Wise Selfish and the People Pleasing Trap: How Speaking Up and Saying "No" Can Be Acts of Compassion April 20, 2024 13:26


 If you prefer to listen to this post, please click HERE for the audio link.

I recently read a quotation that a friend had posted on her FB page that stopped me in my tracks. I read it over and over. I took time to contemplate it. It resonated for me--and it was exactly what I needed at that time.

"Emotional availability is being present to your feelings and needs and being willing to share them, and allowing the other person to have their own feelings and responses to your needs.

It's vulnerable because we're never sure what's going to happen; we have to let other people have their own experiences in relationship to us."
This quotation was an excerpt from a longer post by EQ School, and the focus of the post was about people pleasing.
This blog article is actually two blogs in one--or, a blog with reframing added. I had posted the original article below in late March.  My intention in sharing it was to highlight one of my flaws--not setting healthy boundaries and speaking up for myself in a timely manner. I had described an incident (and a series of incidents that led up to it) in which a dear friend had helped me to recognize and to work on remedying this self-sabotaging habit. In other words, this dear friend taught me something extremely important, and I was grateful to her for giving me the courage to finally speak up.
I had taken time, thought, and effort to write and later post this blog in March. I had also shared it with my friend out of respect and transparency. We'd had a follow-up phone conversation about it, and everything seemed fine.
Everything was not fine...
My intention was not to harm or hurt my friend's feelings, but the article did. She took it to heart and was deeply bothered by it.
I looked her in the eyes and sincerely apologized to her. I listened to her point of view, and then, out of respect for her, I took the article down, removing it from view.
For weeks, I felt deep shame and regret for having written this blog. I thought I was a horrible person.
I was also conflicted and confused--because, usually, when I am in the process of making a mistake or an error in judgment, I feel it in my body. I'll have an anxiety spike, I'll feel tension in my jaw or shoulders, I'll feel an uncomfortable itchiness in my gut, or I'll feel a sense of doubt or hesitation. When I wrote this blog a few weeks ago, I didn't feel any of those things. All I felt was gratitude.  And when I reread it today, I can honestly say that I stand by every single word.
I'm not sorry for writing the blog--I am sorry that it hurt my friend's feelings.
I am a chronic people pleaser--and, unfortunately, for most of my life, I have been a kowtowing, over-accommodating, walking-on-eggshells, don't-rock-the-boat kind of person. It's embarrassing! 
I have denied my own feelings and the validity of my own experiences. I have put others' perspectives in higher esteem than my own. I have taken responsibility for the feelings of others, which is absurd!!!
I am entitled to my own viewpoints. I am allowed to share my own experiences with others, as long as I express my views with kindness, respect, and compassion.
This quotation that  I mentioned earlier was a healing balm and wake-up call for me! It pointed out that I need to work on my own emotional availability and integrity. It reinforced the importance of speaking up for myself and expressing my views--and to be careful to avoid taking responsibility for others' reactions--or from taking their reactions personally.
During the Q and A portion of a Dharma talk that I heard this morning from Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Semkye said, "Being overly sensitive to feedback is a form of self-grasping laziness."
You know what? She's right!
It's a hindrance and an obstacle that exaggerates the self-- the "I,I,I, me, me, me."
Therefore, taking everything into consideration, I have decided to make my original post visible (see below). I had a valid message to convey, I had a legitimate experience that I wanted to share, and I hope that it will be of benefit to others.
If you are reading or listening to this, know that I am choosing not to take responsibility for your reactions. 
Living in Samsara is not easy--but learning and growing from dear friends makes the journey more interesting and bearable.
Keep practicing and moving forward, peeps!
Much love to you all--
(Photo Credit: Wangphan aka Duy Anh Phan courtesy of Pixabay)
I typed "people pleasing" in the search bar of the Pixabay website, and this image jumped out at me. People pleasers get caught up in their own nets and can be blinded by the opinions and reactions of others when they disregard their own feelings and experiences. 



 If you prefer to listen to this month’s offering, please click HERE for the audio link.

“The stupid way to be selfish is seeking happiness for ourselves alone. The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.” His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Sometimes, saying “No” is an act of compassion and wise selfishness. Women, in particular, tend to have trouble with this—we often feel pressured to take on more than we can handle in order to appease, please, and help others.

However, not standing up for ourselves and saying “No” when the situation may be too demanding or inappropriate can be detrimental to our emotional and physical well-being.

I am not a fan of suppressing, masking, or ignoring emotions. I am also not a fan of indulging, lashing out, and bombarding others with them either. Keeping feelings bottled up without acknowledging or processing them usually leads to bigger problems for me later on. Whether it’s because of a single major trauma or an accumulation of several small issues over time, my body will let me know if I’m not paying close enough attention to my emotional well-being.

For example, over the years, I have dealt with the physical consequences of frozen shoulder syndrome, Bell’s palsy, and shingles as either the direct or indirect results of not dealing with my emotions effectively.

According to HHDL, “There is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing one’s own interests. On the contrary, to do so is a natural expression of our fundamental disposition to seek happiness and to shun suffering. In fact, it is because we care for our own needs that we have the natural capacity to appreciate others’ kindness and love.”

One recent, and very mild, example that comes to mind happened recently after a Dharma teaching at TMBCC.  A kind-hearted and devoted sangha member stopped me after the teaching to introduce me to a visitor who was new to the Center.

We exchanged greetings, and he told me that he recently graduated from IU and wanted to attend a Dharma talk. My kind-hearted friend then said, “Teresa is great! She will give you her number, and you can text her if you have any questions.”

Keep in mind, this man was a complete stranger to me. As she was saying this to him, I looked this man in the eye while shaking my head and said, “No…I will not be doing that. I will not be giving you my number. You will not be texting me. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. If you have any questions while you’re here, please feel free to ask. I'll be happy to help if I can.”

He nodded his head in agreement the entire time I was talking as if to say, “I get it. It’s OK. No worries!”

Now, this response may seem logical and normal, but, believe it or not, it required time, processing, courage, and work on my part to respond in this way, mainly because this was not the first time that this kind-hearted sangha member had said this sort of thing to new visitors.

“Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, short-sighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our long-term individual interests lie in the welfare of everyone.”  HHDL

On a few previous occasions, this same kind-hearted friend had escorted strangers over to me who happened to live in Greenwood, a town which has a population of 65,000 and is an hour’s drive from Bloomington, and had told them that we could ride share, and that I would drive them to the Center. Then, she’d walk away immediately, leaving me to have an awkward conversation with people who I didn’t know.

I’m not going to lie; these rare, unexpected exchanges were extremely anxiety-producing for me. Each time, I felt pressured to do something that I did not feel safe or comfortable doing. (I’ve seen far too many Dateline episodes to know better than to drive strangers around in my car by myself.) In addition, these brief exchanges made me feel resentful and frustrated toward my Dharma friend.

During these previous incidents, I didn’t have time to react or feel anything. I was caught off guard—confused and blind-sided—and I didn’t have the wherewithal to speak up and set a healthy boundary.

In fact, somewhere out there, there is a woman who actually has my cellphone number. My kind-hearted Dharma friend had pressured me into giving it to her, and for weeks, I worried that she would text me and ask me to pick her up to take her to Bloomington. For all I know, she may have wondered if that strange lady she met at TMBCC was expecting her to reach out for a ride to B-town. This may have caused anxiety for both of us.

I can’t speak for anyone else—in fact, that was the root of this problem—someone had overstepped and had spoken for me without my permission or consent, and it took me a while to process the feelings I had about this.

I felt frustrated, not only at my kind-hearted Dharma friend for putting me in this awkward position, but also at myself for not speaking up right then and there.

“Being wise selfish means being compassionate…Compassion and discernment are mutually reinforcing.”  HHDL

Actually, it took some time for me to process these feelings, and processing for me means talking to myself in the car (so, if you happen to see me driving and I’m talking to myself, you’ll know what’s happening😉) or writing about it.

Once I take the time to contemplate, talk, or write about these feelings that surface, I’m able to settle down, think clearly, and then calmly respond to future situations more effectively.

This takes me back to something one of my graduate school professors said years ago, “Feelings aren’t good or bad; they just are.” Or, stated another way, “You have to feel the feelings before you can heal the feelings.” Taking the time to process feelings helps me to do just that!

“Where we DO have control is at the level of motivation in deploying our critical, intelligent faculties—our discernment.”  HHDL

Because this kind of situation had happened before, on at least two previous occasions, and because I had taken the time to acknowledge and process the feelings that had surfaced, this time, I was able to say “No” with conviction and confidence to this most recent visitor, and, in the presence of my kind-hearted Dharma friend. In effect, I was demonstrating discernment, I was setting a healthy boundary, and I was practicing wise selfishness (compassion).

By the way, my kind-hearted friend did reach out to me later that day via text and apologized for her impulsiveness. I accepted her apology, and all is well.

Suppressing feelings—ignoring them—masking them—pushing them down—all of these are just asking for trouble, if you ask me. I certainly don’t need another shingles outbreak or some weird, neurological episode to remind me of the importance of naming, claiming, and effectively dealing with my emotions.

Over the years, I’ve heard several Dharma teachers explain the importance of contemplating, investigating, and analyzing the teachings before accepting them as the truth. It’s essential to take time to digest and understand them before meditating on them.  

Well, this applies to experiences in everyday life as well—especially for those unexpected situations when I don’t have time to think about how I feel until later.

I love my kind-hearted Dharma friend. She means well, even though she sometimes oversteps.

I love going to TMBCC for weekly Dharma talks, and I enjoy meeting the visitors who come for teachings, too.

I especially love being able to apply what I learn both on and off the cushion.

Taking the time to process what I learn and what I feel helps me to hone my capacity for critical thinking, discernment, and compassion.


I hope the month of March has treated you well, and I hope April treats you even better.

Please check out the current Middle Moon Malas collection, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have custom design requests or if you need to have a mala restrung.

Quotes from HHDL came from the book Beyond Religion.

Photo Credit: Andrys from Pixabay