The Fine Line between Kindness, People-Pleasing, and Self-Sabotage

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.”

You’ve probably heard someone say this. Maybe it’s one of your own favorite expressions. I’ve heard it used in the workplace more than once as rationale for forging ahead with an idea that might otherwise fail to get the green light.

As someone who can catastrophize with the best of them, I am not inclined to follow this advice. My mind is skilled at imagining a million ways for something to go wrong, so waiting to find out if I need to seek forgiveness does not sound appealing to me. At all.

I am currently at the tail end of the process of writing, editing, and self-publishing my first book—a memoir that covers multiple decades of my life. My book includes many stories from my childhood, teen years, and early adulthood that involve friends, family members, and love interests. To protect people’s privacy, I changed the names of everyone portrayed in the book, as well as some locations and identifying details.

All the same, I reached out to a number of people to give them a heads up that they appear in the book. The folks who got the most ink were first on my list. As the editing wore on, I continued to reach out to additional people who play smaller but still pivotal roles in the book.

With a release date of March 31, last week was pretty much my final chance to give these folks advance notice. As I typed out messages to this final round of people and hit send, my stomach was in knots and my heart was thumping. What was I doing?

Was I truly being considerate of these people’s feelings? Or was I following my long-established pattern of people-pleasing? Or…was I creating an anxious situation for myself because I’m a stress addict?

It’s probably all three. And maybe even a few impulses I haven’t uncovered yet.

Growing up, I was taught to be kind and compassionate. I often thought about what life was life for others and what emotions they might be experiencing. I didn’t want anyone to be unhappy or sad. I didn’t want anyone to be inconvenienced or unnecessarily challenged. Especially those close to me.

I also absorbed the lesson that being a good girl meant being polite and accommodating. The idea that someone might ever get mad at me was terrifying. What did it mean if someone disliked me? Was it a sign that I was a bad person? Was I going to hell?

Furthermore, from an early age, I developed an attachment to my anxiety. Angst and uncertainty felt like home. A fretful state of mind became so familiar that I started creating added stress for myself.

So, yeah, I think all three of these motivations were at work last week. There I was, at a point when I could start focusing on proudly celebrating the end result that is my book. But I still couldn’t resist tossing in a last-minute test of my fortitude.

Or maybe, just maybe, a part of me knew that something good might arise from doing this difficult thing. Because it did. I reconnected with a friend I haven’t communicated with in decades. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I think even our most confounding instincts can have positive results. Not always, of course. Sometimes when we ask for permission or forgiveness, it doesn’t go well. And in those cases, all we can do is try to be understanding and to learn from the experience. And try to do better next time.

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