Do you say “yes” when you mean “no”? Do you fear people won’t like you if you don’t give them what you think they want?
People pleasing hides behind many guises but is usually driven by a strong desire to make other people happy at any cost. Can you relate to any of the following characteristics of a people pleaser?
Do you frequently:
• avoid conflict or arguments
• rarely feel “good enough”
• put other people’s needs first and your own wishes last
• defer decision making to others
• do or say something because you feel you “should”, not because you want to
• feel like an imposter, fearful of being “found out” for who you believe you “really” are
• use self-deprecating language (such as “I’m hopeless at…”)
• feel responsible for the happiness of others
• over-commit your time and resources
• feel like others take advantage of you
• lack confidence about making decisions
• suppress feelings of anger and frustration
• engage in negative self-talk and constant self-criticism
• feel guilty about almost everything you do or don’t do
• say “yes” when you mean “no”.
If this sound like you don’t despair, or use the quiz above to beat yourself up further. Instead ask yourself these key questions.
• Does this way of living work for me?
• Is it honouring my best self?
• Am I ready to change?
• Is it time to put my own happiness first?
While making people happy is an admirable trait, doing so at a cost to your wellbeing is not. Helping others and pitching in when asked is a normal part of living in a community. There are times when compromise is necessary and part of adult life.The difference with people pleasing is when you repeatedly agree to something that you really don’t want to do and then expend energy on anxiety, resentment or self-criticism over your decision. This can drain your energy and the stress may ultimately derail your nervous system.
Being stuck in a constant cycle of people pleasing can make you sick!
If you’ve identified with the people-pleasing questionnaire but the thought of change seems overwhelming or even impossible, consider seeing a registered psychologist to help you work through the issues. Why? Because, just like that ad says – you’re worth it. You really are!
Three essential steps to leaving your people-pleasing habits behind
1. Acknowledge that pleasing others is your ‘default setting’.
2. Accept other people won’t change their behaviour and you can only change your own.
3. Commit to changing your pattern. Default settings can be reprogrammed.
Learning a new habit can be challenging. But no one who starts taking piano lessons believes they’ll be a concert pianist in a week. So why do we expect instantaneous change when it comes to learning a new way of living?
Saying “no”, when you mean it, is a great new habit to begin with. This might be difficult at first because every fibre of your being has been programmed to please others before doing what your soul truly desires. If turning someone or something down feels too challenging start with, try a delaying phrase such as “I’m not sure if I can commit to that, I’ll get back to you.” Practice a response that works for you. Try standing tall of the mirror and uttering the words. Watch your posture and facial gestures while saying it. Practice delivering your new mantra with ease.
If you deal with pushy people, or those unaccustomed to you refusing them, a back-up phrase might be useful. A handy one, when pressured might be, “If you need me to make a decision on the spot, it will have to be no.”
Be aware that you have a choice. Take some time thinking about your priorities in life. If you had more free time, what would you like to use it for? What part of your self-care feels neglected?
Wanting to make people happy is not an intrinsically negative quality. You are not a bad or flawed or inadequate person if serving others and receiving affirmation just fills you with joy…It’s just that if you feel compelled to always help people — even at the expense of other higher priorities — you need to condition yourself to be less sensitive to other people’s needs and more aware of your own so you can stay in balance.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders at Life Hacker
Sometimes it feels easier to tell a fib. There is a lexicon of untruths that people pleasers often rely on when attempting to say “no”. It might be saying you’re too busy and have “double booked” or that you’re coming down with something. Blaming a busy time at work often sounds noble but wears thin when repeatedly used. The work excuse can make you sound like a bad manager at best, a victim at worst.
But the “white lie” also means you are being dishonest, not only with others but also with yourself. Dishonesty can often lead to feeling guilty and the fear of being caught out. Neither has a positive effect on your health and it doesn’t take long for the excuse of feeling unwell to become prophetic.
It’s ok to say you can’t commit to a request and not feel compelled to fill the space with an excuse or apology. If it’s someone you really would like to spend time with but not in that situation, follow up with “but I’d love to catch up over brunch the week after if you’re free” or something similar. However the trick is to do so only if you really want to.
In the real world it’s normal to not be able to fulfil unrealistic obligations or accept every social engagement. Even if this feels uncomfortable at first it’s ok to say “no” – so there’s space in your life for the things you want to say “yes” to.
Try this small exercise – Your best life
1. Imagine a life where you felt confidant saying what you felt, without any negative ramifications. How does that feel?
2. Now tap into how you are feeling right now at the thought of being asked to do something that you really don’t want to do – just to please someone else. What your body is telling you?
3. How do the two sensations compare? Does pleasing others seem exhausting?
Look after yourself
A genuine desire to help people can be joyful and rewarding. However remember that you are generally better resourced to do this, when also taking care of yourself.
People pleasing is usually learnt at a young age. You’re never too old to break the habit and start being true to yourself. Like all new skills, it takes practice. Be kind to yourself and start listening to what you truly desire.
• Consider taking an assertiveness training course. Check out your local adult education program or Google “assertiveness training (your city)” for other options.
• Consult a psychologist.
• As a naturopath I have many tools, one of them is to teach you ways to reduce your reaction to stress. Another is to build up your nervous system with herbs and nutrients, to increase physical resilience. Give me a call if you’d like to find out more and health and happiness coaching.
If you’ve not seen Brene Brown’s groundbreaking TED talks, take a look. If you’ve watched them before, take another look. They’re an amazing treasure chest of insight and courage.
Brené Brown on vulnerability.
Brené Brown on shame.
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