Pleaser is Me.

by Jennifer Sey


I’m a pleaser. This puts me in solid company with a good many women. So many in fact, that Dr. Kevin Leman has dedicated a good portion of his life to helping those of us afflicted with the pleasing addiction. He has three books all sworn to helping women break the cycle. I should probably consider picking up “Women Who Try Too Hard: Breaking the Pleaser Habits” because I hate this insidious penchant. I think at my age – nearing 40 - I should be confident enough in the woman I am to not actively seek the approval of others. Yet, it is the driving force in my life. It is the constant hum that keeps me manically moving through my day, reaching for the brass ring of “Now you are finally good enough!”


I want to please my boss. I need to hear that I’ve done a stellar job presenting to the Board of Directors, contributing to the business. And if I don’t receive praise regularly, my brain slides to the dark side and assumes the opposite is true. Silence = dissatisfaction, inside my little tiny mind.


I want to please my kids. I want them to feel they’ve got the best mommy ever, even though I’m not around as much as a lot of the other mommies. Thus I run myself ragged on the weekends making sure we get everything in – karate, movies, swimming. I’ve got to make up for a work week’s worth of absence, as I usually get home just in time for a late family dinner. My boys are not left unattended. My husband is the primary caretaker; he walks them to school, makes sure they do their homework. But given that my stay-at-home mom did these things, I always have the nagging feeling that I’m falling short in the mothering department because I don’t win the bread AND do the full time momma thing.


Attending the school talent show recently, one of the kids in my son’s class said to me, “I didn’t know Virgil had a mom!” That eight-year-old shit stirrer did wonders for my self-esteem. And I don’t even know his name. Because that’s how this momma rolls. She doesn’t know the names of most of the kids in her son’s third grade class.


I want to please my husband (is the sex good enough?), my parents (I remembered your anniversary!) and my friends (never forget a birthday.) I want to please my publisher (have we sold enough books?) and my agent (I’m working on another one, I swear.) And a bunch of people I don’t even know. Like the PTA moms at my kids’ school whose names I also don’t recall (I gave at the office.)


In point of fact, it may not be the approval I’m in search of. It is avoidance of the opposite: scornful judgment that begets disapproval. The mere prospect of this sends me spinning into a careening slide of ugly self-doubt. It’s a disquieting, stop-me-dead-in-my-tracks seizure that racks me with uncertainty. Uncertainty in what? In who I am. In my very existence.


I take criticism as complete rejection of … me. I know it’s ridiculous. But that is what it feels like. My therapized head knows better. But it is not a very influential body part. It carries no weight with my gut, my heart.



I liked this article A LOT!! You are spot on in describing what many of us experience. I, for one, am still stewing about something that I was falsely accused of at work, 3 years ago, because (in fact) the exact opposite is the truth - and the exact opposite would have warranted praise and thank yous and that moment of "do-good" rather than the criticism. My lingering emotions are very much tied to the need for constant positive reinforcement. But, you know, because you hit the nail on the head -doing things to "please" ultimately is a reward for you, your self-confidence, and your legacy!


What an excellent piece! This really rings true for me. Good for you for moving forward some. :)


You are awesome!!!!! You spoke volumes to so many women who couldn't express their feelings. I love Shannon’s comment and I hope you take it to heart. Fuck all the men who want to patronize and bully the strong women at work. You should look at them and laugh because the embarrassing truth is that they only act that way because they DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT ANSWERS. You are the one who knows what is what. As for the PTA mom’s… tell them to get a life! You are setting the example for their childrens future!!