Sunday, August 5, 2012

Being Nice Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

"Mom, what did the doctor say about your liver function
tests?" Martha and her mother Leah spent plenty of time on
the phone the days before the follow-up doctor visit talking
about what this abnormal blood test could mean. With a heavy
sigh Leah said, "Well, the doctor looked like he was having
a hard day, and there were lots of people in the waiting
room and they looked very sick, so I didnâEUR(TM)t ask." Martha
said, "If you took care of yourself with just a fraction of
the nurturing you give to everyone else in the whole world,
you would be in great shape."
LeahâEUR(TM)s life is guided by two words: "Be nice." In her
perfect day, everyone gets along, she anticipates and meets
the needs of others and goes to sleep knowing sheâEUR(TM)s a worthy
person because people tell her so. Leah avoids conflict and
she would never dream of making a scene. When she gave the
cashier at the grocery store a $20 bill for a $7 item and
got back $3 she didnâEUR(TM)t say a word. Her perfectionism usually
heads off criticism, but sometimes it backfires. She tried
to help her adult son, who said with annoyance, "Mom, stop
being such a people-pleaser." LeahâEUR(TM)s darkest fear is that
she will not give enough and wind up all alone, abandoned by
her friends and family.
While being nice sounds like a good idea, thereâEUR(TM)s a problem.
It doesnâEUR(TM)t work. People pleasers often take care of others
at the expense of themselves. Activities that promote
health, like the daily walk and a good nightâEUR(TM)s sleep are
sacrificed when someone else is in need. Trying to avoid or
ignore conflict and anger is like trying to hold a beach
ball under water. Unexpressed feelings can pop up as
physical ailments, such as heartburn or depression or back
pain. When your value as a person is defined by what other
people think about you, and you donâEUR(TM)t measure up, food or
alcohol medicate the emptiness.
If youâEUR(TM)re a people-pleaser who gets sick, the same behaviors
that got you to the doctor in the first place may stand in
the way of getting good health care. You might not want to
"trouble your doctor" with your problems. If you have side
effects from a medication, you might simply stop taking the
pills rather than tell your doctor that you want to try a
different medication. A cross look from the front office
staff when you ask for a copy of your medical record may be
all you need to decide that youâEUR(TM)re not doing that again.
The bottom line is that being nice can be hazardous to your
health. It erodes your health and impairs your ability to
get better if youâEUR(TM)re sick.
I invite you to examine how being nice is working for you.
Serving others offers great rewards. Serving at the expense
of yourself comes with a huge cost that ultimately limits
your ability to serve. You can be freed from the
imprisonment of people-pleasing. If you want to treat
yourself with more love and respect, here are some thoughts.
Re-think being nice.
People-pleasing is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.
Although habits may be deeply engrained, small changes can
make a huge difference. Next time youâEUR(TM)re asked to volunteer,
instead of jumping in with a "Yes", say, instead, "IâEUR(TM)ll get
back to you on that." You will come to understand that "no"
is a complete sentence, and you can utter the word! If you
canâEUR(TM)t imagine doing this, use this "fake it till you make it
trick"...tell yourself that youâEUR(TM)re taking care of your
childrenâEUR(TM)s father, your motherâEUR(TM)s daughter or your petâEUR(TM)s
Take care of yourself every day.
Get exercise, nutrition and rest every day. Do something
that recharges your batteries every day no matter what. ItâEUR(TM)s
a cliché, but when youâEUR(TM)re on a plane youâEUR(TM)re instructed to
put on your own mask before taking care of others.
Bring an advocate with you to the doctor.
Engaging in acts of self-care, like going to the doctor, can
feel like swimming upstream to a people-pleaser. Being nice
takes the form of being a good patient who doesnâEUR(TM)t make
Here is something critical to remember: You are not there to
take care of your doctor; your doctor is there to take care
of you. In the past you may have made your medical choices
by raising your antennae and tuning into what you think will
make your doctor happy. You certainly want your doctorâEUR(TM)s
opinion, and in most cases you will agree with your doctorâEUR(TM)s
recommendations. Sometimes getting good care means making
waves, like asking , "What are the other treatment options?"
or requesting a more complete explanation or seeking a
second medical opinion.
While itâEUR(TM)s always a good idea to take a second set of
listening ears to a doctor appointment, itâEUR(TM)s particularly
important if youâEUR(TM)re a people-pleaser. An advocate will
assure that you and your health care team stay focused on
taking care of you.
Accept help.
People-pleasers can give from dawn to dusk, but they rarely
accept help, even when theyâEUR(TM)re sick. When I ask my patients
who are people-pleasers how it feels to help a friend
struggling with illness, the answer is a broad smile. Then I
remind them that when they accept help, they give their
friends a chance to have those same good feelings.
If you are a people-pleaser, your heart might be racing. I
assure you IâEUR(TM)m not asking to give up serving others. IâEUR(TM)m
suggesting that a healthy life is a life in balance, and I
encourage you to treat yourself as nicely as you treat
others. When you take care of yourself, you offer us the
gift of most fully who you are. Then you can really serve.