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B e e r h e LP join over one million people who have taken charge of their mental health. Again, that's better help dot com forward slash how to fail. Thank you very much. To better help. Hello and welcome to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.
The podcast that celebrates the things that haven't gone right. This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better. I'm your host, author and journalist, Elizabeth Day, and every week I'll be asking a new interviewee what they've learned from failure.
Today, I have a very special guest for you. She is psychotherapist Emma Reid Tural, the author of Please Yourself, an incredible debut book out in April, which teaches us all how to stop pleasing others and in the process, how to become more confident and to accept judgment rather than fearing it. I mean, is there a single listen to this podcast who wouldn't benefit from some of that?
I know. I certainly did. I gobbled up please yourself when I was lucky enough to read an advance copy last year and had my mind blown by its unique blend of expert advice, intelligent compassion and reassuring practical wisdom all gleaned from Amazigh years as a therapist. Emma grew up near Portsmouth and read English at Cambridge University. Following 10 years working in sales and marketing, she decided to retrain as a therapist and graduated with a first class degree in transactional analysis.
Since then, she has built up a thriving practice in her hometown of Winchester, where she works with both private and corporate clients.
But more importantly than any of that, arguably Emma's greatest qualification for this podcast is that she also just so happens to be my best friend.
Readers of my books will perhaps be accustomed to her words of wisdom, which I quote on the page with embarrassing frequency. Emma really is my own personal guru, a woman who knows me better than I know myself, who I have again and again turn to first in a crisis who's picked me up after a divorce, three miscarriages and every single romantic breakup I've ever been through. A woman who makes me laugh more than anyone who has helped me understand life, who is the mother of two of my beloved godchildren and someone whose dance routine to source and purpose push it really has to be seen to be believed.
I've been waiting for years for an excuse to get her on the podcast and now thankfully she's written a book that gives me the perfect reason. Anne-Marie Tarrell, welcome to How to Fail.
Thank you very much. You know, halfway through that, I thought, oh, my gosh, she's not actually going to turn once she knows me. This is really awkward.
Know, I've been very journalistically objective in the first part. And then the second part just wildly sentimental, because one of the things that people listening to this won't know about you is that you're half Swedish and therefore you lock all your emotions in a kind of glass box. And it's taken me 22 years, more or less, to crack through that glass box and to get you to the edge of emotion. How emotional were you during that introduction, if at all?
I mean, I put on a two out of ten, but that's a solid two for me. A solid two.
She's a tough crowd.
Did you cringe at all during that introduction? Is it odd hearing yourself spoken about like that? It is weird because I'm so used to listening to this podcast. I'm kind of now waiting to hear what this married has got to say herself. That strikes me. That will be me then.
And how are you feeling about your first book coming out? I am now feeling really happy and excited about it. And as you know, I've been on quite a journey with it because that glass box of emotions isn't too keen on being exposed. But actually it's been such an amazing process for me just to have that kind of expression of my thoughts and feelings and particularly just the years of work I've been doing with clients. And to be able to kind of say, actually, this is something I want to share more broadly.
And there have been moments when I've completely regretted it. But now now we're kind of on the homestretch. I'm really up for it.
You know only too well that I spent most of my adult life being a people pleaser, which meant as an outsourcing my sense of self to others opinions of me.
And it took me a very long time and a personal crisis in the form of a divorce to understand that trying to meet everyone else's needs left everyone dissatisfied because I wasn't being the real version of myself and I suppose I wasn't enabling other people to see the real version of me.
Is that quite common, that someone is a people pleaser and it takes a crisis to jolt them out of wanting to be that way? Absolutely.
And I'm thinking back to that breakfast table that we set up when you were having said, Chris. And that moment at which actually I think I finally got through to the fact that the people who loved you the most had already accepted these murky shadow signs that you were busy trying to conceal from us and that moment of kind of, oh, well, maybe I don't need to do this. Not only is it actually not helping me, but what if it's getting in my way?
And I think for lots of people, that realization happens in a crisis when they realize, OK, so you could continue to try to be liked by everyone or you could aim to be unconditionally accepted by some. And that, for me, is priceless.
Oh, so good. By the way, anyone listening, they were going to be so many moments like that where there's a mantra to live by that you either want on a tissue or as part of your Pinterest board for life.
But you did a very generous thing for me, which was to give me permission to be myself. And I remember you saying to me, I prefer the less that is off the pedestal. That's the one that I love the most. And it was such a revelation to me that and I'm sure you do that for many of your clients.
Yeah. Because this pedestal is a long way off and it's a long way to fall. And I think it's a dodgy little platform of existence that we get stuck on up there, which means that we don't put a foot wrong and we become a smaller and smaller part of ourselves until we lose touch with who we are at all. And how can any of our closest people connect with us when we're in that space? So for me, you off the pedestal was the view that was doing push it alongside me and actually creating all of those connections that I valued more than anything.
And the point at which you had shrunk yourself to fit in with a view of what you perceived others wanted you to be, that was a bit what you were disappearing from sight. That was the bit where and I know this has been something you've written about that that way you disappeared behind a perspex screen. I couldn't get to you. That was the moment at which I was heading into my arms.
That time, by the way, am much better at push it than I am just stuck by years of practice.
I know you've nailed it in please yourself.
You identify four different types of people piezo. Will you run through them for us? Yes, absolutely.
And in fact, I think this is the origin of the whole book in the first place was that it was the fourth which I'll get on to is the fourth people pleasing type, which had piqued my curiosity. So I started out with an understanding of people pleasing, probably like most of us, in terms of the people who they're just so nice and they just want everyone to be happy and they just put everyone's wishes before their own. And in the book you will hopefully find out I have separated those and called them the classics, the classic people, please.
And these are the ones who just want to nail that perfect birthday present or they want to host that dinner party where nothing is overlooked. And their whole reason for being, if you like, is to make other people happy. But of course, the downside is that if you ask them what they want to do or how they felt, they would draw a blank. Then I moved on.
I looked at a slightly different take on people pleasing, which I have called the shadows and the shadows, all those pleasers who have possibly grown up around someone who already occupied the limelight.
And what that's meant for them is they had learnt how to be the perfect wingman. Your number one, number two. And they are the ones who will deflate themselves to inflate others. So maybe they've grown up around some kind of narcissism and they've worked out here is a space that I can occupy safely where I get to boost others egos or help them reach their own dreams and goals. Then I talk about a third one and this one, I think I'm going to put you straight in this camp, actually, because this is the one where we talk about people who don't want to displease others.
And that's different, right? That's the bit where I want you to be happy, because I don't want you to be unhappy. I want you to be OK. I want harmony in the way that you do, where you seamlessly bring people together and the harmony that you create and the conflict that you can resolve. And that way that you can just be social glue in a situation. And I think that's just incredible. And I watched you do it and I think that's amazing.
But what's also interesting about that, of course, is that sometimes we can get led down that path because we believe that love is the absence of anger. And what we're actually doing is trying to stay safe by keeping everyone else. OK, so those first three, I think we probably can all recognize we would know those to be people places. But this fourth category, the one that really starts the process for me was the resistor and the resistor is the people pleaser who would not identify as a pleaser at all.
These are the people who can come across as confident as leaders have the courage of their convictions don't care what anyone thinks, but it's in that not caring that we noticed that actually perhaps they in the same relationship with the pressures to please as the first three, perhaps this is just a different way to stay safe in a world where people tell you how unique. To be so that resistor is the one that says, I'm not going to play if I don't play, I can't lose or I'm going to lead this team because I don't want to be in it, I think that that's such a helpful way of categorizing such a widespread phenomenon.
And I saw bits of myself in all of those. Yes, but yeah, OK, fine. I'm a pacifier.
I'll agree with you just to pacify you. And there's no anger and I'm not going to care either way. So. Yeah, exactly.
I think we've identified your resistor there. I couldn't care less what you think.
And I know this is a big question, but if you had to explain simply why someone becomes a people pleaser, why do you think it is?
Well, I think it really comes down to conditioning. So this is where I'm so keen to make that distinction that it's not about being nice and it's not about being kind and it's not about putting other people first. It's about being conditioned to try and manage the reactions of other people to create a space that feels safe here. So as a therapist, of course, we're always looking back as well as looking at the here and now. And when we look back, we noticed that there were all of these messages we get growing up from not just our parents, but all of those authority figures around us that tell us this and have had to be in the world.
And when we're little, we're supposed to take those on board. You know, a six week old baby learns to smile not because they're feeling happy, persay, but because they notice the reaction they get from their caregiver. And even that tiny, tiny brain can process the fact that a caregiver's attention is something they need to survive. So we learn what to do and who to be in our families of origin and in those systems. The idea is that we also then get to unlearn that and outgrow it and and strike out our own identities.
But maybe sometimes those systems haven't been set up to allow us to do that. And that could be if we looked up a generation, we might see some conditioning there, too.
You introduced me once to the concept of masking emotions. So I was telling you that I was feeling sad and you gently questioned whether I was actually feeling sad or whether I might be feeling anger. But I'm unable in many ways to allow that to show itself. And someone asked me today actually about what I'm like when I lose my temper. And I said, oh, I don't I mean, I don't ever lose my temper.
I put it all internally. Like, you would never know that I am raging because it's all happening inside again.
How frequently do you see that? And is there a gender split or do you just see across the board?
Absolutely. What a great question. Have you done this before? When you mask emotions? I find that fascinating. So this is the bit where I say, let's look at that little system we were talking about. Say you've grown up in a system where some people get a blanket, don't feel any feelings. And that's one route that you could find yourself having gone down and you might find overthink every situation, you act your way out of every situation.
But then there's this other kind of idea where maybe you're allowed to feel certain feelings and that typically can be gendered. Not always, but it's not unknown for women to get that message of would be nice and be kind and be gentle and don't make a fuss. And what we're also hearing in that message is don't assert yourself, don't speak up for yourself, don't have a voice, except we might be allowed to be sad in that situation. So maybe it's OK for that little girl that you are to have cried when she felt frustrated because perhaps it wasn't so OK to say I'm not OK with this.
This needs to change. This doesn't work for me. But similarly, we can get that flipside right where and this is a generalization where perhaps some men get the message that it's OK to fight and have conflict and to combat, but it's not OK to be sad and to feel loss.
Fascinating. I would love you to tell the story of your daughter, who you describe in the book. She wanted to go somewhere and you said something like, well, if we go, they were not kind of depends on someone's behavior.
And what did she say exactly? That. So we were in that situation where actually she had been it just hadn't been going away all morning. And at this point, she particularly kind of identified that she wants to do this. One thing I said exactly that. I said, you know what? Right now it's really going to come down to someone's behavior. And she said to me, without missing a beat, Mummy, you look fabulous. As if this was going to be the way that she was going to be able to organize.
My reaction and in that moment, hats off.
I have to credit how she is.
She was four, you know, and that four year old ho is so fascinating for me because it's so great. But this bit where I was doing some work in her school, in her reception class, and she is an incredibly emotional child, which I love about her. And one of the conversations that was coming up with me in this group of four year olds was saying, OK, so here I am. And Mrs Terrill's, come in. Is she going to talk to you about your feelings?
And I was saying so children who can tell me a feeling and all these little hands going up and the. Johnny was saying all that, and someone else told us that, someone else said all this, Happy and Elsas hand went up and I thought, Elsa despair in that moment as the teacher glanced across at me.
It's fine. We talk about despair a lot at home.
There's the scan of you again, but without going too much into detail.
But part of what I love about how you and your husband are raising your children is that they are such lovely children, super polite and pleasant to be around, and they are supported to have space to show their own emotions and whatever they're feeling, whether that be anger, whether it be despair, whether it be happiness.
And I think, yeah, you do such a good job on that. Let's get onto your obviously the godmother. I mean, I've had a massive influence in that respect.
Huge. Let's get onto your failures because they are really brilliant ones and they're so profound in so many ways. And I want to give you a chance to kind of explain them because they go so deep. So the first one is a failure to stay conscious. And you don't mean like conscious to social ills. You actually mean literally a failure to stay conscious. Tell us about that.
Yes, this was a real problem for me. Growing up when I was a little girl, I was desperate to follow in my father's footsteps. He was the village vet and that's all I wanted to do. So I would go regularly and kind of my role in the Saturday morning was to wipe the table down with antiseptic and to call in the next client from the waiting room. And part of the job that I was preparing for was the surgical side.
Except every time I would observe an operation, I would hit the deck, I'd pass out, I would faint, lose consciousness. And the next thing I knew, I was being carried out by four fairly gruff Vetinari nurses who'd had to absent themselves from the operation at that point to haul out this corpse and lay her in the waiting room where I would come to every time feeling just desperately disappointed in myself and I couldn't work out what was going on.
I was so determined that I was going to make it work. So I would start wearing like a little hard hat so that I could watch the operations until it really got to the point where it was untenable.
And at one point I can remember standing with my back against the radiator, looking out the car park, just reciting no place to myself while my father removed the eyeball of a guinea pig. And in that moment, my memory is I was probably about seven or eight at this time with my dad saying, you're right, I yeah, fine, no problem. And then him leaning over and grabbing me by the scruff of the collar whilst also kind of a scalpel glinting in the light and a guinea pig on the table.
And at that point, I really decided I just kind of hang up my ambitions to be a vet. But it didn't stop. It didn't stop. And I would continue to faint at what I thought was the signs of blood at this kind of squeamishness. And we had a situation at home where a window cleaner fell off a ladder in our back garden. And when the paramedics arrived, they found me in the recovery position next to this poor man who'd broken his ankles and he'd had to take care of them.
And as you well know, there was a situation when we were both laying out the story or I that first of all, I wanted to say, you wearing a hard hat instead of causing trouble through fainting is the definition of a people pleaser.
And this story that you're about to come onto is one of my favourite stories is we were going to Cyprus, the two of us, for a holiday. We were in our early 20s. So you've got the cheapest possible flight we possibly could, which was really early in the morning. And you hadn't eaten, I don't think. And we were sitting separately. You were sitting across the aisle from me and you were reading and I remember this vividly, Kate Moss's labyrinth.
And you were reading away.
And I turned around at one point and looked at you and you were fast asleep. And I was like, oh, that's so lovely.
She looks so peaceful, so peaceful, just sleeping away. Turned back to my own book. A few minutes later, I turned around and he was sheets.
Why? I'm sad. I just fainted. Oh, oh, oh.
You were just in the land of Nod and you'd fainted because there was a particularly vivid passage of writing in that book, wasn't there?
There was a massacre scene and I can remember this moment away. You know, the blade dealt between the breastbone and in that moment just thinking, oh, shit, it's happening.
And just passing out and looking over and you going up.
You see what happens. I'm very observant.
I said nothing to you before takeoff. So then this was the point where I got to and then I was so that was in our twenties.
It carried on. I hit about twenty nine thirty. I think I was pregnant with my first child and I had this sudden dawning realization that there was a distinct possibility he might bleed at some point in his life. Would it not be a good idea if I could kind of stay conscious throughout them so this is the bit where I then sought help? I went to a hypnotherapist. This is a guy I trained with and it was like changing. This was the moment when I realized that this was not squeamishness at all.
And he took me through this incredible hypnotherapy process where he found my motherboard deep within the recesses of my subconscious. And he located this dial, which he said had the label empathy, because he said what was happening was that when these things were happening to other people, my brain was responding as if they were happening to me. So my empathy, dull was cranked up to the max. And I was having this full on flop response. You know, we know this fight or flight response and there's also a flop.
And this was what was going on. And he said every time I was observing or so I thought, poor guinea pigs or window cleaners or crusader's. I was having a complete merging experience and my empathy level was just making me lose consciousness. And that was kind of just life changing for me to realize that this was empathy. That was actually my kind of nemesis at that point. Of course, in my work now I use it all the time.
It's become the very kind of nature of my work.
So all the benefits to being that empathetic, I mean, do you think you would have ended up in the work that you do had you not had your empathy doll cranked up to 11?
Personally, probably not because of that glass box that I buried in the woods sometimes. So I think it was going to take something like empathy for me to realize actually what was going on here. And I think in a way, what was happening for me was that I would use other people's feelings as a way of processing. My own self for me was actually about kind of recognizing this language of feelings that I was observing out there in the world and having this kind of empathetic, merging experience with it.
So for me, it was transformative and I think I couldn't do the job I do without it. But this year has been really interesting because this year with the pandemic, my job to empathize, there have been these times where actually I've just noticed that dial starts to creep up again and it's starting to overload. So I had to really make an active choice while I was working through the pandemic to dial back on that empathy and dial up compassion instead, which is quite different know feeling for rather than feeling with.
And I don't think this is unique to therapists. I think we all have to do it. We all have to work out where do we end and others begin. And when we notice that we started to merge, we need to remind ourselves we've got permission to pull back to a position where we can be useful to ourselves as well as others. So this is kind of in essence, part the please yourself principle, which is about responsibility for self, in that therapists have to do that, as do we all.
How do you not take on everyone's pain at the end of the day? How do you protect yourself and your own energy?
I wonder whether it's about the awareness of whether someone's bringing as it's almost like that's what they've entered with, but that's not what they're really about. So when someone's jabbing at me, I know they need me to react, but I'm more curious about why they need me to react or what's behind that. So some of the clients I've worked with over the last 10 years, some of the clients who've started off when we've had the most friction, the relationship, we often end up with the most productive relationship as we work together because it's about whether someone's willing to look behind the job to see kind of what the real hurt is.
It's often not the front facing staff. So I suppose in my practice, it's really helped me to understand that I get that kind of here's the full 360 degree view of that job.
Mhm. And what about if you don't have a practice and you know, we live in such a judgmental age and you're on Instagram one day and someone says something mean to you, how would you advise someone not to take that on board?
Because although logically I might know that it's nothing to do with me, it's all a projection of that person's emotional baggage. I can't have a conversation with that person that will engage them to a level where that can be revealed. So what advice would you give for dealing with that?
Well, I think that's just a really important people pleasing statement you just made, that the idea that I'm going to need to have a conversation with them that's going to engage them, that's going to help us reveal that I'm going to need to get them to align with the view of them that I've got this kind of fragile as that is right now. And I want them to agree that that is the truth. And that's the challenge for the people pleaser.
It's can you actually embody your own truth and know it without their agreement, without them saying, yeah, you got me, this was the real deal?
Yeah, that's hard, isn't it. Is hard is hard is. How do you know what it's actually it's actually less hard than struggling to try and engage people who don't want to engage. That's the irony of the situation there, is that if you can genuinely feel okay with yourself and of course that's what it actually comes back to, if you can genuinely feel okay with yourself, then it can be OK for other people not to get you or for other people to dislike you or for you to represent something else to some.
What else we all will. It's just part of the being OK with yourself, I think it really helps if you're being authentic and that that's the version that you learn to be OK with, not a polished version that you might put on Instagram.
Do you think this is quite a philosophical question? Do you think you would be able to be fully OK with being yourself if you never interacted with another person ever? So you had, in a way, no sense of who you were in someone else's eyes if you were just raised on a desert island and never interacted with anyone. Maybe that's the definition of being free, OK.
I think you just clocked Scandi introversion here. The sounds it did. But this is the business like who we are to other people. Still, it matters to us. It's just can we be more discerning about the people that we mattered to or do we have to matter to everybody for us to be good human beings?
There's a brilliant chapter in your book about people pleasing on social media. One of many brilliant chapters which I found so helpful because there's so much negativity spoken about social media and you address that. But you also make the point and I'm actually going to quote a massive chunk of it here, that social media can be very good for some people pleasers. And this is a quote from please yourself. There is anonymity and distance online, too, and we can lean on these to have an authentic voice where we might otherwise feel too self-conscious.
A people pleaser can experience showing up as themselves and feel their view supported for a change.
Their opinion echoed by others can reinforce their sense of self and validate their beliefs as a testbed for acceptability. They can garner this confidence to come forward more authentically in real life, too. For people pleasers to whom acceptability feels important, having a safe space to discover that you already are acceptable without censorship or silence can be truly liberating.
I read that I took a picture of it on my phone because that I feel is so accurately how I feel about Instagram, and I don't mean that in a trivializing way.
It has been extremely important for me doing this podcast, building up a community which has grown through Instagram as well as through the podcast world to feel accepted precisely for what you identify for my authentic self. And I think it's very rare to hear that voice in current discourse that sometimes social media can be a force for good because it can help you accept yourself.
Yeah, but I don't know how you do it. I don't know how you do that. That's something that you do incredibly well, which is and I've said this to you before, that idea of I watch your if you do a live show or I listen to the podcast or I read and post and insert a story, somehow, it's always completely authentic. I don't know how you do that.
Thank you. You're so lovely. But, you know, I think you can say that.
And it means a lot to me because you know what it was like when I wasn't like that when I was married to my ex-husband, you would overhear me sometimes talking on the phone to him totally.
And you pointed out after that, my voice was changed. It did.
It sounded like you were talking to, like, the headmaster. I just walked in. Hmmm. It was really uncanny. And this is why it's so incredible the way you distill that voice. And I think that's the bit where social media, if you can really test your authentic voice and of course, as you said, it's really hard. That would be the hard bit to make sure that what you're testing is actually who you are, not a kind of a version of you because you're not going to find that in the dark.
Not a performative version. Exactly.
Talking your performance, your second failure is your failure to be a good extrovert.
Yes, I lost this one. Honestly, took me years to work out. Was there was the strangest phenomenon where I could do extroversion, but I never felt comfortable there. And I kind of noticed that, as with so many, I think, closer introverts in our society, because I meet more and more everyday people who say I actually think I'm more introverted than I first believed. I think I was really well trained in this dark of version. And it is something our society I don't think expects.
But it certainly seems to favor that sense of someone who can engage in an extroverted way. And I can I even kind of was known as having this gift of the gab growing up. And I was very much someone who would be considered life and soul of the party. My first job was in sales I loved. It was this kind of a line from my A-levels Spanish teacher was and will go far. She could talk her way out of a paper bag.
This kind of idea that actually there is nothing that I can't use my extroversion to achieve and that affected my relationships too, because I had sold this version of myself that was an extrovert. I could do it and whoever someone needed me to be, I could be that. But that left me in this situation was utterly exhausted. And I. Felt this huge responsibility, almost like I'd launched an extrovert part of me and then I couldn't live up to it somehow, so heaven forbid I should want to leave the dance floor or go home early.
So this piece for me was about recognizing, oh, my goodness, I have hustled for relationships for years through peddling this extrovert version of myself. And I used to think it was about the difference between being social or antisocial. Now I understand it's actually about how you get your energy, whether you get re energized from a relationship with yourself in a kind of a one to one space or whether you get re energized by being with others in relationship. And I definitely need space and time and it's well known in my family that I need alone time.
And the people who know me have had to struggle to accept sometimes, as you know, I mean, I'm only laughing because there are times when I will go to visit am a walk into a room, go to hug country. But like, I just can't hug anyone right now.
I can't wait to because I've just been like Malda all day by various, like little people and stuff.
And I totally get it and I get it because you've set those boundaries in a very loving way and boundaries is something that you've massively taught me about, which will come on to, actually.
But I do think that that's very important, that you take the time to understand, as you say, where you get your energy from, what space you need, and then communicate that lovingly, because that's all the people who love you really want to know what to do and how to help. It's so interesting to me that you and I met. We first met when we were both performing extraversion. So we met in probably one of the most explicitly culturally extrovert situations you can get, which is Freshers Week times when we were all having to drink eight days before breakfast.
And I walked into the college bar and I saw this woman there with a mass of long blonde hair, a slogan T-shirt that said one for the rogue, surrounded by a gaggle of adoring men who were laughing at her every word.
And I walked as far as my memory, but yeah, she and I are not going to get along. I know because I was performing my extrovert self, I felt like I had to join in. And then you and I started quoting Austin Powers to each other, which they saw somewhat. And and I suppose do you think what attracted us to each other was that we could sense that we were secretly introverts who'd find each other?
Well, I think the fact that we both went home in that first Christmas holiday and sent faxes from each other's cats to each other's cats was kind of possibly a sign that there was more introversion than we first let all of you know one that must be deciles number two.
That's so funny. What you were saying earlier about other people's emotions are safer than your own. It's like we were conducting a platonic laughter through a cat.
But I think, you know, when I think about that sort of extraversion thing, I suppose one of the bits that really comes up for me as well as around that other very typically extroverted type, in my opinion, which is this new baby stage as well.
And when I have my first child, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the extroverted mothers around me. And I suppose similarly to those other seminal moments in our lives, at a point at which I felt incredibly untethered, I went back on what I thought was my strength, which was this. I can do this, I can be a pseudo extrovert. But this kind of suddenly had to engage in baby Bojangles on ice or Topsy toddler's tummy times. And I didn't want to do that.
I wanted to be at home watching homes under the hammer or in a coffee shop on my own with my baby. And that seemed so socially unacceptable then.
But I think that's so interesting because I think so many new mothers will relate to that because there's this weight of expectation that you should be entertaining your baby.
I was saying I almost like he was a guest in your house.
And actually the most generous maternal thing you can do is arguably to be yourself with your child.
Mhm. Yes. I mean I remember you saying to me like you could just be you and, but this was, this is what happens. I think this happens to all of us that when we hit any crisis in our lives we revert to that earlier conditioning, which is why part of the whole premise of around yourself is see if you can practice this stuff when things are more okay, because then it'll be there for you when you need it. And I think at that point, I really needed to know this stuff already about myself.
So you say in your email to me that you are an extrovert cold turkey last year. Why did that happen and how did it go?
That was kind of great, actually. You know, this was the first lockdown in March and everybody was moving their drinks online and setting out kind of neighborhood quizzes, you know, on every other day basis and meeting for safety distance walks and coffees. And I really. Actually, I had this opportunity to not transfer this self-imposed pressure to be sociable onto all of this new online media, and actually I went cold turkey and I just came off a lot of those social interactions that I might have been on before.
And I said no to a lot of things. And I got a very mixed response. You know, I think for some people, particularly at that point, this was this universal experience where we were all struggling. And so maybe the extroverts more than ever needed to get their sense of what they needed from me and other people. And I actually did the opposite. I kind of hunkered down with my family and kept life quite small and quite contained.
And it was such an exhausting time that any energy I had, I wanted to be able to choose where I was going to put it. So for me, that cold turkey experience was was quite a revelation. I haven't picked anything back up. I kind of don't intend to. I feel that I had said yes to a lot of things, that even that moment of reflection I was able to peddle back from. And I don't feel the need to say yes to them again.
You said that it met with a mixed response. In what way? Well, I think it was this piece where there's expectation. So for some people, they expected me to continue to still be that person who would say yes. And perhaps I hadn't ever communicated the fact that I was only ever half hearted about what it was that we were doing, you know, saying yes by default rather than by design. So I probably had set up a game there that was an expectation and I have to own that.
But equally, I think when everybody else's struggles started to come up, which of course it all did because everybody was having their own experience of covid, what I noticed is like whatever my weirdness was, met with someone else's weirdness. And in this intersection of weirdness, that's where the conflict was coming up, that people needed me to perform a role for them because they were funny things tough. And I needed me to actually perform a role for me because I was finding things really tough.
It's so interesting and I think so many people will relate to what you just said. I mean, I know that. I certainly do. I know that we all started thinking about friendship in slightly different ways during this pandemic year because, as you know, being a pacifying people pleaser, I find it very difficult to say no to people. And I find it very difficult to say no when people want to be friends of me, which is such a lovely thing.
And as a result, I sort of filled up my diary to such an extent that I wasn't spending enough quality time with the people I really loved who are really close to me, who could allow me space to be myself.
And I think I was very fearful of only, quote unquote, having a certain number of friends because I'm really fearful of losing them. And so it's almost like I need to.
Safety in numbers and lockdown has made me realize that I don't actually think keeping up with everyone else's expectations of you is the most exhausting, self-denying thing you can do. And when we once had a regime call during lockdown, I remember you saying, you know, but but true friendship is like a friend who gives you space to be yourself that doesn't expect you to meet their needs, doesn't expect you to have the same standards as them. And there's a kind of reciprocal acceptance that kind of blew my mind.
Yeah, but this is it, isn't it? It's kind of what is our idea of what a good friend is?
Will you explain it? Because you explain it much better than I do. What is a good friend in your eyes?
Well, I think the whole point of that, in a way, the question is that there just isn't a definition of a good friend, is that there is a good friend for what we need at that moment. Also acknowledging what we have to offer at that moment and the idea that a good friend is the one that will want to do what you want to do when you want to do it is not accurate.
And I think that this thing about friendship is unlike family, you do get to choose your friends and unlike family, it isn't permanent. And there are two sides to that. There's the paranoia of the people pleaser that says, well, then how on earth can I secure this friendship if it's not a given like families? But that's also this. If we want it, this opportunity for friendships to evolve and change and dare I say, friends. And I think we're so nervous, we're so conditioned against the idea of any relationship ending that we stop wondering.
Actually, I'm worrying about what this person thinks of me and whether they like me. Do I actually like them? Are they actually what I need in a friend at this time? And my kind of golden rule for a friend is that there's someone who wants the best for you. And that might not mean you doing what they want when they want it. But if they are your friend, then accept and understand that I make sense around friendships is that sometimes they can become more about reenactments of old family dynamics, actually, than friendships in the here and now.
So for that person maybe who never felt the attention they wanted as a child growing up, they might really want a friend who's going to give them that attention. But maybe that's not actually fair and appropriate up to date. Have you as a result of renouncing your extraversion, have you had to get more comfortable with silence?
I mean, I'm pretty comfortable with silence already.
Silence is a good space for me. I think my family have had to come to terms of settlement in my family of origin. Silence is quite commonplace, actually. We would often just sit in the living room reading alongside one another. My mom will talk about the same with her father, my mother Swedish, and she would talk about the fact that her and her father would go for long walks in the mountains and not a word would be uttered. And it was blissful for her.
And I suppose I think about my husband now. He would say in the very beginning when he met my family, my parents, he constantly thought that we'd fallen out because there was just this lack of words. But actually at the point at which he went back to his own family that first Christmas or whatever it was, he realized like, wow, you got to really talk a lot. So if anything, in my little family unit now, he's probably the one and the kids, too, who will check in with me sometimes and say, Okay, Mommy, I'll be like, yeah, yeah, I'm really good.
I'm just being quiet.
You mentioned your husband there. And there is a chapter in his self about people pleasing as a man, because I think many of us, myself included, fall into the trap of thinking that this is something that affects predominantly, if not only women. But you put me right on that side, too, that we can all fall into stereotypical tropes, can't we?
Somehow just people pleasing effect men.
This is you know, this is exactly where the whole book originated from. It actually came out of me getting curious about the fact that I had all of these clients who were men who would come into my consulting room with issues around people pleasing that they were trying to please their boss by being single focused enough. And the impact at home was that they weren't showing up for their family or they were trying to please their friends by being manly enough, actually, and not emotional enough.
And as a result, their friendships were really one dimensional and couldn't support them when they needed it or that they were trying to please old family messages around not showing vulnerability or weakness. And as a result, they were falling down these rabbit holes of addiction and self-destructive behavior. And it was actually the behavior, obviously, that brought them to therapy. But what we started to unpack was that they were also following a rule book of conditions around what it was to be a man in their system.
And for me, this was so important because it was so underrepresented and so often, well, particularly even more so now men are told to quiet that voice of struggle. And to me, that's just not appropriate because all struggle deserves to have a voice. And actually it's the people who are told they don't have permission to express themselves that get my sympathy. And that doesn't matter if you're male or female or whatever. That's about giving someone a voice to update whatever that rulebook is that they might still be living with.
You talk about work.
And one of the things that I'm often asked about is how you can fail and be vulnerable at work, because so many of us work for bosses who wouldn't necessarily be sympathetic to that. And you have this great phrase which is imperfect but engaged. And it really relates to what you were saying just then of the danger of performing so much at work that you have to overcompensate and withdraw from other areas of your life. Will you tell us a bit more about that?
Yeah, I mean, work I'm lucky because I get to work with some organizations now who are incredibly progressive about mental health. And I'm actually developing some training on people pleasing for organizations who recognize exactly that, that it's a problem at work as well. And so often people are caught up in old archaic patterns of behavior that are getting in their way of becoming their fullest selves at work. So people are not meeting their potential, maybe because they have, unbeknownst to them, projected some of this people pleasing, pacifying behavior and they don't want to cause trouble or be too disruptive or they feel that they need to work every hour under the sun.
And as a result, they're offering something that's overpromising. Arun's delivering. And I feel this is the best way bosses could really show up themselves as humans with flaws and failures and welcome in these kind of fully realized individuals. They would get everything and then a bit more, because it's this piece about hiding parts of yourself for fear of shaming yourself or embarrassing yourself, when actually the bit that you're hiding is the bit that's most precious.
And often if you're hiding that bit that is most precious and your place of work isn't enabling you to show it or embrace it, then it's really not the right place to work for you.
Right. And I think this is the bit, though. This is the. Where part of the people pleaser gets stuck because in order to start to please yourself, you have to be open to that possibility, you have to be open to the possibility that you are in the wrong job or that this is the wrong organization for you or that this is the wrong relationship for you or that this is the wrong friendship for you. And you have to be open to what that means.
And of course, what that means is loss, not necessarily a negative loss. It might be an incredibly positive loss because that job or relationship or friend might be occupying the very space that needs to be freed up for the right one. And until you've lost that, you can't possibly gain. But this is it where actually, you know, you touched on it, right? You just said to me that actually is this idea of loss that you need to kind of keep a certain number of friends, because what if you end up with this number that's unsustainable?
And I think if we can account for our fear of loss as people pleasers, then we can learn to please ourselves, because this is if we come back to kind of the dialogue that I have with my kids, but with all kids that I work with, it's to really talk about loss. This idea that we're going to somehow protect young people from the existence of loss for the first 18 years of their life and then chuck them out where they're going to realize actually that the rest of the world is not such a compassionate instructor.
Let's talk about loss with children so that they can learn that actually loss just tells us about what we need. Grief is just a reminder that love was present. That shows us what to seek when we're going forwards. That's the bit that actually gives us a start, assailed by. And if anything, the biggest problem for a people pleaser is that they have learned to fear loss.
And it's also about teaching someone how to manage their own feelings. Whereas as we've discussed, when you're a people pleaser, very often you're putting everyone else's feelings above your own. So that means that you're not managing your own stuff, which you really need to do as a functioning human.
Yeah, absolutely. You know what? You're kind of outsourcing your achiness. You're swapping self-esteem for others esteem and hoping beyond hope that you're going to be able to do enough, be enough or mold yourself enough that that person is going to continue to be the supply of your security. That's such a fragile position to put yourself in your third failure.
And now we're getting to the heart of the fact that you are a resistor, a resistor, people pleaser.
Your third failure and I love it, is your failure to give the appropriate number of fucks.
So, yeah, thanks for the bad language, but tell us what you mean by that.
And actually, I should say, please yourself has been compared to the life changing art of not giving a fuck, which you once gave me for one of my birthdays. So your failure to give appropriate number of folks explain.
OK, this is the bit where I took me a long time to realize this as well, that I have a very bad habit of either caring way too much or not at all. And this is like coming back to that Scandi part of me that you reference at the beginning, that I really can change this ability to bury my feelings in a box in the woods and never look back. And my journey has been about reclaiming some of these feelings. And I also have this people pleasing parts of me that wants to keep others OK.
And somehow somewhere along the line, I picked up a message that said, if you can help, then you should. If you've got it to give, then you should give. And a lot of my therapy in my twenties was all about this, realizing that actually, you know, won't give us have to set boundaries because the takers rarely will. And eventually I would have given a given and given and given in all sorts of classic shadow and pacifier pleasing ways.
And eventually I would feel resentful and abandoned. It's like I'd been mugged for my last emotional Fiverr and then I'd feel this wave of resentment and I would burn, you know, walk away, cut people off, fuck you. And this is the bit where I realized, ah, so if nothing I do is good enough, if I can never get it quite right, then I'm just going to stop trying. I'm just going to opt out. So even though I do this a lot less now, it's my signal and I'd always encourage a people pleaser who's recovering to spot.
What is your signal that tells you, huh? I've just started to try to control the reactions of others. I must have just stopped counting my own options here. For me, it's the bit where I opt out. That's when I know that I've kind of hit my resistible. It's the way I've done it at uni, I've done at work, I've done in friendships. But this not caring. And it gets written up a lot, doesn't it?
This flippant idea of just don't give a fuck. Yeah, but actually it's just as trapping as caring too much because it's still saying I am so impacted by your demands of me. I'm so pressured by what you expect me to do that I have to opt out entirely. It's still relative to what the other person thinks.
So it's sort of equivalent on a much deeper level to me being rubbish at netball and therefore just never playing it. I've played netball out of the ether, but it's that kind of thing, isn't it?
It's like I don't want to fail at this and I'm going to withdraw completely. Yeah.
And you're going to withdraw with a bit of contempt. It's the bit that goes. For losers, yes. That's the edge to it, and I write a lot about this, this idea that when we're little, first of all, we're taught to comply. And I use this analogy right. So when you're little, you put your coat on because your mother told you to. That's cool. Then when you grow up a little bit, you actually don't put your coat on because your mother told you to.
Or at least that's the idea. You actively don't because your mother told you to, because at those really healthy stages in life, typically around toddlerhood and again in adolescence, we need to strike out on our own and have our own identity. So that's what we do, we define. But the idea is that by adulthood, we move through compliance, we move through defiance. And we've come to this place where actually I can negotiate, I can put my coat on even though my mother told me to, if that's what I want to do.
And that's what the weather tells me to do. And I like the coat. And part of what happens with resistance is we just get stuck in defiance. If you tell me to, I'm going to have to not. So in that respect, there's still an authority that's controlling our reactions.
So for you, is part of self care the act of saying no entirely?
You know, I would say if I had to bottle self care, it's the act of saying no. And again, this is the bit right where it can get written up instead of a bubble bath or it can yoga and those things have their place. Don't get me wrong, they do. But self cares about saying no, not because I don't care, but because I care about both of us. It's not me first. Maybe it's just me too.
It's not between you and me either, or it's both. And I'm not going to say no because I'm too busy, but I might say no because I don't want to be that busy. I'm not saying no because I can't, but I'm saying no, because I don't want to. And that's the sting for a people pleaser. Am I allowed to just say because I don't want to am I not supposed to have a kind of an absolute watertight reason why I can't?
And the answer is yes. What you want. How do you say that in a text? I don't want to do that. I don't want to do that. Well, this is it. Right. I think you can practice. So I talk a lot in the book about actually let's practice in the safe spaces first so that you can build up some evidence that maybe it's not as hard as all that. And maybe actually you get the response you want anyway.
So if there are safe people and you could even contract with them and say, listen, I really want to update some of my people pleasing habits, are you up for it? If I just have a stab at some text sometimes that says how I feel, but I might not get it right. And you can have a go at that and say, I had to really like the sound of that, but it's not what I want to do now or I don't know, I want to do a week on Thursday.
Yeah. Can I tell you on Tuesday or is that too late? You know, I'm not going to give you no honest response, but I'm going to count for you and for me. And I think the difference in this and this is a novel therapy concept, it gets written up a lot. This idea of rupture and repair. I can have a rupture, I can get it wrong, and I can make a repair. I can learn and I can grow and I can resolve.
So if you want to come back to me and say, that was really blunt, I can take that on board and say sorry for that. But that wasn't my intention.
I want to ask you about something, because it's something I don't understand. But I know that lots of people listening to this will be like you, and I'm being a bit opaque about it. I think you know where I'm going.
My other half is also like you, a bit of a resistor people pleaser and hates any fuss being made of him, especially on birthdays. I cannot relate to that at all on he.
And you have had to patiently explain it to me because I'm white. But it's so lovely when people say nice stuff to me and like send me a card on my birthday or send me lovely messages and I sort of feed off that and I can't get my head around it. Explain to me how you are and how he is around things like birthdays.
Wow. So this is a thing, you know, and we have talked about this. Right. But we recognize that there is a similarity there. And it's interesting that kind of two of the people with the biggest roles in your life both represent this kind of slightly more resistive place. But I suppose it's just about that hasn't escaped my notice.
Well, that's lucky.
This idea that we can be discerning about whose attention we get. And I'm going to say, if anything, this is the bit that I do feel comes across more with women. And that's the bit about if someone's nice to me, that's nice. And there isn't that level of and if it's someone who I want that from and without going off down a whole other tangent, things can get quite sinister if we don't learn to interrupt. Am I allowed to receive attention from someone or not?
Is that up to me? Or if they're being nice, do I have to be grateful and appreciate it? I think part of your process is that you are very appreciative and I love that about you, that there's something so open hearted about you that means you can receive really gladly and deep down that resist a part of me. I could really learn a lot from that so I can explain it to you, but also with a willingness to recognize that.
Part of my journey is probably about being more open to receiving I guess I work in a way that means, you know, the self-sufficient part of me that likes to be capable and independent, that does come from a slightly self protecting space. So maybe one of the reasons why I don't engage so much with birthdays and special occasions is because I do feel that that's the performative bit, but also that I'm giving people maybe a space to let me down if I'm honest.
Fascinating. So it's not just that you think I'm a loser. That, too. But not only that. Yeah, fair enough.
And also, there's kind of unasked for reciprocity, isn't there? So you don't want their attention or you don't feel safe in their attention. You don't want to then have to reciprocate on their birthdays or having like a continuing relationship with them.
No. And I guess if that old defined part of me where I don't want to receive just because I'm given to. So there is a bit of me that when I'm told to put my coat on says fuck off at that point, I feel weird ending on that.
No, actually I was going to do it to a but you've just the last words in an incredibly eloquent, insightful, brilliant, mind blowing mind-expanding hour has been fuck off those your last words. So I can't end it there.
But I am so glad that you have come on this podcast because I know you were nervous, not that anyone could possibly tell, but I've been wanting for ages for other people to get the benefit of your extraordinary wisdom and compassion and intelligence.
And I feel so ridiculously lucky that I have constant access to that because we're best friends and it's something that I really, truly believe the wider world needs to have a part of. And that's why I'm so pleased you came on has failed. I'm also so pleased you've written this book, Please Yourself, which is a fail safe manual, a practical advice guide and a supportive best friend slash therapist for anyone who wants to recover from a lifetime of people pleasing.
And yes, obviously, I love Emma, but I would recommend it objectively.
And I'm not the only one who has recommended it. I shouldn't.
But you're justifying it now. I like classic people pleaser.
How many times have I said please? And this is just how has this experience been for you? I mean, I only did it to make you happy.
And now you're trapped in a reciprocal relationship for the rest of our lives.
Yes. Wearing a coat that you made me put on playing netball, even though you don't want to. Yes.
Levels for losers. Actually, I know this is the bit that right where I think I say it kind of the beginning of the book that what I know is that people who have recovered from people pleasing, they have this incredible 20/20 hindsight and they say, I just wish I knew then what I know now. And that, I suppose, is my hope for this, that maybe I can help, you know, now what you're going to know then and wish you'd known sooner that this is the bit where for all of us, we just need to please ourselves and recognise that you are not just doing it for ourselves or doing it for those people who matter to us as well.
So I hereby give you permission to assist me in future.
Amerie Taurel, I never want to resist you. I love you so much.
Thank you for everything you are to me and everything you've given to this interview, you are the best. Thank you so much for coming on.
Hard to feel. Oh, thank you for having me.
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