In my previous blog post, I wrote about how to say no with kindness and respect. While exploring the reasons that saying no is difficult, something came up that really resonated with the More to Mum community – people pleasing.
I received numerous messages from mums, saying they felt so overwhelmed by the need to please others, even though they could see it was to their own detriment. But they don’t know how to stop people pleasing.
So, I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the habit of people pleasing. That’s right, it’s a habit. It’s not part of who you are (even if it feels that way), and there’s nothing wrong with you. Over time, and usually beginning in childhood, you have developed this habit. And now, as an adult, you get to choose whether you want to hold onto this habit, that is not contributing to your wellbeing and happiness.
What is people pleasing and why do we do it?
People pleasing is putting other people’s needs before your own, due to a desire for approval and connection. Generally, when we people please we’re trying to trying to create a positive response from the other person, or avoid a negative one.
People pleasing can look like an incredible amount of “niceness”. On the outside, it’s all hard work, selflessness and helpfulness. But, as Harriet B Braiker, author of the book “The Disease to Please”, says,
“Niceness is the psychological armour of the people-pleaser.”
Through people pleasing, we try to create a situation where we feel accepted, liked, valued, worthy or appreciated. Or, where we don’t feel guilty, disappointed, anxious, worried, rejected, unworthy, unlovable or scared.
Harriet created the 10 commandments of people pleasing, which describe the thinking behind people pleasing behaviour.
- I should always do what others want, expect or need from me.
- I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not.
- I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
- I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
- I should always put other people first, before me.
- I should never say “no” to anyone who needs or requests something of me.
- I should never disappoint anyone or let others down in any way.
- I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others.
- I should always try to please other people and make them happy.
- I should try to never burden others with my own needs or problems.
Do you notice yourself thinking or acting on many of these?
As I mentioned, many people start to learn people pleasing when they are very young. Children are driven by a need for love and connection and sometimes we get the messages (intentionally or not) that we need to comply, conform or act in a certain way to be deserving of that love and connection.
Many of us have also been taught that putting other’s needs first, and being selfless, is the morally higher ground and what “good” people do. The more we think and act in this way, the more our brain learns this as a pattern and habit.
By the time we are adults, this is all deeply ingrained and automatic. Our brains follow the same pattern without realising that it’s actually not in our best interests.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting people to be happy and wanting to help them, but when it’s to the detriment of your wellbeing and happiness, and coming from a place of fear, it’s time to rethink things.
How people pleasing can affect you
If you have a tendency to people please you may be suppressing a lot of your emotions, because you have to ignore your own preferences and feelings to prioritise those of others. This may lead to feelings of resentment, sadness and anger.
You are likely to also be feeling a lot of stress, pressure, anxiety, guilt and fear in the process of constantly trying to choose responses that will please all the people in your life.
You may notice that it’s really hard to be your authentic self in relationships, when you are withholding your true feelings and desires. It’s exhausting to be always managing people’s perceptions of you, and trying to edit the parts of yourself you share.
Sadly, the people in your life are missing out on being able to know and love you for who you really are, when you withhold part of yourself. You may be limiting how much you can contribute to the world, as your true self. For example, you might withhold your valuable opinions at work and you might have no time or energy left to contribute your talents in the areas you are passionate about. You might never achieve the things that are important to you, because you’re so busy doing things for everyone else.
Here’s the problem, lovely. You can’t actually control what others think of you or how they will treat you, even if you please them all the time.
Additionally, there’s never an end to what others can ask of you. It’s impossible to make everyone happy and keep them that way. You become overcommitted. Your attention and energy are spread so thin that you could eventually burn out. You may even find that some people take advantage of your desire to please.
People pleasing doesn’t lead to that happiness, love and security that you’re looking for. Because when you look for those things externally, you’re looking to things that are out of your control. You might feel responsible for other people’s emotions and experiences but in reality, they are responsible for this.
You are only responsible for yourself. The only thing you can control is yourself. The way you see things, the way you respond to others, the choices you make, the habits you chose to create and maintain, the love you give to yourself, what you believe about yourself, and how you use your time and attention.
You have a choice to stop people pleasing and start honouring your own needs and desires (respectfully, of course).
How to stop people pleasing
Here are 10 tips to help you stop people pleasing.
1. Know your priorities and boundaries
It’s much better to be prepared with these in mind, before you find yourself in a situation where you need to make a decision.
- What’s most important to you?
- What do you want to be spending your time and energy on?
- What don’t you want to be spending your time and energy on?
- What won’t you tolerate in your life anymore?
2. Take responsibility for your own happiness and wellbeing
No one else can do this for you. Taking care of others, is not the same as taking care of yourself. Instead of trying to make others feel good, find what makes you feel good. Find what makes you feel confident. Do more of that so you don’t have to look externally for these things.
3. Identify what it is that you get out of people pleasing
The good and the bad. Do you like being the go-to person or someone who has a high capacity? Why is this important to you? How do you feel when you ignore your own needs? What are you scared will happen if you don’t please others? Is this the reality?
4. Give yourself time to consider your answer
Don’t respond straight away if at all possible. Say that you need time to think about it or that you need to check your calendar. Take a short pause to allow yourself time to choose a response that is true to you, rather than running that old pattern of people pleasing.
5. Check in with yourself when you need to make a decision
Think about what you are being asked to do. Focus on how your body feels. Do you feel contraction, tension or aching of any kind (probably a ‘no’), or do you feel light, relaxed and expanded (that’s a yes!)? Also, ask yourself:
- Do I want to do this? Why? Make your decisions from your heart.
- What would I do if I didn’t need to please anyone else?
6. Start small
Perhaps it feels terrifying to go straight to telling your mother in law that you can’t have the next family gathering at your house. Instead, start with something like speaking up when your coffee has been made incorrectly at a café.
7. Find a safe person to practice with
Practice how you will deal with the situations you find most challenging or prepare for a specific situation with someone who you trust. You can find more tips on how to say no here.
8. Work on your self talk
What are you saying to yourself when you set a boundary? Is it something that makes you feel worse about yourself, more guilty, more anxious, etc?
Try something more helpful such as:
- I can set boundaries and still be a loving and kind person.
- I’m doing the right thing.
- It’s ok, I can do this.
- This is really hard. I will get through this.
- This is really uncomfortable because it’s new to me. I’m learning how to set healthy boundaries.
- I feel scared, but I am safe and I will be ok.
9. Find ways to soothe or calm yourself
Setting boundaries will likely bring up some uncomfortable feelings. You might also notice physical responses like tension, upset stomach or sweating. Strategies like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation, or listening to your favourite music may help. Remember that uncomfortable feelings are OK. Accept rather than resist them. If you’ve been saying yes to everything, some people will not like the fact that you are setting boundaries. That’s for them to manage and at the end of the day you will be fine. The people who really love and care about you will get it in time.
10. Find people who love you and make you feel great without expecting you to bend over backwards for them
If there are people in your life who expect you to always do what they want at the expense of your own wellbeing and happiness, then consider whether that relationship is toxic. Surround yourself with supportive, genuine people who will respect your choices.
Remember, as with anything new, it will take time to create a new habit. Those old people pleasing patterns are automatic, so sometimes you won’t catch them before the words are out of your mouth. That’s ok! Be kind and compassionate to yourself, and remember that mistakes are part of learning. You will get there. One step at a time.
Lovely mum, you have a choice!
What are you going to do first, to help you stop people pleasing?