“You’re a liar. People-pleasers are liars,” a friend said to me. I felt like I was punched in the gut. “You say yes when you mean no. You say it’s okay when it’s not okay.” My friend challenged me, “In your gentle way, begin to be more honest.”
I believed the lie that pleasing people would make my relationships better. It didn’t.
I decided to take my friend’s challenge to tell the truth. People didn’t have a relationship with me; they had a relationship with another version of someone else. They didn’t know me.
People-pleasing was safe; it was how I hid and protected myself so I could belong. Besides wanting to belong, pleasing-people is a bargain for love. If I kept people happy, I believed I would be loved. If I took care of others, I believed I would be loved.
Showing up differently in relationships is like learning a new dance. You may feel clumsy and awkward at first, but the old dance, while comfortable, is unhealthy. The old dance creates overwhelm, frustration, and resentment.
I am now a recovering people-pleaser. My journey started when I faced the truth that I was a liar. The first step in change begins with self-awareness. Once you are aware, you can learn new dance steps. The new dance looked like saying no, tolerating less, and telling my truth.
As I told the truth, here’s what I noticed in my relationships:
First, I experienced true intimacy.
As I was more engaged in being honest, others began to know me, not a fake version of me.
In his book, Seven Levels of Intimacy, Matthew Kelly describes intimacy as “In-to-me-see.” I started saying things I’d never felt comfortable saying before—like “I see things differently” and “that doesn’t work for me.” Secret-keeping was killing my soul, so I also started opening up about the pain and brokenness I felt regarding my former spouse’s addiction and how I’d protected him at a cost to myself.
When we share more of who we are with others, then we are known and loved, which is a powerful need in humans. I was not broken as a people-pleaser but broken open. I allowed myself to receive the love of others as I allowed them to see me. As a result, I experienced intimacy in a new way.
Secondly, when we stop lying to others and ourselves, it builds trust.
It is hard to love someone when you don’t trust them. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. When we are real, others trust our words and actions, and we become more trustworthy. We are no longer chameleons, adapting and saying what others want to hear when interacting with us, and trust grows.
Lastly, when we pay attention to being more real, we are more fully engaged in our relationships.
We are wired for connection. When we are engaged in bringing a greater depth to our relationships, the investment pays off. It’s like we are making a deposit in the relationship when we allow others to “see us,” and they in turn feel closer to us. As I began to share more in my relationships, it helped others to open up. One friend said, “Keep sharing; it helps us too!”
Being more honest in our relationships is a dance worth learning. It improves intimacy, trust, and closeness in our relationships. After all, the alternative is being called a liar!