Tag, I’m It: Recovering from People Pleasing

Cheryl Leutjen
3 min readMay 17, 2023

“I hate you.”

I’m a people pleaser, from way back. So concerned about being a bother, so very Midwestern, I’d rather risk all my toes, my feet being severed at the ankle, than ask for help rearranging the heavy living room furniture. The nonstop inner dialog wonders how I might, in any way, be an annoyance to anyone—tempered, to be sure, by my own grouchy nature. My self-effacing beneficence has definite limits. Except when it doesn’t.

“I hate you. You’re selfish, you’re a hypocrite and a liar.”

So when the slew of “I hate you” emails started pouring in — from someone I’d devoted hours upon hours to “helping” — I felt gutted, I couldn’t breathe. Who am I if not helpful, compassionate?

One day we were friendly, helping each other out, sharing laughs over inside jokes. The next day, they couldn’t stop telling me how awful I am, how loathsome, so worthy of the worst.

My people-pleasing self groaned under the weight of the accusations, crushed like Wile E Coyote under the steamroller, just when he thought he was winning. How unfair!

I had been doing my best to help, devoting hours to finding needed resources, losing sight of my own boundaries in my quest to be the hero. Even in the throes of the worst of chemotherapy, when the “requests” became increasingly intrusive and demanding, I threw myself into the role. Liberal guilt goads me to do all kinds of well-meaning and ill-advised shit.

I rushed to defend myself, to set the record straight, to call out the untruths. Which only unleashed a new barrage of hateful accusations. And alarming threats.

I quit replying. Because there’s nothing I can say to assuage the very real anguish they feel. Hurt people hurt people. When you’re someone the world seems hellbent on destroying, just because of your identity, blaming someone close at hand, must be instinctive. I’m white, I’m a US citizen, I’m cis gendered, I’m housed, and I have a loving family. That must be hard to take when you have none of that.

Now, the spiritual side of me — always demanding its fair say — insists I “learn from this experience.” My inner Roy Kent* blurts a series of four-letter words all beginning with the letter F.

But my inner angel insists upon the exercise, lest my guilt-goaded people-pleasing habit recreates the situation over and over until I do. Like that time I insisted I didn’t need to quit feeding the cat every time he meowed. I spent more time rushing to the kitchen than the bathroom and (TMI alert), I pee a lot. He eats only four times a day now. He considers it starvation rations, but he hasn’t lost a pound.

So where do I lash out or blame others for my own circumstances? Where do I need to reinforce my boundaries, while remaining compassionate and humane?

I’ll spare you the ad nauseum navel gazing. Suffice to say the people pleaser does not relish being relegated to the back seat. But it’s time.

(I did give her a forbidden pack of chips and some Dr Pepper, so she won’t totally hate me.)

*Redditors report that Roy Kent gives an average of 7 f**ks per episode of Ted Lasso (through the end of season 2. Eagerly awaiting tally for season 3).

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Cheryl Leutjen

Teetering on a tightrope between more conscientious living and eco-madness, I write about responding to the challenges of our time with heart, hope, and humor.