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People-Pleasing: 3 Ways to Stop It

Updated: Jul 24, 2022


What is people-pleasing?
It is generally an emotional need someone has to please others, often at the expense of their own needs or desires. Although the underlying need to love others and make them happy is quite natural and the need to be viewed with positive regard by others is quite normal, it is when the desire to make others happy and be seen as a "good person" supersedes the need to take care of yourself where things become a problem. You could find yourself complaining that others never help you as much as you help them, or you may hear yourself complain about being tired. However, you keep doing things for other people just the same. Resentment sets in. You are drained and exhausted. Below you will find three ways to stop or cut back on this people-pleasing behavior, so you can enjoy yourself and be happier, while still showing others you care about them.

1. Understand what need of yours is being met by helping and taking care of others.

You first want to ask yourself, "Why are you spending more energy than you have doing what others want or what you think they want?" Answer that honestly. If you realize you don't know why, or you realize it is for some reason that does not really matter to you anymore (like "I just have to"), then you know you have a chance to change.

Often, this pattern is set up unknowingly in childhood. Instead of true unconditional love and regard, we learn that our parents will love us and be happy with us if we do what they want, when they want it. Parents do not mean to raise people-pleasers, but at the same time, they do want their kids to "behave". As we become adults, sometimes, we project that learned behavior onto all relationships and feel people will "be mad at us" or "not like us" if we do not do what we sense they want from us. Some people may also feel they are not wanted or needed if others can find someone else to help them. That relates back to the same learned behavior, "They like me, because I did what they wanted." Learning that you are likable even when you do nothing for someone else, and learning to allow others to find help elsewhere sometimes is a MUST. Sometimes all you need is the self-awareness that you are doing this to yourself, because you want to be needed and well liked. Practicing saying, "No", and not being the person that 'saves the day' all the time, may be uncomfortable at first, but is it very empowering. You're still loveable when you are not the life-saving friend. Remembering this and giving yourself permission to say, "No; not this time" can prevent burn-out and resentment.

2. Consider what makes good boundaries.

It is very difficult to convince ourselves that it is okay to say, "No", at first. We are so good at convincing ourselves that we have to do this or that for whatever reason. We tell ourselves that it is only a little money or a little bit of time. We feel as if we will be shamed or people will talk badly about us, so we dare not say, "Maybe next time". We feel we have to have a legitimate excuse; such as, "I have to work" or you have some other conflict. Why is it NOT okay to just say that you can't or you do not want to? No other qualifier needed. Guilt and shame are pervasive in child rearing, as well as many religions and cultures, so we are inundated with the feelings that we have no choice accept to do what is expected of us. However, you almost always have a choice.

Understanding that doing what is best for you and your family, even if it is sitting outside and watching the fireflies, doing a meditation alone in your room, or taking a nap, is critical. It is important to be balanced, connected to self, and rested. This is important, because you feel better after doing these things. Feeling good is a way to bring your best self to the world. When did you decide you had to feel bad to feel that you were worthy or important enough? Who said struggle is the way to be a good person? I want to challenge any thinking along those lines. If you agree with me that you are ready to do things differently, and feel better, then understanding boundaries is helpful.

Boundaries are ways we set limits, or say that this takes priority today, or this is important even if you don't think so. However, we don't always grow up understanding healthy boundaries. We often learn things like: 1) How I feel must depend on how you feel. If mom is happy, then I can relax and be happy. If dad is mad, I must be guilty of doing something wrong. or 2) I don't have permission to do or feel something other then what everyone else is doing or feeling. If the entire family is staying up late watching a movie, you'd be a party-pooper if you go to bed early. There must be something wrong with you to do that. If everyone you know recommends a certain movie and you don't want to watch it, you must be rude or antisocial or something. Learning to say things like, "No, I am not rude, I have things to do that take a priority over watching that movie right now. I'm glad you liked it." Or telling yourself that you are not responsible for how someone else sees a situation, how they behave, or how they feel. You can't be. You have enough to do to be responsible for how you take a situation, how you behave, and how you feel. Think about that. Putting things back into "your pile" and "my pile", can make your life a lot less stressful. Clear boundaries help you do that.

3. Reflect on why you need to ask for help when you need it.

If you help others but do not let others help you, what are you doing to yourself? What are you saying to those you help? Are you saying, "You're too weak or needy, so I will help you. But, me, I'm strong and amazing and don't need your help." Did you ever think about it that way? Asking for and letting others help you, allows the give and take a relationship needs. It allows everyone to contribute, while allowing everyone to voice what they need. It allows us all to be human, to feel better, and avoid build up of negative thoughts and feelings.

If you want professional help in seeing and changing these patterns, please contact us:

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