Hello, my name is Edith, and I am a recovered people pleaser.
Back then I would put everybody’s needs ahead of my own; my family, my neighbors, my friends, my coworkers—even total strangers! And you would think that spending all my life trying to please people would make me feel all good inside, but it did not.
The truth is I felt terrible inside.
I felt used and taken for granted. Every time I pushed what I really wanted to please people, I felt powerless and unable to stand up for myself.
Yep, that was me. I was so scared of confrontation, I would go to any lengths to avoid it. Whenever I felt someone took advantage of me, rather than confront them, I would just phase away; lose contact with them.
After many years of abandoning my own needs, I eventually fell into depression. I knew I wanted to stop the cycle—I tried, but it seemed I was doomed to stay a people pleaser forever.
How I Eventually Left People Pleasing Behind
I remember the moment like it was yesterday.
A friend of mine had asked me to help her with packing for her big move, and even though I had pressing things to do, I could not bring myself to say no.
Like the true-to-life people pleaser that I was at the time, I showed up on time and waited in the car beside her house. 30 minutes later, my friend still had not shown up.
A few minutes later, I decided to call:
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, “I was really busy. I will get there as soon as I can.”
“No rush,” was my reply. “Take your Time.”
The second I uttered those words, I felt disgusted with myself for being so spineless. Sitting there in front of the wheel, I shook my head at how easily I allowed anybody to walk all over me. I decided something had to give.
That experience was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided to make a change and stop pleasing people at my own expense.
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As a people pleaser, you might find yourself saying things like –
• “That’s okay, your loud music doesn’t bother me.”—even though you are preparing for a major exam.
• “Sure, I don’t mind doing your work for you”—even though it is the end of the work day, and you have other important things to do.
• “Yeah, I would love to go out on a night around the town with you guys.”—even though you are dead on your feet and would love nothing better than to hit the sheets.
• “Oh that’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to leave that where water would fall on it and destroy it. We all make mistakes.”—whenever somebody borrows your stuff and fails to take good care of it.
If you are reading this article, I suspect you have reached that turning point too, of experiencing too much pain that you just can’t take it anymore.
I want to let you know that change is possible. But before we talk about how you can stop people pleasing and start living for you, it is important to explore why you bend over backward to please people in the first place.
Why You Feel So Compelled to Please People
First things first: It’s not your fault that you are a people pleaser.
Your undesired urge for pushing your needs aside in order to please others is 100% learned.
Most likely, you learned it in childhood as the caregivers around consciously or unconsciously made you understand your needs—the things you really wanted to do, feel, or become—were not important.
You learned to give up what mattered to you in exchange for catering to the needs and feelings of others — a job that never belonged to you in the first place.
Maybe when you were a little boy, you really wanted to do ballet but your macho dad thought it was “too girly” and signed you up for boxing instead. Maybe as a girl you really liked running around in the hedges like the boys do, but your mom demanded you to stop it right away.
Or you may have heard them say things like –
• “I’m your mother so I know what is best for you.”
• “I hate it when you act this way”
• “That is a dumb idea, how can you say that?”
• “Don’t bother me, you cannot have a Popsicle!”
• “Why are you this way? Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
• “I don’t like your friends…they dress and talk funny.”
And so on and so forth.
You interpreted your parents’ negative reactions to your needs as abandonment. As a substantial threat for your survival.
As a child, you took the blame inward for their behaviors: “The things I say are stupid, that’s why mom always shouts when I speak up. I better stay quiet from now on.”
So eventually you developed the pattern of “if I won’t do what they want, they will leave me”. Your life depends upon your parent’s love and protection.
Destructive as it may be, this pattern served and protected you. You see, the child version of you could not possibly allow such a dreadful scenario to happen.
Therefore, out of an absolute automated process, you made a fatal choice to relinquish your needs, wants and what’s true for you, to ensure your parents’ love and protection – to ensure your existence.
And that imposed silence and fear of abandonment followed you into adulthood, long after you had left the nest.
Your brain learned to associate others’ lack of approval as abandonment. Deep down you are terrified you will DIE if others will not like you.
So you must always please them, to avoid triggering this existential anxiety. Your lizard brain is convinced that you NEED others’ love and validation in order to survive.
A child living in such a restrictive environment quickly absorbs the wrong messages. They assume their desires are not relevant; they quickly conclude that they are not worthy of having their needs met.
Today you are an adult who feel if people don’t approve of you, you will die. So you go all out to please them. And then console yourself with the hollow joy that comes with “surviving”.
But are you really surviving?
Constantly pleasing others at your expense for no reason is a constant sacrifice of your being. Your inability to prioritize your needs without feeling guilty about it, pushes you to constantly do things for others at your own expense.
As a result, you feel terrible instead of being happy.
People pleasing doesn’t feel good. Deep inside you become a bitter, depressed, submissive, and angry human being who is terrified of staying true to yourself. You secretly resent everybody while smiling outwardly.
But the most painful part of it all is that you resent yourself the most. You are a coward and you know it.
People pleasing even affects the physical body—all of those I’ve met either have stiff necks and shoulders or back problems. Some also have IBS and Candida!
They neglected their needs and wants so systematically, that all of these feelings just rotten inside their body.
How to Stop Trying to Please People
Get Comfortable Feeling Uncomfortable
The fears that lie at the bottom of your people pleasing are real and very strong. So get used to feeling uncomfortable whenever you put your foot down and say no.
You may feel your temperature rise, your heart rate quicken, and shortness of breath like you are in an existential crisis—you’re not. The more you say no and choose to live for you, the more this fear will dissipate.
Have Talk With Yourself
Am I doing this for me or simply to please this person? Have this conversation with yourself whenever you suspect you are not quite sure about your intentions for agreeing to do something. Mindfulness is important to self-healing.
Watch Your Mouth
People pleasers have a way of shooting themselves down with their words. When I was still pleasing people, I would reply, “Sure, no problem” whenever someone thanked me. Today, I confidently say, “You are welcome”.
I know the value I provide when I choose to do something for another.
You Don’t Have to Respond Immediately
When you receive a request from the people you are used to pleasing, politely tell them you will need time to think about it. This response is advantageous because it gives you time to be mindful of your intentions and have that important internal dialogue.
Also, you could just say no—you are not going to die—and change your mind later if you have to. This is easier than saying yes and then trying to back out later, right?
If you are ready to put yourself first, as you deserve, without feeling you’re doing something wrong, check out an outstanding tool that can set you on the path of healing.