This post is from my archives.

Today would have been a good day for me to wear the t-shirt that says, “I can only please one person a day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.”

As I progress in my recovery, I am a choosier shopper when it comes to friendships–I can now recognize when I’m being treated unfairly, or without respect, and I don’t feel as much need to stick around just to prevent causing waves. Nor can I afford to share myself with everyone who comes along. That’s too dangerous and wearing–with pieces of your soul left out to dry on too many doormats–not to mention impossible. I need to surround myself with people who are working just as hard as I am at staying well and positive, resisting the plethora of opportunities to turn to the Dark Side and talk trash and gloom.

I feel much like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who wrote in “Gift From the Sea,” “I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.”

However, even as I’m beginning to know what I need and want, saying no and erecting the proper boundaries to get there still feel as uncomfortable and awkward as wearing a too-big wetsuit backwards.

I say that because I recently tried out a used wetsuit I bought online. I asked a group of seasoned swimmers if it fit okay as they were standing around the pool deck.

“Well, I can’t really tell when you wear it backwards,” one the guys said. “Turn it around and then try it out in the water. You’ll know immediately if it’s too big because it will draw in water, and basically sink you. If it fits right, or even if it’s a bit snug, you will love the thing as it will help you sail along.”

After I put the thing on the right way and dove in, I knew after two strokes that I had just wasted $50. Two lengths of the pool consumed the energy of about 30 laps. This eBay treasure felt all wrong…cumbersome, bulky, restricting…the way it feels for this stage-four people-pleaser to erect necessary boundaries in some of her relationships. True, I don’t want people to walk all over me. However, there are fun memories that make me want to erase the yucky feelings.


When I ran into a former friend the other day for the first time since we “broke up,” my mouth opened to apologize and say, “Let’s just forget about it, and go on.”  I searched for words. Finally, “How are you?” came out. The two-second conversation was as stiff and difficult and unpleasant as swimming in that oversized wetsuit. My head was buried somewhere in the chest seams with all the chlorinated water trapped in the suit, bringing me down.

But if I keep on practicing my boundary-building skills, one day I will find that, like a wetsuit that fits perfectly, I am staying buoyant with little effort of my own. The boundaries will assist me in conserving energy for the things I love–moving swiftly and freely in fresh water–all the while protecting me from the nasty jelly fish and the chilling temperatures of the bay (or a bad relationship).

One day I will intuitively know how to say no, and not feel guilty. Maybe that’s a stretch. One day my guilt in erecting a boundary will last a day, maybe maybe even a few hours, not the months it does now.

I’m taking baby steps toward becoming a more sincere person. Even in its awkwardness, that feels good.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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7 Responses
  1. Par

    I am also a stage 4 people pleaser. I am growing in awareness of when I need boundaries….. growing in skilled boundary setting. BUT the most toxic situation I have is my adult son. He has totally cut off my husband his father, “allows ” me to visit his children 2 or 3 times per year. We’re all superficially jolly on these occasions as long as I make the 1 hr drive when they are not “too busy”. So now I am recuperating from total hip replacement. I did receive 1 phone call. By text I told him how much it would mean for him to bring my grandchildren to visit. The Response: a deafening silence.
    How does one accept the inevitable and set up healthy boundaries when it your son? I’m trying to work on Ignation concepts of indifference but it’s rugged.
    Great blog, thanks, Pat

  2. Karen Lehman

    Therese, I have been following your blog for quite awhile now, and I feel like you are one of the few bloggers that truly understands the ups and downs of living with TRD. I really needed to hear this message today, as I have been a people-pleaser for most of my life but recently was confronted with a situation in which I was desperately trying to weigh helping someone in a situation that negatively affected my health versus trying to prioritize serving someone in love over my own needs. Anyway, I loved your analogy with the wetsuit and it is such a good reminder to pursue things and people that keep us buoyant and make the journey easier, versus those things that drag us down and if we are not careful will cause us to sink. Thank you for continuing this blog…God has given you a definite gift and renewed purpose in life. Blessings!

  3. How long does it usually take to write? Why do you write…? I’m so confused nowadays. So I’m writing to you because I need your advise. I don’t have any visitors. But I don’t be discouraged by it and keep trying harder!!! 🙂

  4. Jeff


    Just want you to know you help so many people and I want to thank you for helping me. Hope you are doing well. Keep up the great work you do.

  5. Growing up with a very codependant mom left a lot of great training on how to neglect self and people please others. Before doing the work and healing, I had no idea who I was. I was more invested in everyone else. Thanks for this great article.

  6. Gilly

    Last year two friendships ended in my life. I’m a very private person and making friends is alchemy to me: I have no idea how to do it so have very few friends. As a result losing one is like losing a limb. I met some new people last year who are becoming very good friends already and are less volatile people than the lost friends. But the lack of history of established friendships has left me feeling like a rootless piece of tumbleweed. Your article has reminded me that having people in my life that don’t add positivity is never going to provide me with emotional stability and that established friendships were all new friendships once. And the only person you have the power to please is yourself so pursuing old friendships that brought you pain for the sake of it is never going to bring you any peace or joy. Thank you for this article. As always exactly what I need to read exactly when I need to read it: I don’t know how you always know!