A quick review of my life so far indicates that for most of it, I was a people pleaser. I gradually developed into a diplomat instead of a doormat and eventually I courageously stood in my power and now live to love people without having to try to please them all.
I can’t decide which takes more energy: the habit of people pleasing or mustering the courage to give it up. What I do know is that as a recovering people pleaser, I have more energy for creative pursuits, I have more time for friendships that are reciprocal and I have more space for joy to find me. I can tell you with confidence that it’s work worth doing.
“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.”
– Bruce Cockburn
My story certainly isn’t unique; it involves a splendidly dysfunctional family and parents who absolutely did their best despite the traumatic blows of losing two of their babies. I think you get the idea. I felt like I was always working hard for approval, recognition; even just to be seen. I probably wasn’t the best people pleaser though because I had and still have a rebellious streak and a deep curiosity which in the end may be what helped propel me forward.
One of the greatest revelations for me on this life adventure is learning that I’m not alone; that many of us have resorted to people pleasing as a survival strategy, to keep the peace, to fit in or to feel that we are valued. Using this habit of pleasing others is often a first choice because we don’t believe we have options and it does work for a time, until it doesn’t. You’ll know when it’s not working because you’ll feel emotionally depleted, physically exhausted and life will feel less than satisfying. I hope you won’t wait until you hit those markers to shift out the habit of pleasing others and choose to create space for yourself.
What does it feel like to be a people pleaser? Well, it feels like other people’s needs are more important than your own and there’s a willingness to try to take care of their needs even when it’s at the expense of meeting yours. It may look like you’re a do-gooder but it may feel like you’re a victim. Sometimes the habit is so deeply engrained that it’s tough to recognize in ourselves; see if you relate to some of these symptoms:
–You agree to something you don’t really want to do.
-You have no free time.
-You feel that you need to be needed, to feel that life has purpose.
-You apologize all the time.
-You can’t say no.
-You need others to like you.
-You feel that people take advantage of you.
-You don’t get your needs met in relationships.
-You expect others to read your mind.
If you recognize yourself in any of those people pleasing symptoms, you are definitely not alone. My younger self can relate and my present self wants to help you shift out the need to please anyone but yourself.
Waking up to the notion that I had chosen to please others over getting my needs met was quite rude because I didn’t know any other way to operate. I had to renovate my mindset which meant remodeling my thoughts about myself and how I operated in the world. What I did was begin with small steps and repeatedly interrupt the habits I had relied on to function in the world.
Before we go any farther though, I have to say that pleasing people isn’t all wrong. Having healthy relationships means that we are compassionate and caring when it comes to those we love; the challenge is when we’re trying to win someone’s endorsement to bolster our self-esteem or we’re doing for others at the cost of our own well-being. By all means, do nice things for people; be kind but be careful because you are important and you matter too. Let’s get that straight.
True confession: it takes practice to shift out this tenacious habit of pleasing others and I strongly recommend starting with little steps that won’t scare you. Just take one of the tips on the list below and see how you can challenge yourself to put yourself first. Example: I never say yes right out of the gate to an invitation unless it’s an enthusiastic YES for me. My new habit is to say: “I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.” This way I recognize that I have a choice and I’ve learned to exercise that choice.
Here are a few tips to help with your renovations, if you choose to give up the habit of people pleasing.
-Know what your intention is in relationships.
-Know what your intention is around acts of kindness.
-Make time for yourself.
-Set boundaries: learn the power of the words yes and no.
-Think requests through. When someone asks you to do something, tell them you’ll get back to them. This gives you an opportunity to choose whether or not it’s a fit for you.
-Establish mutual benefit in your relationships.
-Care for yourself in the same way you care for others.
Please don’t overwhelm yourself with the assignment because it’s easy to give up and revert to old habits. Let me remind you, so you can remind yourself that you are important and you matter; your dreams and goals are important and they matter too. Be confident that when you give away your resources and your kindness that it’s bringing you joy and not trouble.
Focusing on our recovery as people pleasers helps us to move into more of a balance in our relationships, where we feel energized and satisfied that we are not only taking care of others but we’ve included ourselves in the equation. Don’t get me started on feeling guilty about making some alterations to how you operate because feeling guilty is like chewing bubble gum to solve a chemistry problem. It’s useless and it doesn’t serve anyone. Its action that creates the momentum, so here we go….in 3, 2, 1 action!
Footnote: How are you doing with your intention for 2022?