If you are a people pleaser you hold yourself to a different standard than you hold the rest of the world. You think it’s okay for everyone else to say no when they don’t have the time, energy or money to commit to something, but if you were to do that, it would be selfish or mean. You will give to others until it hurts then feel incredibly uncomfortable or guilty when someone tries to give to you. You honor other people’s feelings above all else and leave yours on the shelf to collect dust.
Unfortunately, we can’t continue giving without replenishing our own inner resources. Maybe you’re the person everyone at work comes to when they have procrastinated and are now in crisis or the friend everyone knows they can call at 3am to cry about their break up. Chances are this can feel pretty good at times and you welcome these needy friends with open arms, but you would never dream of going to these same people with your problems. Giving and never receiving is an unsustainable way of living. This is simply because you are a human (I assume) and all humans have needs! If those needs go unmet long enough, your ability to function at a normal level will plummet. While on the outside you might appear to be a perfect example of sacrificial love, on the inside you are burnt out and even resentful. It is difficult to love people we resent.
People pleasing is counterfeit love based more on fear than genuine compassion and care. You may have no idea how to be any different because you have focused on putting others before yourself for most of your life. No matter how long you have been overly compliant, you are capable of developing authentic relationships where you feel loved for who you are and not what you do. Keep reading for 5 truths to help you shift from people pleasing to life giving love.
Life as a People Pleaser
Having your life dictated by the need to keep everyone else happy is exhausting and anxiety provoking. You can never fully relax because you have to be ready to meet the next need at any moment. You are on your toes, ready to adjust your plans, words or actions based on others’ reactions to make sure you stay in their good graces. You can’t feel comfortable in your own skin because your sense of being okay is based on the feedback you receive from others rather than on your own internal values. While you work to make sure everyone is happy, you start feeling overwhelmed and miserable and may not have any clue why.
As this dynamic escalates, you feel more stressed and resentful towards others. You also become more and more disconnected from yourself as you lose touch with what you want and need in your efforts to please others. Not knowing yourself, you float through life engaging in activities and relationships, not because they are fulfilling but because someone asked you to. Your decisions become based on fear more than love or thoughtful consideration. This is fear of only being loved for what you can offer, fear of being rejected or reprimanded if you don’t give people what they want. Maybe you even fear that you are not worth having your own needs and desires and that is why focusing on other people’s comes so naturally.
Life on the Other Side of People Pleasing
You are totally capable of lifting yourself out of the stress and overwhelm of people pleasing by developing awareness of your own wants and needs. You have the ability to decide for yourself where and to whom you will give your time, energy and life! I have seen countless clients who’s default mode was to comply with everyone in their path learn to lovingly assert themselves and experience more joyful lives as a result. When you learn that it’s okay to have your own needs and wants, even if they are in conflict with someone else’s, you give others the opportunity to know and love the real you. You can relax in the security of being loved for who you are, knowing you do not need to bend over backwards to keep people around.
When you shift your focus from pleasing others to caring for yourself AND others at the same time, you make choices that are in line with your passions and values. This automatically increases self-esteem and self-compassion. This leads to deeper connections with others and a greater sense of peace and fulfillment. It can be scary to make the change from people pleaser to someone with balanced, healthy boundaries so having a supportive therapist in your corner can make all the difference between thinking about it and actually doing it! Here are 5 truths to help start your process of self-discovery and transformation.
5 Truths Every People Pleaser Needs to Hear
1) You are not responsible for other people’s feelings
This is a truth that many of my clients have a hard time believing at first. Many people do not even realize that they are operating out of a belief that they are responsible for other people’s feelings and well being. Being responsible for everyone is a huge amount of pressure! People pleasers will do or not do certain things because they do not want to hurt someone’s feelings or they do not want anyone to be mad at them. This is the driving force behind their decisions, words and behaviors.
A mantra of mine that I often share with my clients is: “Just because someone is mad at you does not necessarily mean that you did something wrong.” Think of a parent who does not let her toddler run out into the street. The toddler is pissed that Mom won’t let her do what she wants, but does this mean that Mom is horrible? Of course not! She is doing something right, though her child does not see or appreciate it that way. This same principle is true in our adult relationships. If we make our decisions solely based on other people’s feelings we may not act in their best interests or our own. In order to truly love people, we need to let them have their own feelings and reactions and not let those feelings be the gauge for our standing as good people. Each of us is responsible for our feelings and what we do with them. If someone is upset with you, it is their responsibility to bring it up with you or let it go. It is unfair for anyone to expect you to read their mind.
2) Not all conflict is Bad
If the unthinkable happens and someone is upset with you, this is not the end of the world. True intimacy is born out of healthy conflict. When you are able to speak up for yourself, you allow people to know the real you. Engaging in healthy conflict shows that you care too much about this person and your relationship with them to let some misunderstanding or mistake ruin it. I once called my now-best-friend to talk about something that had been bothering me and as I began sharing she said, “I feel so loved!” She knew that I was confronting her because I loved her. She has become one of my best friends because I learned that I could be honest with her and that she cares enough about me to listen and work out our issues. I always know where I stand with her and don’t have to worry if she is upset with me or not because she will tell me if she is.
Conflict can be done in a way that is respectful and loving. I teach my clients to use assertive communication when they are in conflict. Assertive communication is a communication style that takes both people’s needs and feelings into account. It means sticking to the facts of what has happened without pointing fingers, name calling or assigning value or judgment. It also means sharing about how you feel, sometimes referred to as an “I-statement”. For example, I might say, “You haven’t responded to any of my phone calls or texts this last week. It makes me concerned that something is wrong with you or us and it also hurts my feelings.” From this point the person can respond to my experience and feelings without getting defensive and we can grow closer. Compare this to, “You never respond to my texts. What is your problem?!” which would be aggressive communication and automatically puts people on the defensive. When you engage in conflict using assertive communication, you understand each other and often appreciate each other more as a result. People will also respect you more as you stand up for yourself without tearing others down.
3) Your worth is not based on what you can do for others
There can be a dark side to our sacrificial helpfulness. If you are a people pleaser, there is a very good chance that your sense of self-worth is somewhat based on what you do for others. You need to be needed in order to feel worthy. The problem with needing to be needed is that your helpfulness can become selfishness with your motivation being more about your self-esteem than actually helping someone. Often being helpful makes us feel good, but I am not talking about the healthy satisfaction that comes from doing good things for the sake of doing them.
When your self-worth comes from being needed you may also overstep and “help” people in ways that they do not want you to. Then you feel unappreciated and maybe resentful when they are not grateful. But the reality is they never asked for your help in the first place! In order to love yourself and others well you need to grasp the truth that who you are is more important than what you do. Of course it is good to help others, but when we know we are loved just for who we are, our helping comes from a genuine place of love for others.
4) People pleasing sabotages intimacy
When we do not speak up for ourselves and make decisions based on other people’s desires and feelings, there is no way for people in our lives to truly know us. If my response to “Where do you want to eat” is always, “Oh I don’t care, wherever you want to” my friends will never know that I love going to the Taco Bar for cheap and delicious tacos and margaritas. This is a very surface example but the same idea is true for deeper things. When we do not share our true thoughts, feelings and passions people cannot know us. You keep your opinions and desires to yourself in an effort to keep the peace and not rock the boat. The reality is that a disagreement is not going to ruin your important friendships. If a disagreement does end your friendship, it probably is not a relationship worth keeping. If someone only wants to be your friend because you always do what they want, that is not a real friendship. Good relationships require give and take and that is impossible if you always comply with what others want, or what you THINK they want. To have quality relationships requires being vulnerable and sharing what we really think and feel so we can see who actually loves us for who we are. This might mean we lose some people along the way, but we will develop quality over quantity in our relationships.
5) Boundaries = LOVE
When you schedule a session with me, we will identify areas of your life where you need to set some healthy boundaries. A simple definition for boundaries is what you are and are not okay with, We have already touched on some of the reasons why boundaries are beneficial such as people getting to know the real you and respecting you more. Boundaries also show where your priorities are. If you say yes to everything, you cannot fully give yourself in any situation. As one of my favorite TV characters, Ron Swanson, says, “Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.” You set boundaries to guard what is most important to you. These boundaries may include saying no to other good things that just happen to be less important than your main priorities. If everything is important, then nothing is important.
You also set boundaries so that you are not overextending yourself and feeling bitter towards the people you are saying yes to. Saying yes when you mean it and no when you mean it prevents resenting people for asking too
much of you. As I said earlier, it is hard to love people we resent. On the other side, people know they can ask things of you and not worry about asking too much because you will be honest and take responsibility for your boundaries. Starting to say no to things that you do not really want to do can feel very uncomfortable at first so it is helpful to have people who will support you in setting boundaries like a good friend or a therapist.
If you feel exhausted and tired of living as a people pleaser, you do not have to stay stuck where you are. It may take some time, but you can empower yourself to live from your own internal values rather than on the feelings and opinions of others. AND you do not have to make these changes alone! Call me or fill out the contact form below to schedule a session and begin your journey to life free of people pleasing!