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How to stop people pleasing and become the real you

Are you a people pleaser?

I had this conversation with a client recently. She didn’t think she was until we discussed what people pleasing actually looks like.

As we went through the list of people pleasing behaviors, her eyes got wider and her mouth dropped open. “Wow,” she said. “I thought I was just being nice!”

And that’s what most people pleasers think. I should know because I’m a recovering people pleaser myself.

Since there’s some confusion between nice and people pleasing, let’s start right there.

How do you know if you are a people pleaser?

First, saying no or expressing how you truly feel about something feels wrong, brings up fear or anxiety, or just feels icky.

Second, you say yes to things that don’t work for you simply because you don’t want to disappoint anyone.

Third, you see yourself as responsible for the comfort and happiness of alllll the people. Even strangers.

If any of those ring true, you’ve crossed over the line from nice, kind, and caring to people pleasing.

Why do we people please? 

Psychology Today offers this explanation:

Typically, the intense need to please and care for others is deeply rooted in either a fear of rejection and/or fear of failure. Fear of Rejection is the underlying feeling that, “If I don’t do everything I can to make this person happy they might leave or stop caring for me.”  Fear of Rejection can come from early relationships in which love was conditional or in which you were rejected/abandoned by an important person in your life (parent left or was emotionally unavailable or inconsistently available). 

Our fear of rejection can have even deeper roots. The desire to be accepted and part of the tribe was about survival. If you were cast out from the group, you’d likely die. While that’s not the case today, it can explain why the “avoid rejection” lessons continue to be taught.

The Psychology Today article also talks about fear of failure, which is a feeling that resonates with so many of my clients.

Fear of Failure is the underlying feeling that “If I make a mistake, I will disappoint people and/or be punished.”  Fear of failure can arise from early experiences with severe punishment for even small mistakes. People who had highly critical parents may develop a people-pleasing pattern. 

This fear hits home for me, too. Even as a recovering people pleaser, the idea that someone might be disappointed in me still shakes me up. Fortunately, I have the tools to work through the fear, but that doesn’t mean the fear is gone.

Why is people pleasing a problem?

On the face of it, people pleasing doesn’t seem all that bad. After all, we were taught as little girls that it’s good to care for others and make others happy. You likely were praised when you put others first. If you said no or “I don’t wanna” you were told not to be selfish, right? So people pleasing is a lifelong habit for you. 

Here’s the thing, though. When all of your energy focuses outward towards others, it’s exhausting. You constantly worry and gauge the feelings of the people around you to define how you feel about yourself. 

There’s two problems there: you can’t control how others feel AND they probably aren’t even thinking about you! 

Therefore, what happens is you give way too much to the wrong people. Even worse, everyone (and especially you) misses out because the authentic you is in hiding. 

So now you know why you people please and why it’s not such a good thing. But how do you jump off the people pleasing hamster wheel?

How to Stop People Pleasing

The first step is to become aware of the circumstances that surround your people pleasing behaviors. 

What’s going on when you react as a people pleaser? Who is involved? How are you feeling, both generally and about the specific conversation or request that you are inclined to address by people pleasing? What are some other choices you could make instead of simply saying “yes” to all the things and all the people?

At first, you’ll find yourself assessing after the fact. And that’s ok. As you become more aware of what and who triggers your people pleasing, you’ll be better prepared to respond differently.

Second, ask yourself what’s the difference between genuinely lending a helping hand because you want to do so and pleasing?

Helping doesn’t come from a place of fear on your part… “if I don’t help her, I’m afraid she’ll be upset or think I’m not a good friend.” Helping should come from a place of love, support, and giving to someone who is in need, not from a place of guilt, shame, or resentment. Pleasing usually is more about doing what people want you to do than it is about helping them.

Third, try to explore what’s at the root of your people pleasing behavior. 

Are you trying to avoid conflict? Or do you fear losing a friend? Maybe you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Whatever that thing is for you, think back to other times you’ve felt the same way. 

Often we can tie the feeling to something we were praised for or punished for as a child. Understanding where the urge to please comes from can help you reframe the story around it.

For example, if you were scolded as a child for being bossy, you might feel uncomfortable expressing your opinion. You might go out of your way to defer to others and do exactly what they want you to do, even if it doesn’t work for you. 

You have the power to reframe that story. It’s not bossy to express your opinion or propose a different approach. Instead, consider that by doing so, you can start a discussion that results in a plan to get better results for everyone involved.

Fourth, honestly assess how you feel about doing the thing you are about to say “yes” to. 

Are you resentful, annoyed, maybe pissed off? Compare that to how you feel when you agree to something that you want to do or feels aligned with your goals. That’s a much better feeling, isn’t it?

When you say “yes” to something simply to people please, you approach it with the wrong energy.  The whole experience feels like a drain or a downer to you, and that can’t help but impact the people around you.

When you start saying “no” to the people pleasing, you’ll find way more satisfaction when you do say yes. And because you are truly giving because you want to, you also begin to share your true self instead of hiding her in the shadows. 

Check out the Gen X GPS™ for more tips on creating a life you love! 

Changing a lifelong behavior isn’t easy. So let’s get you started with 5 easy tips for saying no and setting boundaries so you can stop people pleasing….

Tip One: Stop apologizing, especially for things you can’t or don’t control. 

You are NOT responsible for everything. Acting as if you are by apologizing decreases your sense of self-worth every time you do it. 

Tip Two: Delay the no. Instead say “let me get back to you on that.”

Then you can think about your response and make the right choice for you. While you are thinking about it, check out this study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center that shows pausing before you speak improves your decision-making. 

Tip Three: Start with smaller nos where you feel less risk about the result.

Maybe you say no to dessert because the dinner was so wonderful that you ate too much. Or, even better, that you just want to sit with the joy dinner brought you. That approach helps you avoid your guilt for perhaps hurting someone’s feelings. 

Tip Four: Have some comfortable ways to say no ready in your head.

For example, “I appreciate you thinking about me, but I can’t do it,” or “I don’t have the space to commit to that right now ,” or “I know this is important to you, but I can’t do it.” And practice using them.

Tip Five: This last one is going to stretch you, but it’s important. Expect and be ready for resistance. 

Say your kind but firm no, and don’t argue about it.

Keep this in mind: if people turn away when you set boundaries, express yourself, or let the genuine you come through, how much of a loss is that to you, really? You don’t like everyone, and not everyone is going to like you. That won’t stop you from living a fulfilling life unless you let it.

Looking for clarity in other areas of your life? Download my 6 Key Shifts to Clarity for Midlife Career Changers by clicking below…