Spot the Difference: Grumpy Girlfriends vs. People Pleasers

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I'm a certified coach and work with grumpy girlfriends who want to dump the grump and enjoy their good relationships.

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Grumpy girlfriends have a habit of saying yes to things they want to say no to and not to things they want to say yes to. This behavior sounds an awful lot like people pleasing, right? But there is a very significant difference between grumpy girlfriends and people pleasers that I want you to be aware of!

A people pleaser is a person who tries to please others in order to manipulate their thoughts and feelings about them. They agree to things they don’t want to agree to and go out of their way to help others, not out of genuine generosity. This is a behavior that is fueled by fear of rejection and usually just results in bitterness and resentment. Or, to simplify it even more, a people pleaser is terrified of other people’s opinions of them and will do whatever they can to make sure they are accepted.

Grumpy girlfriend behavior can very easily be confused with people pleasing. Because grumpy girlfriends can often hold their tongues and not speak their minds in situations that cause them intense discomfort. Like if their partners ask if they can go out with friends or if their partners tell a story involving another female…

What makes people pleasing and girlfriend grumpiness so different is what part is driven by fear and what battling that fear looks like. Let me explain.

The initial desire

Imagine a scenario where you and your partner live together, and your partner asks if they can have some friends over on Friday before they head out for a night on the town.

The Grumpy Girlfriend Reaction:

The knee-jerk, automatic, primitive desire that pops into a grumpy girlfriend might sound something like “Oh no… a night on the town… my partner will see a bunch of attractive girls and talk to them and cheat on me. I hate when my partner goes out. Maybe if I don’t allow them to come over they’ll have to cancel. Or… maybe if they do come over they’ll stay in all evening and not go out. But then I have to share the apartment with all these people. UGH! I do not want this!”

As you can tell, this instinctual “NO!” is driven by a lot of anxiety and fear.

The People Pleaser Reaction:

A people pleaser could either be for or against their partner doing this thing and bringing people over. The people pleasing in and of itself doesn’t mean you’re against all kinds of activities. However, let’s just assume that this people pleaser does not like the idea of a bunch of people coming over on Friday because they had planned a quiet night and early bedtime in order to get up early on Saturday for something important. So they definitely do not want to agree to this request.

This “NO!” is driven by logical thinking and what would serve the person the most.

Going against that desire

Neither the grumpy girlfriend nor the people pleaser will act on this initial, knee-jerk desire that pops into their minds. Or… well… sometimes, grumpy girlfriends do end up acting on it. This alone shows a clear difference between grumpy girlfriends and people pleasers hehe. Because a people pleaser would never show what they really want behind their pleasing. But let’s just assume that this grumpy girlfriend has somewhat impulse control.

The Grumpy Girlfriend Action:

So the grumpy girlfriend decides to go against that initial desire for two reasons. One part of her knows that she “should” say yes to this and that it would make her partner happy. Another part of her also believes that she wants to say yes to it and wants to be the kind of person who is more easygoing about things like this. So, despite that initial fear-based “NO!”, she says yes.

This action of saying “Yes!” to her partner is battling her fear and not letting that fear control her.

The People Pleaser Action:

The people pleaser could never say no to their partner even though they really want to. Why? Because what if their partner gets upset with them? Or doesn’t love them anymore? Or gets really mad and goes and cheats on them as a result? They are terrified of being seen as a problem or an obstacle, so they do everything they can to please and make other people’s lives easier. Despite the people pleaser’s initial, intellectual “No!”, they end up saying “Yes!” to their partner.

This “Yes!” is not battling any fears, it’s actually coming from anxiety and fear of rejection.

See the difference?

The outcome

So far we have two people, a people pleaser and a grumpy girlfriend who have both reacted negatively to their partner’s proposal. Neither of them initially wanted to agree to this, but they both ended up saying yes. So what’s the difference?

The Grumpy Girlfriend Outcome:

When the grumpy girlfriend goes against her initial reaction and says yes even though her brain is screaming at her to say no, she is acting intentionally in a way that serves her. She is saying no to her grumpy brain and saying yes to the kind of girlfriend she wants to be. This is an intellectual, intentional practice that improves her relationship with herself.

IF the grumpy girlfriend were to act on her grumpiness and say no to her partner, that would be fear-based behavior that would just fuel her grumpiness even further.

The People Pleaser Outcome:

This person came to the conclusion that no, they did not want to agree with their partner’s proposal because of the circumstances. It did not fit well into their own plan for the weekend and they would be true to themselves if they said no. But they didn’t say no. They allowed the fear to take over. So them saying “Yes!” to their partner is the same as if the grumpy girlfriend would have said “No!”

The people pleaser’s true desire came right away and they chose to act against it out of fear.

The grumpy girlfriend’s initial desire was not their true desire, and they either acted on it (thus fueling their grumpiness) or were able to identify their true desire and act against that initial reaction.

So what is the difference?

To summarize, I would say that people pleasers have reasonable, logical underlying desires and choose not to act on them because they’re afraid.

Grumpy girlfriends have unreasonable, illogical underlying desires because they are afraid.

The typical people pleaser advice of “listen to your gut, follow your instinct, and speak your mind, don’t be afraid” is pretty crappy advice for a grumpy girlfriend. Because the people pleaser struggles to say what they know is true to them. The grumpy girlfriend will often act on and say things that are fueled by fear and later realize what is actually true to her. And then it’s too late.

This is why it’s so important to remember that advice in and of itself is not good or bad. It’s always dependent on who is receiving it.

Listen to this podcast episode to learn more about good and bad advice.

xo Katrin

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