On People Pleasing… Part 1
26 September 2020
People pleasing is being kind to everyone, except yourself – Holly Soulie
Sometimes we really need to do – not only tasks and running around but doing less – less worrying, overthinking, and busyness, and today we come to people pleasing.
Hands up if that’s you!
There is so much to say about people pleasing – I may have to revisit this.
People pleasing can easily lead to busyness. Trying to keep everyone happy can lead to us over-scheduling, saying yes when we mean no, cooking more than one meal, and a raft of other activities designed to ensure everyone is happy and that they can’t think badly of you.
Reread that last line.
Of course as people pleasers, we want people to like us, but more, we don’t want people to have any right or chance to think badly of us.
struggle with boundaries
struggle with confrontation
have low self esteem
allow relationships where we give more than we get
be preoccupied with others’ thoughts and feelings
neglect what our needs are in favour of other people’s
have an overwhelming sense of responsibility that leads to overdelivering and oversharing
be a chameleon so we fit in everywhere
feel about how we’re treated – we can feel unappreciated or unimportant, that our needs and desires aren’t considered, and joyless or depressed. We may be consumed by anger, resentment and hurt, yet continue to smile and comply…and die a little more inside.
People pleasing is a habit that helps everyone but you.
But it does serve an internal need that you may not have considered.
So where does it come from?
People pleasers were parent pleasers, plain and simple. I know this from my own experience and you can google it and you’ll see that academics and clinicians agree. I think I’ve pinpointed when it began: lil 5 year old Suzy stood in front of her father who was sitting silently in a chair trying to tell him about her day. However hard she tried to get his attention, he ignored her. He looked straight through her. It was as if she didn’t exist.
In that moment, something clicked unconsciously in my mind. If I couldn’t get this attention, I must have done something. It must be my fault. Maybe my day was too dull for attention? Maybe he wasn’t comfortable enough? Was I ugly? So many completely irrational responses came into my mind and they fuelled a desire for acceptance. He was my Father – and surely there was something wrong with me if he wasn’t interested in me? I made it a mission to try and change his mind, by being as compliant and delightful as I could.
And so began 40 years of people pleasing. I remember wearing different clothes for different sets of friends, and I developed a mean trick of being able to imitate anyone’s handwriting. It sounds daft now, but it was a way of aligning with my friends as a child who didn’t feel worthy.
Issy’s illness changed my view on myself, my strength, and my need to people please in a number of ways. I was able to let go of the painful reactions.
How about you? Can you pinpoint a time that caused you to challenge your worth and believe that you needed to be more to meet the expectations you’d decided of others? Can you let go of the behaviours you’ve used to deal with chaotic, uncomfortable, or painful behaviours from others?
Maybe you were taught by your family’s actions that making others’ happy is more important than your own needs?
Maybe you were told that being liked by others determines your self worth?
Maybe you were praised more or only when you were selfless or did something for others?
How can we stop people pleasing and what should we keep in mind as we change?
- Value ourselves – someone else doesn’t get to decide our worth. Our value does not come from someone else’s decision to grant it to us. It is ours to claim and own. It can be so hard to do this when you’re used to relying on others’ views for your self worth, so start small. Explore what you feel and think. Develop a view on something – the merits of Spanish cuisine, whether drinking wine out of a crystal glass makes it taste better, or if blue and green really should never be seen. Feel good about it. This is the start of your renaissance!
- See the truth of why we are who we are – reflecting on our past can be what we need to move forward. Have some therapy – talk with a trusted friend. It took Issy’s psychiatrist to tell me my Father is/was a narcissist, and in a moment she unlocked 40 years of thinking I wasn’t worthy. Challenge the ‘truth’ and see what you find out.
- Set boundaries – when does something feel wrong or off to you? When you’ve overstepped a boundary. Listen for these clues, and you’ll soon find that you can say no with confidence, because feeling good leads to feeling better.
- Just say no – you can say no with a smile and without a 3000 word reply on the reasons behind your decisions. Remove ‘can’t’ from your vocab – it gives people a way to cajole you – just say no! DOn’t justify. It’s ok to decline something. It doesn’t make you a bad person.
- Keep in mind that we can’t control others’ reactions or opinions! We can’t control them! So why are we trying so flipperty gibbet hard to be what we think they want us to be, when we have no control over how they respond? We’ve been taught to, and that needs rewiring.
- Use journalling to work through difficult emotions. Journalling is such a helpful tool to release the reactions you may have and allow you to move forward. Affirmations help too. There’s a few at the bottom of this post.
- Remember you have a choice and you have a right to that choice, as much as anyone else. You can decide to say no, or yes. It’s your right and has no bearing on if you’re a good person. You are a good person, whatever you decide.
- Expect the ‘pleased’ to rebel! Oh the pleased will not be pleased that you’ve decided to put yourself first, but that’s ok. They, like you, will learn this is a new phase. Keep going.
- Be kind to yourself first, and others second. Easy to type, harder to start, but try and start small. Accept a cup of tea from your partner or child, instead of jumping up and making it for both of you. Be kind to yourself first.
- Remember it’s not our job to fix or save people, be liked, please everyone, do it all, or hold it all together – it’s not our job. We are worthy without doing this.
- Flip our perceptions – it’s not all bad! As a people pleaser, you’ll likely have inordinate amounts of empathy, be able to take the temperature of a situation in an instant and have a strong work ethic. Respect those traits and value them. And set your boundaries accordingly.
- Prepare! Get some comebacks ready so you know how to deal with the moment where you heart says no and your mouth speaks yes. These might be: Let me get back to you! I’m not able to make it this Sunday/this week/month/year/lifetime! Thank you for thinking of me, I’m sorry I can’t at this time. Perhaps another time, let me know how it goes. It sounds lovely, but I can’t make it.
“If you spend your life pleasing others, you spend your life.” ~Cheryl Richardson
Being a recovering people pleaser is a work in progress. It starts with a small intention to change and value yourself as you are. It’s so normal to feel guilty at first – for saying no, for setting boundaries, for having conversations that you prefer not to have.
But over time, we can break the habit of people pleasing this learned behaviour can be rewired and we can begin to prioritise ourselves and know that it doesn’t mean we’re hating on others. That we matter too.
It’s a traumatic thing to change such a deeply personal behaviour that soothes something deep within us. It takes time and patience and loads of loving care to overcome it. You need time to rest after you’ve changed behaviour.
Ask yourself – if I was being really kind and loving to myself right now, what would I choose?
I hope you choose yourself, because you are so worth it.