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People-Pleasing and LOVE, THEORETICALLY by Ali Hazelwood

Cover of the book Love, Theoretically by Ali Hazelwood

Elsie is a recently minted PhD Physicist. When she’s not researching or teaching, Elsie desperately makes ends meet by a side hustle of fake girlfriend-ing. The people she “dates” for the fake-girlfriend job think she’s a librarian, her roommate believes Elsie loves artsy cinema, and when the guy she’s seeing asks what she wants to eat, she says burgers…because he likes them. This would all be fine if it were real, but it’s not. In truth, Elsie is an adjunct professor who prefers teen vampire movies and cheese.

Elsie is the ultimate people-pleasing character chameleon. When she meets someone, she figures out who they want her to be or what they want her to do and then fulfills that role.

Elsie, like many people-pleasers, presents a fake persona to others for a few reasons:

  • She put other’s needs before her own.

  • She is scared people won't like her if she shows her true self.

Therefore, the alter-egos serve several short-term functions; they:

  • Fulfill her (unhealthy) priorities (others over me),

  • Increase the chances that other people like her and

  • If someone doesn't dislike her, it stings less because she wasn’t truly rejected.

People pleasers generally have low self-esteem and a history of traumatic or insecure attachments. They constantly ignore their needs to do for others, pretend to agree when they don’t and feel guilty and selfish when setting boundaries.

People pleasing is a negative coping skill because it can feel like an easier path in the short term, but in the long term, it leads to anxiety and weaker relationships since no one knows the real you.

Hard truth. Not everyone will like you, and you will not like everyone. But, the right people will want to truly know you and celebrate you having balance between other’s happiness and your own.

Don’t worry – you won’t change from a people-pleaser to mean. You can be both your authentic self and nice.

Here are some steps you can take to stop people-pleasing:

  • Slow Down: When someone asks you for your thoughts, feelings, opinions, or a favor, say you need a minute to consider. Then, contemplate your stance before responding. Sometimes, a clarifying moment alone can help you feel secure in your position.

  • Prioritize: Know how you want to spend your time and how much time is up for negotiation. You can also ask yourself, “Do I want to do this?” “Do I have time for this?” “How hard will this be for me?” “How stressed am I going to be if I say yes?”

  • Be Honest: You might watch a horror movie your best friend picked or go to a Thai restaurant your sister loves – even if you prefer rom-coms and hate spice. But be honest enough to say, “I’ll do that today because it is important to you, and I love you. But here’s what I like, and I want you to try these things with me, too.” In genuine friendships / families / relationships, people occasionally do things they don’t completely love with honesty and an expectation of reciprocal respect.

If Elsie tries these tips, her relationships with others will likely be deeper and more fulfilling. Also, she’d have time to complete important projects for her personal and professional life, which would increase her sense of self and confidence.


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