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Nice For What, Sis? Your People Pleasing Is Doing More Harm Than Good

You do not have to hustle for your worth. You are worthy, valid, and whole.

Wellness

"No."

If that's an easy word for you to say to another person, this article may not be a good fit for you, my dear.

This is for my girls who are the queens of sugar, spice, and everything nice. This article is for women who feel like they are scratching their nails across a chalkboard when they have to politely (with a smile and 10 apologies of course) decline an invitation or favor. Better yet, they don't decline, but instead do things they don't want to in order to avoid confrontation and being accused of not caring. She is so afraid of not being a good ______ (fill in the blank with "girlfriend," "friend," "sister," "daughter," "wife") that she suffers through her own unhappiness, just to see others smile.

If "she" is you, this read is for you, boo.

I could use this piece to talk about the users and abusers of the world. I could discuss the non-empathetic, self-centered pricks that manipulate you into doing whatever they please but never reciprocate. But, that conversation would be of no service to you.

So now, I'll ask you a question that puts you in a position of power:

Do you please other people because you expect them to validate you?

In case no one has told you, you were not put on this earth to be a doormat with a smiley face on it. Letting people walk all over you is not going to give you the love and acceptance you desire. All you will do is deplete yourself, and become a hot victimized bitter mess.

You do not have to hustle for your worth. You are worthy, valid, and whole.

Since I was very young, I have put my ability to anticipate, meet, and exceed my loved ones' expectations on a pedestal. My loving grandma, who did the same for our family, suffered from sickle cell anemia. When she was sick, I prided myself on being a great helper around the house. I lived for the spelling tests on Friday that I would ace and, in turn, be greeted by my proud father who would take me for ice cream afterwards.

In my teenage years, my grandmother had passed and I learned how to my use my friendly disposition, dutifulness, and agreeableness as a crutch. I used my desire to please others to gain friendships; picking up friends here, and dropping them there.

Meanwhile, my tank was on E.

Even romantically, I remember trying to compensate for my unwillingness to be sexual active by performing acts that were uncomfortable for me at the time.

By my senior year of high school, I lost all but one of my friends, learned that my dude was sleeping with other girls, and was now headed to a college. Expectations come with being the first person in your household to attend college, and the side effects included debilitating anxiety, crappy grades, few friends to connect with, and no steady love interest. I was suicidal.

Looking back, I now know that I did not understand my own worth.

On my journey to womanhood, I adopted the belief that I had to make myself useful in this world to be worthy.

My grandmother, who taught me how to love and have compassion for others, ran out of time before she could teach me how to love myself. For the past 10 years of my life, I had depended on the validation of others without truly taking an inventory of my own feelings, desires, and needs. I had become a people pleaser with poor boundaries, accepting crumbs, and feeling guilty for asking for the whole cake.

I have been in therapy to learn how to pick up my broken pieces. My mission is to put myself together by being brutally honest with myself.

Healing is not rainbows and butterflies; it is coming to the realization that you are an active participant in your own suffering.

I am growing, healing, and saying "no" without explanation. Even when it comes to myself.

I love to please others because I expect the love I give to be requited. That doesn't make me a terrible person, but it does mean that I've been manipulative to others with a personal agenda. No one is responsible for making me happy but myself.

I was dating out of desperation to be accepted and loved, but I hadn't provided those things to myself. I couldn't stand to be alone because then, I would have to deal with the brokenness of myself.

In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, "You simply cannot pay the debts that come along with the belief that you are unworthy. Unworthiness always puts you in debt to anyone and everyone who shows you the slightest degree of attention."

I have given myself the permission to feel my feelings. I have traded in my unauthentic niceness, and replaced it with kindness for to myself and others. I no longer set myself on fire to keep others warm. I have given myself permission to be just as nice to myself as I am to others.

'Cause I'm showing off. And that's alright, this is my life.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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