, and a surgeon put my appendix, and me, out of our misery.

(BTW, I’m perfectly happy without that little wormlike appendage to my colon. I’ve recovered quickly, thanks in part to the many doctors over the last century who contributed to the development of laparoscopic procedures.)

The day after my surgery, an interesting dilemma presented itself–to defend myself, and risk offending my surgeon, or to stay quiet. I chose a middle ground, and I’d love to know what you would have done.

To be assertive may risk causing offense.

In my memoir, which is written and soon to be agent-ready, I explore the roots, manifestation, and consequences of my excessive agreeableness. I own the sad truth that my inability to stand up for myself made it difficult to stand up for my son Matthew during his long rumble with a childhood brain tumor.

For many years, I was well aware of my reticence toward speaking up. There were times I tried to be assertive, but mostly I stayed in my comfort zone where others’ needs took priority over mine.

Being assertive is outside my comfort zone.

But with my uncomfortable truth ready to be laid bare to the world on the pages of my memoir, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be stronger, more assertive, to speak my truth.

Part of what makes it hard for me to speak openly is my fear that I’ll offend someone. That’s what happened with my surgeon.

The morning after my appendectomy, the diminutive man with thinning hair, square glasses, and nutmeg skin stopped in to check on me, and give me my discharge instructions. In a thick accent, he sped through the dos and don’ts. I caught a few snippets–showering was OK, swimming was not, no lifting, call his office if I had any problems.

“So I don’t need to schedule a follow-up appointment with you?” I asked when he finished.

“Yes, you do!” he said with a laugh, “I just told you that.” His laugh didn’t hide his derisive tone.

What I wanted to say, also with a laugh, was, Well, you have a very heavy accent and you talk too fast, so don’t blame me.

But that seemed rude. I was afraid I might offend him. I didn’t want to sound prejudiced.

So what I said, with a smile, was, “Well, you gave me a lot of information, and I’m just trying to take it all in.”

This was growth for me. In the past, I might have said, I’m sorry, I must have missed that. Or I might have been too embarrassed to say anything.

I took a step in the right direction by not taking the blame, and not feeling the shame. But I regret not being more assertive, and I don’t know how I could have responded without offending the person who had held my life–or at least the life of my inflamed appendix–in his hands.

I regret not being more assertive.

The dilemma is, when you want to stand up for yourself, but you don’t want to offend someone in a way that is antithetical to your beliefs, what do you do?

Since I’m learning to navigate these new waters of assertiveness, I’ll ask you–

What would you have done?