How many times have you heard someone complain about a situation and then following with “I just have a hard time saying no.”? Insecurities and anxiety often result in unhappiness and depression, but do we actually recognise this as a reason for why we might be unhappy?
In this episode I look at anxiety and more specifically ‘people-pleaser syndrome’ and how it may manifest in very subtle ways and why this may be the cause of depression as well as explain how many may not even realise they have it.
Dr Polyvios 00:43
Hello everyone, it’s good to be back! Firstly an apology to everyone wondering where I have been for the last month or so; the truth is I have been exhausted. Life has not been easy on anyone recently and I think without realising work over the last few months has really has taken its toll on me and in a weird way over the last couple of weeks even though things are slowly returning to normal in the hospital and stress has gone down considerably I just found myself not being creative in the slightest and the thought of working on podcast or coming up with new ideas for episodes was just not there. And as grateful as I am to not be one of the millions affected by furlough and risk of unemployment, I really just wanted a week or so to sleep and watch tv, chat with friends and family and be away from hospital life as much as possible and being stuck in a hotel room for 3 months on my days off really didn’t help much. So, I have finally moved out of the hotel and am back home which is lovely, and I am on my first bit of annual leave since December last year and I had a think about what I could share with you all. I didn’t want to talk any more about Coronavirus or anything like that, I really didn’t want to research a topic from scratch and read peer-reviewed articles like I do for a number of my podcasts and in a weird way as much as I absolutely love having guests on the show, I didn’t want to talk to anybody about a topic. I actually love recording solo podcasts, and even though they are probably the less popular podcast format I find them strangely intimate and it feeds my ever so slight narcistic personality trait which I think everyone whose ever posted something on social media has to some degree but also solocasts actually challenge me to reflect on my own thoughts and I often have to ask myself whether or not I really believe in the thing I am about to say before I broadcast it out there and they also make me reflect on certain situations or experiences in order to create content.
So the other day I was looking through some old photos including some of when I was around 8 years old. For some reason the part of my life that I remember the most from my childhood was not my teenage years but strangely my younger years. Actually, maybe I should re-phrase that. The time in my childhood that I remember most fondly was when I was younger rather than my teenage years which weren’t too unpleasant, but you know… hormones… social awkwardness and well, think of an episode of the inbetweeners and you get what I mean. But as I looked at this photo of me crouching down with a beaming smile by my radio-controlled car next to my older brother who was crouching down by his it did make me wonder… Why are those memories from that time in my life so happy? Could it be that I simply don’t remember anything unpleasant or my brain has actively ignored the bad days? I don’t think so. I really believe that the reason that time in my life was so happy is firstly because it was a point in my life where I was old enough to remember things with some clarity but also because like most children I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I had my own world which has a happy place and you were either in that world or you weren’t. That was that. Life was simple.
Fast forward to more recent times and the world is a different place both in the literal sense but also subjectively too. And one thing that we hear about time and time again is anxiety and depression. Have you ever noticed that you rarely if ever hear anyone talk about one of those things without the other? The number of patients I see with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression is quite extraordinary and the amount of anti-depressants or anxiolytics that some are on is equally as scary. The amount of stuff out there about anxiety and depression is insane. There are seminars on the topic, endless books, yoga for anxiety, anxiety relieving diets, meditation courses, people have made millions by coaching people out of depression, charlatans have also made millions pretending to coach people out of it. So it’s a big big topic and one I wanted to touch on. Before I go on, this isn’t a topic I’ve done much if any research on and everything I’m about to say is purely from personal observation of people, personal experience and also just from chatting to various professionals in the past who have a lot of experience in the topic and adding my own thoughts too.
So, when we think of anxiety we often think of phobias; being scared of heights or being afraid of flying. Which is true, these things are a form of anxiety. But we don’t often associate anxiety with more fundamental phobias that can arguably be affecting our lives in more substantial and important ways and the real problem is that we often don’t realise that we have it as it doesn’t manifest in any real symptoms. You may not get palpitations or a change in your breathing rate and life goes on normally until you feel more and more burdened with the world and one day you find yourself depressed and you don’t know why. Which brings me on to people pleasing.
Being a people pleaser is essentially a subsection of anxiety more specifically caring what others think about us.
People pleasers often find themselves focusing on an individual who doesn’t like them, they might agree to do things just for approval, they might do things that they wouldn’t normally do, even if it’s wrong just for approval from someone, they often find themselves second guessing what others think of them; “Do they like how I look?”, “do they like what I think or say?”, “Do they like my partner?”.
Now of course, we all to some extent care what others think about us, it’s human nature, of course we want our friends to like us and our partners to want to be around us. And of course, we want to make a good first impression at a dinner party. But the problem is when we can’t accept that there are people who don’t like us.
I believe the big problem is that often people who find themselves depressed as a result of their people pleasing nature don’t know this is happening or at least might not associate this behaviour with feeling unhappy until it is pointed out to them. A good example that most people can in some way relate to is: Imagine being in a room with that say 100 people. We of course would like all 100 people to like us. But the chances are and actually I can say quite confidently that all 100 people will not like you. That would be completely unrealistic. As unrealistic as me saying that you will like all the 100 people in that room. And in my case the room would have to be a lot smaller before I can confidently say that I like everyone in that room likes me and vice versa.
Often however, the very thought of this isn’t a pleasant one. This is anxiety. And instead of focussing on the 99 people who do like them, they find themselves chasing that 1 person who they believe doesn’t like them and do whatever they can to try to convince them otherwise and if they fail they won’t enjoy the whole party as a result. And how do we ensure all 100 people like us? Well what people may do is find themselves mirroring the behaviour and thought patterns of each person we talk to. We can become chameleons. And when we do this, we change ourselves to cater for each person we meet and even though one personality might be completely different from the other we learn to know what each person wants to hear, and we say it. So that ensures that we are always liked because everyone likes listening to themselves and likes to have their viewpoints acknowledged and agreed with and encouraged by someone else.
The problem is that this behaviour often extends beyond that room of 100 people. It extends to relationships with friends, with family, with work colleagues, even with our partners. How many times have you heard someone complain about a situation and then following with “I just have a hard time saying no.”? Even if it makes them miserable as a result? Or someone always asking for an opinion from a specific family member before doing anything because that opinion is worth more to them than what they actually think themselves. Or even not hanging up the phone on a scam caller because we don’t want to be impolite! Ok, sometimes it’s fun not to but you get what I mean. Or something which in my opinion is a very detrimental practice is apologising for things that we shouldn’t actually should be saying sorry for. Self-worth, doesn’t depend on ones ability to appease others all the time.
And ultimately the biggest problem with being this way the whole time is it is incredibly exhausting. If someone is constantly in a state of anxiety where the opinions of others are more important to them than their own, it will dominate their lives, make them loose control of their self-esteem and also their confidence so it’s not at all surprising that they will not be happy. When you’re constantly supressing your thoughts and feelings for fear of disapproval from others it will make you just want to explode inside.
We see the same problem faced by some Instagram users or some ‘influencers’ and in many respects I use that term very loosely when their entire purpose of posting something isn’t to share something of interest but just seems to revolve around obtaining likes for posts and if they get a negative comments they might spend more and more time focusing on the negative comments than the positive and ultimately their anxiety and insecurity means they become depressed or leave the platform altogether. And why? Because their self-worth becomes completely dependent on the likes of others.
And I will openly admit that there’ve been a number of times in the past where I’ve stopped myself from disagreeing with certain comments that have been made on Twitter in case my viewpoints aren’t taken well. And even a couple of times on this very podcast I found myself agreeing with a guest when in actual fact I didn’t agree at all with them and wished I had been honest because as well as being honest to myself and everyone listening, it would have made for a much better podcast episode. And when I would hear a negative review about my podcast or have a thumbs down on a microphone review video I’ve posted on YouTube. It would really upset me but then I remembered the room scenario and thought well if I’m producing content that everyone likes I’m either not popular enough or I’m David Attenborough.
Popular YouTubers and podcasters for example don’t produce content for the 1000 people that give a thumbs down or a negative review, they produce content for the 20,000 people who give a thumbs up or positive review or even just for themselves. Or in my case the 5 of you who are still listening… And that’s how we should be in life with our interactions. We should not change for that one person in the room who doesn’t like us. What we should be focussing on is the 99 others in the room who do. That’s happiness.
Now I’m in no way saying yep, the key to happiness is going out there being a rude idiot to everyone because you don’t care what anyone thinks about you and the only opinion that matters is your own so you’re never going to take advice from anyone ever again. But what I am saying is do try to recognise if you are falling into a pattern that may be one of anxiety and if you are depressed see if some of the patterns of people pleasing/anxiety are ones that you recognised and start to make small changes and of course I would always advise going to your Doctor for more advice and seeing what they think about a psychotherapy referral.
Truth be told I think that doing something that I wouldn’t normally do, like broadcast my views and my voice over the internet for anyone to listen to and opening myself up for critique was one of the most challenging things I have done, but also one of the most beneficial. The things I have learnt from this whole experience have actually been lifechanging.
I’m sure most people will say that there’s always something we’d love to be able to go back and teach our younger self but perhaps this is an area of life where our 8-year-old self can teach the grown up in us.
To sum this whole episode up I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the film Pirates of the Caribbean where Captain Jack Sparrow was captured and his capture said “You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.” To which Jack Sparrow replied: “But you have heard of me.”
And with that I’ll leave you. If you’re enjoying the show please do subscribe or follow and leave a review and if there are any questions you would like me to answer or topics you would like me to consider for the show please do contact me via adoctorsview.uk and follow me on Instagram @adoctorsview for some behind the scenes posts.
As always, please look after yourself.
I’m Dr Polyvios, goodbye.