Stroll with Nicole

The disease of seeking to please

Nicole Law argues we should live for our own good and that of others, which is very different from always trying to please them.

I recently came across the book The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga and was intrigued. 

People-pleasing is not a new phenomenon; we have all tried our level best to make ourselves likeable in different contexts, sometimes at the price of our own sense of self. 

It occurs at a micro level when we try to fit in within a social context by adopting the behaviours or tendencies of the people we are with, in a bid to appear similar to them and hence establish common ground. We may find ourselves agreeing with opinions we are not comfortable with, just so that we keep in with the status quo. 

It occurs in organisations when employees feel a sense of disconnection from the overarching objectives and feel disempowered. They go along with what the organisation intends to achieve but, at a deeper level, experience dissonance or a misalignment with their own personal values and ideals and that of the larger organisation. 

Trying to please everyone is a mechanism for some of us to appeal to different groups we encounter, but essentially, we are shackled by self-doubt and the expectations of others. 

To constantly live up to an ideal placed upon us is exhausting and it takes us further and further away from who we really are. We shape-shift constantly and are much like a chameleon, changing our colours to suit the environment we find ourselves in. 

In the process, our sense of self becomes distorted and we find ourselves taking on the identities carved out for us by our circumstances. 

As I have grown older, I have gained clarity on this – realising that if pleasing other people affects my physical, emotional and mental health, then that is the sign I need to take action. It hasn’t been comfortable – I would rather be likeable on a surface level, but it is necessary. 

Sometimes I need to communicate my boundaries and convictions to other people – friends, colleagues, family – and that may mean they might ‘dislike’ me. That’s why the book describes this as the ‘courage’ to be disliked. 

It takes a certain degree of mental strength to detach ourselves from the perceptions of others and to start to make decisions which might not always be ‘popular’ or judged ‘in the interests of others’. 

For instance, when I am feeling exhausted from work, although it might seem selfish to a friend, I may sometimes need to decline an invitation to call or meet up in order to prioritise my own rest. I may be ‘disliked’ in the process, but at this stage in my life, I know that true friends will understand and will not make unreasonable demands on my time and energy. 

But that same courage to say no to others might on other occasions lead me to say no to my comfort and overcome myself to reach out, or even go out, to a friend when all I want to do is curl up with a book or movie. Their real need trumps the pleasure I might take from that time alone. 

The same courage might also lead me to correct a friend or colleague, calmly and having thought and even prayed about it, if I genuinely believe that such a correction is in their interest. Telling people one to one what they need to hear is far more helpful than gossiping about it behind their back.

It is profoundly liberating to arrive at this point where one does not live shackled by expectations and learns to live truly for himself or herself, but also for others. One lives for good – one’s own and that of others – and not for approbation or applause.

We have always possessed agency to make decisions for ourselves and to articulate boundaries with people or things that are draining us. It may not be easy, it may feel unfamiliar, but I hope that you too take the first step to be ‘disliked’. 

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Nicole Law is a writer for Adamah Media, who writes a column entitled 'Stroll with Nicole'. She is an educator based in sunny Singapore. Her calling is not only to mould young minds, but also to nourish souls through her faith-based podcast. She has a soft spot for burnt cheesecake, Dean Martin and swing dance. When she’s not engaging with her listeners, she’s planning new conversations for her podcast - she believes in the power of conversations and the beauty of our relationships.

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