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What Have You Agreed To?

January 28, 2011

I was talking to a friend recently about some issues she’s having with her family and she told me that she is a “classic people pleaser.” We talked about this aspect of her personality briefly and obviously there are a lot of implications.

She made if very clear that this trait limits and controls the parts of herself she truly shows to others, and therefore it shapes the  ideas people have about her. Even the way they classify her in their minds. It so severe, in fact, that some of her family members think she has one type of personality and others would say she has a completely different kind of personality.

I hadn’t realized this about her before — because she is a very good people pleaser and, honestly, when we are together she is probably just working to make me happy — but now that I have this in mind I see a lot of things about her and her life. And I think she’s in trouble.

Thinking back over our time together I’ve been remembering things about her that directly relate to this. She’s always looking outside of herself for approval and information about herself that’s based on other people’s opinions and ideas about her. (Ideas shaped by her pleasing ways.)

In fact, when we go out to restaurants she never decides what to eat. She just orders whatever I order. The one time she ordered something different it was a dish I suggested. I’m afraid that she’s so concerned about others that she may not really know what she wants. And I’m not just talking about dinner.

Beyond that, it’s pretty clear to me that she has made a lot of what I would call “emotional agreements” with people who have been in her life for a long time — especially some of her family members. I think she has formed these agreements unintentionally. She simply acquiesced to someone she loved in an effort to please him/her. And she did so for so long that others expect her to continue doing so and she feels the need to fulfill these expectations.

Maybe she wanted to say no. Maybe she didn’t know what she wanted but somehow, somewhere she said yes and she is holding herself to it. And the other person is holding her to it — or trying to.

That may not seem so bad to you as you read this. But I think some of these agreements are hurting her. Some of them are also hurting the people she has unconsciously made the agreements with. They are holding her back. They are holding her friends and family back.

Now, I think that we are all people-pleasers to some extent. If you have a boyfriend you are probably interested in pleasing him on many levels. If you are a parent you are probably interested in pleasing your kids on many levels. Heck, if you have a job you are probably interested in pleasing your boss.

Are you seeing where I’m heading with this?

That’s right. My friend is just like you. She’s just like me. Now, she might be more of a people pleaser than you or I, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t made emotional agreements that are holding you back.

Last year my counsellor pressed me on this idea and I realized that I head been subconsciously holding myself to emotional agreements with most of the major people in my life.

I was holding on to journalism with both hands even though I felt like it was a sinking ship…but that was mostly for my parents. Somewhere along the line I had agreed to “make responsible choices about my career” but I was really making choices I thought they would find responsible. And I wasn’t really succeeding. And I wasn’t doing what I wanted.

In fact, for a while, I was even trying to fit my dream into a mom and dad box. I want to go to graduate school and I would eventually like to be a college professor. I tried to justify the choice to them by studying something I thought they would approve of: advertising.

Well that obviously didn’t hold together.I decided to go after what I really want even though I might not succeed in the way mom and dad want me to. And just thinking that thought was scary. And letting myself out of the agreement was really hard. I had to confront them and tell them what I was planning on doing and how I wanted to do it.

It took me weeks to work up the courage to tell them what I really wanted to do and to ask them what they though of it. And after that it took a lot of mental vigor to keep that agreement broken and build up a new agreement with myself. It was painful to break — or renegotiate that agreement, but if I hadn’t done it I would have never applied to grad school. Not even for advertising.

There are other agreements I’ve had to deal with, and I think that there are some that I wasn’t aware of that are coming to the surface again. It feel like it might be heavy lifting time. I think I need to get some things resolved before I head to grad school. Now I just have to figure out what.

How about you? What have you agreed to? Are any of them agreements you may need to renegotiate?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Andy permalink
    January 28, 2011 8:45 am

    At some point, we all have to be willing to make our decisions our decisions-embrace them and even allow ourselves to feel the outcome of that decision. It seems if you do that, then no one else’s influence can be truly attached to the final decision making. You own it.

    Ex.
    Many of us don’t understand that when young, at some point, a parents forceful decision making for us might have taken away our own process of opening up and saying yes or no. Our feelings for the situation may have been pushed aside-left unresolved. As a child grows into an adult. decisions may be made by following others for approval. It is easier that way instead of facing the source of where it all began in the first place. A person in this situation can be making a decision merely based on feeling. Not always good. On the other hand, a person may just like to order what the other person is having. It is easier that way.

    As for your friend. Be careful. Perhaps she just wants a friend.

    Like

    • January 29, 2011 4:26 pm

      We are great friends. There’s nothing that I need to be careful about. She’s fine.

      Like

  2. January 29, 2011 9:49 am

    Interesting that no one (?) has weighed in on this one.

    I gave up two “agreements” in the past few years, one with my late stepmother (do not confront or challenge) and my mother (pretend she is not an alcoholic).

    I think the reason many people evade or avoid coming up with new “agreements” (and this is essential to our growth) is the pushback — aka denial, rage, fighting, withdrawal — from the very people whose imposed and unagreed-to agreements are driving us nuts.

    Like

  3. dave c permalink
    January 29, 2011 8:43 pm

    They actually have a co-dependents anonymous meeting.

    The thing about this behavior, is that quite often it’s a driving of a lot of -isms. Workaholism. Alcoholism. Sex addiction. Hording. Eating disorders.

    Quite often we have some pretty painful agreements we agree to, and we’ve lived with these thorns in our side for so long, we really know no other way…and so we escape into something, anything.

    Or we just suffer, and lose our sense of self. If you don’t have a self, what is there to get hurt?

    One of the things about the co-dependents anonymous meetings, is passing the kleenex box. There’s actual politics behind it. Some people are too codependent to even so much as ask for kleenex as snot is running down their face. Then, you hand them a kleenex box, and you’re basically telling them what to do…like every other relationship they have in their life. So it’s a big thing for them to realize that they need to ask, and it’s ok to ask, for the kleenex box.

    Like

  4. January 31, 2011 9:29 pm

    It seems like this co-dependency is part of our nature but in need of moderation. I like your way of talking about our co-dependency; we make agreements with others. It reminds me of the social contract, and the fact that at one point in time, we as a people made an agreement to dissolve a government and form a nation. These little agreements in each of our lives can be little microcosms. “I have been endowed by my creator with inalienable rights…” The way we moderate it? Learn what those rights are and assert them. We’ll have to use our discriminating minds to determine which rights are real -and make us healthily independent – and which one’s are false, making us atomistic “I’s” floating in the falsely social ether.

    Unfortunately, I can give no concrete examples. I am not at liberty to speak of any agreements I have. I make all of them in secret.

    Like

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