Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Monday, October 24, 2005

Learning to be a Non-Pleaser

My whole life, since I was a little kid, I have wanted nothing more than to please authority figures. I was obsessively concerned with what my teachers thought of me. I agonized and cried when I had projects and papers due because I was so terrified of letting down my teachers. Even if I thought the project was dumb or boring - that meant nothing. I still agonized over how turn in the best whatever the teacher had ever seen. This, unfortunately, led to the torture of my long-suffering mother, whom I would force to sit next to me for hours to help me come up with ideas and write papers. I can't even begin to tell you how many projects and papers I turned in which my mom basically wrote for me, since she was so concerned with me crying and hyperventilating with stress. I also genuinely liked most of my teachers and enjoyed talking to them and getting ideas from them. Though that liking was mixed with fear, since I so desperately wanted to please them.

Now that I am 28, I seem to have moved beyond this. I am taking a class right now for library school, and have not read one article, though I've been taking the class for three months now. I'm simply not interested in the topic. So I'm not going to do it. Period. Of course, I'll do enough to get a decent grade, but all these articles that I won't be accountable for - phff. Not going to waste my time on those. Even if I am supposed to be talking about them on the discussion board - that's only 10% of my grade. Why bother?

This is such a stark contrast to the excellent little student I always was in the past. So responsible. So conscientious. Such a pleaser. I really do think this is a mark of maturity I did not have five years ago. Now I'll study what pleases me. Now I won't worry if my profs think I'm a slacker. It's more important for me to be pursuing ideas and projects I am fascinated by. Most of my high school students have reached this plane a whole decade and a half before I ever did. I must have been have been a very slow developer.

My newfound lack of awe and worship for authority figures has transferred over to other parts of my life as well. But that's another story...


Anonymous Mike said...

Three questions... What brought this change? Did you try to please all authority figures or just some? Are there any authority figures that you currently try to please?

10/24/2005 9:49 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I'm not sure what brought this change. Like I said, I think it's just a process of maturing, of realizing that my opinion of myself is more important than what other people think of me.

I tried to please all authorities, though of course, I did give my mom a hard time occassionally. But overall, I would definitely try to make her happy.

There are no authority figures I currently try to please. I'm not trying to displease them either. I just don't care what they think of me.

What about you? did you undergo a similar change? Are you currently trying to please any authority figures?

10/24/2005 10:02 PM  
Blogger John said...

I know you're asking Mike those questions, but I've thought a lot about this subject and can't help responding.

I recognize this desire to please others (not necessarily authority figures) in myself and have organized much of my work and academic life around people. I program for specific clients/people, not for departments or projects. I sought out and attached myself to wonderful faculty mentors and took classes almost exclusively from them.

I tend to be very loyal to my family and friends, and I work hard to please them while feeling guilty for pleasing myself. My attendance at church is tied heavily to my relationships to individuals, most especially Jana but also including you and Mike and others from Outhouse.

I don't have the problem of wanting to please authority, though. I chafe under authority, and have been blessed with low-key, hands-off bosses and professors.

I think that my emotional dependence on others is changing. I'm transitioning from a focus on pleasing others to placing more confidence in my own opinion of myself. I think that this is part of a maturation process, but I wish I didn't save so much of this growing up business for my thirties! :^P

10/26/2005 2:49 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I have to chime in here too, since I have also been going through some realizations about myself and have deep desires to change.

I definitely would call myself a pleaser. I have at times been consumed by fear of what others think of me. It doesn't matter if it's an authority figure or not, as long as it is someone I associate with in one way or another. Though it's not really everyone at once, it seems like a concentration on a few people at a time, but that conscientiousness is behind all my actions (and not necessarily good conscientiousness). You may read it as being a control freak--I am definitely not going to deny that. But I have been recently (in the past few years) been increasingly aware of this and inhibitions it places on me. I am working on it and feel I have been changing. But sometimes, I still feel like that little girl inside me rules out.

10/27/2005 2:33 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I know what you mean about how strange it is to be making these transitions as adults. I find it funny that I am also having such an angsty time right now. I kind of feel like i'm going through a teen phase a decade later than I should have.

Unlike you, I don't generally make huge efforts to please people close to me. Particularly Mike. (Sorry Mike). I don't know why this is. I'm ultimately a selfish creature no doubt. And I freely admit to feeling jealousy over how calm and confident and collected Mike is in all areas of his life, so I'm afraid I'm a bit peevish about that at times. And I know he's stuck with me. And I figure I have a lifetime and beyond to get better.

10/27/2005 9:02 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Brooke, I sympathize. What you describe - being consumed by worries about what others think of you - is a lot like me when I was younger. Hell, one reason I got my nose job was fear that others would look at my profile, see a bump, and find it unattractive. Ugh. So stupid.

I think it's great that you're becoming aware of the inhibitions that go along with this mindframe.

I'm certainly not completely free of these mental shackles yet myself. I've shaken off the authority thing, and I don't worry too much about what Mike thinks of me (he's stuck with me, poor thing) but I do sometimes really worry about what some friends or people I admire think of me.

10/27/2005 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Caroline, My changes have not been as dramatic as yours. At this point in my life, I generally just do what I think is best/right. This usually turns out to please many (but not all) people, but that doesn't mean I do it to please them.

That said, I do care about the feelings of others and often do not want to put them through trials unnecessarily. If that is to be equating with pleasing them, then I guess I'm guilty in that regard.

But to complicate things, let me argue that doing something for the sole reason to please someone isn't always a bad thing; in fact, sometimes it might be a very good thing. A parent might want to please a child, or a person might want to please a spouse. For example, doing a chore around the house for the sole purpose of pleasing you could still be a good thing even if done for the wrong reason.

Bottom line: It is OK to be a pleaser sometimes. If you never care about others' feelings, then it is hard to sustain certain relationsihps. (Don't you just want me to say things to make you happy sometimes?) On the other hand, if you are doing too much pleasing, then change is in order.

10/27/2005 9:47 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

i can sympathize with the teen-angst a decard too late. i had essentially the same thing. all the normal teen rebellion didn't happen til after i was 25. but mine was of a different nature. i don't think i've ever really cared a whole lot about the authority of those i please. i just like being a nice person. so i do nice things.

of course, i've had more than my share of moments in which i'm sure i'm stupid and not good enough for other people's standards. but usually they come when I'm down and I snap out of it (fortunately).

I agree that there is a maturity in doing things because *you* want to do them, because *you* are interested in them as opposed to doing something out of fear of not measuring up. However, there's another maturity in accepting responsibility for what you have chosen to do or make yourself a part of and accordingly meeting your obligations. I think you touch on this with your passing acknowledgement that you'll do enough work to get decent grades in your class, but I thought it needs to be articulated. Too often in American society we perceive growing up as a divorce from authority or a throwing off of authority and forget that growing up also includes accepting responsibility.

11/08/2005 6:39 AM  

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