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