Of course we all want to be liked, it’s part of human nature to seek the approval and consensus of others. But have you noticed how sometimes even though you have done your very best you just seem to face critical comments from the very people you were trying to please? Perhaps you can remember when this last happened to you and how you reacted. A client recently said to me that she wished that she didn’t have such thin skin and that she could shrug off negative comments with a smile. Once we had begun to concentrate on her own levels of self-belief she found that she didn’t care so much about what people thought of her as long as she felt good about herself. The key to happy and confident relationships is to stop taking everything so personally.
Criticism can hurt us terribly and cause us deep unhappiness but we can learn ways to control this emotional reaction. Happy people don’t accept the blame for everything that goes wrong but neither do they expect themselves to be perfect. It is most unfortunate that one of the main symptoms of unhappiness is the feeling of deep self-criticism: we find it hard to love and appreciate ourselves when we are down. In fact we become our own worst critics and this of course leads to a further depression of our spirits.
Next time you are feeling judged and found wanting by another person don’t just go to that unhappy place where you want to shrivel up and disappear. Instead, start to become aware of your own individual reactions to the criticism of others. Consider this: if you didn’t believe that you deserved a particular criticism then you would be able to laugh it off wouldn’t you? It would be just like water pouring off a duck’s back.
Chat show host Oprah Winfrey is very impressed by a book by Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements. In his book Don Miguel talks about our over-willingness to take everything personally which he says is a result of our being conditioned to fit into what our society deems to be ‘acceptable’. He calls this conditioning process ‘domestication’ and says that it leaves us wanting to be liked by everyone and striving to be clever, stylish and sexy so that we can please all the people in our lives. This intense desire to be and do the right thing to keep everyone happy fills us with self-doubt as we measure our self-worth in terms of whether others are pleased with us, or not. Try the following quick quiz to see if your desire to please others might be standing in the way of your happiness.
Quick quiz: Are you trying to keep everyone happy?
Look at the following questions choosing answers A or B.
1 A friend has asked you a favour (the third one this week) and you just wish she would stop assuming that you will be at her beck and call.
A You agree to do it.
B You tell her that you are sorry but you just haven’t time.
2 It feels like there are not enough hours in the day and you are stretched beyond your limit because you have taken on too much.
A You just try to do everything twice as fast and wind yourself up.
B You recognise the danger signs and let go of the least important items on your to do list.
3 Someone you work with is very negative and her constant complaining gets you down.
A You always let her have her say even though you don’t want to listen to her.
B You reply in a lighthearted way and outweigh her negativity with your positivity.
4 Someone makes an unjustified critical comment about you and you feel hurt.
A You feel like a fool and don’t know what to say.
B You challenge the person and tell them that you don’t deserve that sort of remark.
5 A family member is abusing your goodwill and you are fed up.
A You feel too uncomfortable to speak up and so it carries on.
B You find a diplomatic way of making your feelings clear; you know that there is no need to fall out over this.
6 You are feeling justifiably angry.
A You don’t want anyone to see your anger and you squash it as soon as you can.
B You are able to let yourself feel angry when it is necessary.
7 An acquaintance invites you to a party but you really don’t want to go.
A You go anyway because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
B You say that you would have loved to go but unfortunately you are busy that night.
8 You were tempted to buy a fabulous new dress in your lunch hour but you are worrying about what your partner will say.
A When you get home you hide it in the back of the wardrobe.
B You put it on and show him how wonderful you look.
9 The new boss at work seems to expect you to stay late most nights.
A You don’t complain and just stay until she says it’s time to go.
B You explain that you don’t mind staying on occasionally but that most nights you need to leave on time.
10 Relatives are coming to your place for a big family get together but on the day you feel ill and not up to entertaining.
A You just get on with it, you don’t like to let everyone down.
B You know that they will all understand so you ring around and set a new date for the party.
11 You book a restaurant table for a special event and when you get there you find yourselves hidden away in a dark corner.
A You say nothing and make the best of it.
B You ask to be moved.
12 Everyone is leaving the domestic chores for you to do when you get home for work.
A You get on with them because there’s no point in asking for help, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
B You decide to get to grips with this once and for all and you make a rota which clearly allocates specific jobs to each member of the family.
13 Your boyfriend turns up late again.
A If you say anything he will get angry so you don’t challenge him.
B You tell him that you don’t feel that he respects your time when he keeps being late.
14 You have to make a very tricky decision and it’s hard to know
what to do for the best.
A Other people keep giving advice and you just get more and more confused.
B You listen to the opinions of others but in the end you do what your instinct tells you to do.
15 A friend keeps ringing you with her relationship problems and she talks to you for a long time most nights.
A When she rings you always ditch your own plans for the evening because you want to be a good friend.
B Next time she rings you tell her that you are on your way out but that you would be happy to talk next time you are free.
Score 1 for each time you answered A. Score 2 for each time you answered B.
If you scored 15-19
Your desire to keep others happy stands in the way of your own happiness. There are many occasions when you ignore your own feelings so that you don’t have to rock the boat. Beneath your compliant exterior you probably feel very angry and unappreciated but you find it so difficult to put yourself first. Maybe you are afraid of how others will react if you begin to recognise and express your own needs.
• Consider your own worth and recognise that your happiness is as important as anyone else’s. If you give away your power to other people they will soon begin to treat you like a doormat.
• Don’t teach others to treat you badly or you will always be unhappy and dissatisfied.
• Choose one instance where you need to be more assertive. Decide who you need to speak to and what you need to say and then just go and do it.
If you scored 20-24
Sometimes you do come forward and speak your mind, even if you know that it will displease others, but afterwards you often feel guilty and wish you had kept quiet. You hate being criticised and it is this that frequently prompts your desire to please everyone. Part of you is quite ready and able to act in your own best interests and you do know that you would be much happier if you were more resolute.
• Say what you have to say and do what you have to do and respect yourself. Let go of those guilty feelings and trust your own judgement.
• The more you practice saying ‘no’ the easier it will get. Go out there and start practising.
• Cultivate your strong and assertive side; it will always guide you in the right direction.
If you scored 25-30
Well done! You know how to assert yourself and you are not a people pleaser. You have a healthy respect for yourself and the value of your time and so others are inclined to treat you well. Because your happiness levels are not dependent on what other people think you are much more in control of your own moods. You understand that although you will feel sad and low sometimes this isn’t the end of the world and your mood will improve. Happiness is a state of mind and you are always ready to do what it takes to bounce back with a smile.
• Keep working on your positive thinking, it is a wonderful strength that you can always fall back on.
• Take your fabulous happy vibes out into the world and share them; happiness is contagious.
• Find some new happiness habits in this book and add them to your repertoire and you will feel even happier!
Of course this issue of other peoples’ happiness is not always clear-cut because sometimes another person’s wellbeing is our happiness. For example, when do we stop being a kind and caring parent who is working for her child’s good and become a downtrodden, taken for granted mum? And isn’t it right to put our partner’s wishes before our own sometimes; surely that is part of being in a loving relationship? If a family member or close friend needs our help and support we might need to put our own immediate wishes on the back burner.
There is certainly a thin line between being a good friend / partner /daughter /mother……etc and being a victim. Only you can know when you have crossed this line in any of your relationships. Some clues can be found in the way that you feel. If you are feeling angry, lacking in confidence, unappreciated, irritated, taken for granted, demoralised or any other similarly negative emotion you can be sure that you have crossed that line and that your happiness is being sacrificed for someone else’s. If you recognise that this is happening in your life right now then take heart, you can change this situation. Begin to put your own wellbeing at the forefront of your life and remember that you can only give to others when you have something to give. The biggest gift you can share with anyone is the joy of happiness. Let your happiness come first for the next ten days and you will be renewed and regenerated. Your perspective will become much more positive and you will know exactly how much you are prepared to give to others and when to pull back and give to yourself. Increase your happiness levels and every aspect of your life will change for the better.
Copyright © Lynda Field 2015
Adapted from my book, Fast Track to Happiness.