Confession: I am addicted to people-pleasing. I am a born-and-bred nurturer, and I spent most of my childhood being a mini-therapist in the middle of my parents’ troubled marriage. Even outside our house, I was always a people-pleaser, eager to impress my teachers, to be a A+ student, to be everyone’s best friend and to never, ever put my needs first.
I knew that my people-pleasing tendencies were problematic. After all, I spent years in university learning about human psychology, and I could easily identify that my codependent traits were harmful to my own psyche and that I was stuck in self-destructive patterns of erasing myself in order to serve others.
But here is the good news: I now consider myself to be in ‘recovery’ for my people-pleasing ways. It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of pain to get me here, but I can now say that I am not at all ashamed to prioritize myself and say ‘no’ to other people without guilt.
Here are 3 ways to stop people-pleasing for good:
Recognize that you are not as important as you think you are. Ouch! I know that kinda stings, but I think it’s really crucial for people-pleasers to realize that some of our need to help others and solve the world’s problems can actually be rooted in egotistical beliefs. How can that be? After all, aren’t people-pleasers totally selfless givers? Sure, sort of, but we also tend to over-estimate our abilities and our roles in certain situations, such as:
“If I don’t stay late and get this work done, the whole project will fall through.”
“If I don’t try out for the school board, no one else will want to do it.”
“If I don’t take my friend’s late-night phone call, she won’t have anyone else to talk to.”
“If I don’t lay out my kids’ masks for them in the morning, they’ll never be able to find them.”
It’s easy to see that when we take on too much, we are often doing so out of a sense of superiority. Only we can do it right. Only we can get the job done. Not only is this not true (your friend can call someone else at 1 a.m., or put her phone away and get some sleep instead or your kids can learn to be in charge of their own masks or your coworkers can pick up some of their slack), but it also robs other people of the chance to step up and claim their own power. If you’re always doing everything for everyone around you, you will not only be resentful and overworked, but you’re also not letting other people tend to their own business as fully and wholly as possible.
So, yes, you can still help: But remember to ask yourself, am I really the ONLY one who can do this? Will my company really fall apart if I don’t take this 6 p.m. conference call? Will my kids fall apart if I ask them to be a bit more responsible? You’re important, priceless even, but so are other people…so let them step up!
Sometimes the best thing you can do is…nothing. Most of us are people-pleasers because we really, really want to help people and make the world a better place. We are often empaths, and seeing others in pain can often send us into a spiral as we desperately try to fix their pain.
Here is one thing I have learned as a friend, a mother, a wife, and a therapist: When someone is hurting, the most important thing you can ever do is just be present. To listen with non-judgement and make space for your loved one to cry, yell, and let out their pain in a safe space and with your loving presence. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to DO anything.
But people-pleasers often can’t switch into that role of being a open-hearted, compassionate witness because we get so caught up in trying to ‘fix’ our friends’ pain. We don’t know how to quiet our racing thoughts and stop problem-solving and start being.
Just showing up is enough. Just being present is enough. Just being you is enough.
Don’t get me wrong: Offering that kind of whole-hearted support can still be exhausting, and even therapists and mental health professionals need a break. But you may find that this kind of listening is actually much less exhausting than being on the hamster wheel of trying to ‘solve’ everything. And, you may even find that it is rejuvenating and fulfilling, rather than draining.
Treat yourself the way you would treat a beloved one. Picture the person or being that is most precious to you in this world. Maybe it’s your child, maybe it’s a pet, maybe it’s an elderly relative. How would you treat that person if they were in your position? Would you want them to get 3 hours of sleep so that they could make cookies for all the teachers at their kid’s school? Would you want them to skip the gym for weeks at a time because they’re too overscheduled taking care of everyone else? Would you want to be racked with guilt for saying ‘no’ to a friend who needs a place to stay, or money, or another big favor that you just can’t agree to?
It’s so hard for us to treat each other as if we were beloved. But we are: I firmly believe that we are being held in unconditional love and support by the universe and that we deserve every beautiful blessing that we can dream of. When you think of yourself this way, and the universe this way, it becomes easier to disconnect from that voice in your head that keeps pushing you to give, give, give. That voice might even become replaced by a voice that suggests you receive, receive, receive.
Healing is inside-out work. And it can’t happen when our insides are so worn out trying to heal everyone and everything else. The best thing we can do in this world is be fully conscious and engaged in our own healing, and to have the wisdom to realize when something is NOT our job. So, beloved one, are you ready to move yourself up to position 1 on your to-do list?