You’ll Never Please Them All: An Open Letter to People Pleasers

I might ruffle a few feathers with this one, and I’m going into it with that understanding. I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve been criticized for in the last few years since living my life publicly on social media.

I’m not sharing these things to invalidate any of the criticisms people have had of me. I’m sharing because I want to demonstrate how perfectly impossible it is to make everyone happy in a world full of people with their own values and opinions.

Over the years, I’ve been criticized for:

  • supporting LGBTQIA too much
  • not supporting LGBTQIA enough
  • speaking out too much about political issues
  • not speaking out enough about political issues
  • shopping at Walgreens
  • shopping at Publix
  • following a diet that works for me
  • not following a diet that didn’t work for me
  • being performative when I speak about important issues (“stay in your lane!”)
  • being complicit when I don’t speak about them (“why aren’t you calling this out?”)
  • going through a separation (“how could you give up on your marriage?”)
  • reconciling my marriage (“how can you be so weak?”)
  • being too soft on my kids
  • being too hard on my kids

The list goes on and on. And I get it: by the looks of this list, I seem like a really problematic online personality! But the truth is, for the most part, I do stay in my lane. I talk about marriage, motherhood, and mental health. I speak in defense of women. I talk about issues that (a) I am passionate about, and (b) I feel qualified to speak about. I have made mistakes. I have been unintentionally insensitive. I have had to put my defenses down when I screwed up and needed correction from communities my words harmed. In those cases, I have listened. I have apologized. I have learned.

But I’m far from a problematic creator. It just seems that way when you look at this list because, well, everyone has an opinion. We all have guiding principles that form the values we live by. I fully support everyone having their own values, so long as those values don’t infringe on the personhood of others. The problem is that too many people want to impose their values and beliefs on other people. And because we are all individuals with our own convictions, we will never be able to fully agree.

Consider this example. I think we all, universally, agree that murder is bad. We have decided as a civilization that killing each other is fundamentally wrong. But although we can all agree that murder is a crime, we are divided on how it should be punished. Do we kill people who murder, to prevent them from doing it again? Do we focus on their rehabilitation, hoping to eventually re-assimilate them back into society? We have strong convictions on these issues, and because of that, we cannot find a solution.

This is why trying to please everyone will never work. It’s why striving to make everyone happy will only lead to frustration and disappointment. There will always be those to agree, and those who disagree. And the ones who disagree will usually do it loudly.

The best way to live our lives, and to protect our peace, is to be authentic. We have to speak our truth, our convictions, our beliefs. We have to know that when we speak authentically, we will find the people who appreciate our message. We will find those who need our voice. We will build community. Yes, we will upset some people. Yes, we will receive criticism from those who disagree or do not understand. And for that, we have to build some thick skin.

We build thick skin by following these principles:

1) Take nothing personally. Other people’s opinions of you are based entirely on their own view of the world. It has very little to do with you.

2) Their disapproval does not require you to explain yourself. You don’t owe an explanation or a defense of your positions or beliefs unless you want to give them.

3) Sometimes, criticism is useful. Balance is key. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be pushed around by every opinion that someone throws our way. However, it’s good to be open-minded. I have learned a lot by being willing to listen to people’s criticism of me. So, build your walls, but make sure they have doors. It’s okay to let new ideas come through.

4) Not all opinions are valid. Some opinions are not rooted in truth. Some opinions are racist, sexist, ableist, phobic, or just plain unsupported by facts. You don’t have to engage with people who have opinions based on those things. You don’t have to respect those opinions, either.

So, build your thick skin. Lead with your authentic self. And accept that you will never please them all. The beautiful, sparkling truth, is that you don’t have to. You will find your people. Those people will love and trust you. Those people will build you up. Those peope will hold you accountable, from a place of kindness, when you mess up. You will be able to listen to them non-defensively because you know they care.

That’s how you build self worth, and community. That’s how you love yourself and others well.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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