Do you find it almost impossible to say 'No'?
Are you constantly overextending yourself for others and neglecting your own needs?
Do you feel as though people take advantage of your kindness and generosity?
Do you just agree with everyone around you, even when you don't actually agree in your heart?
Do you need to have praise and validation from others to feel good about yourself?
Do you feel responsible for managing other people's emotions, especially their happiness?
Can you not stand the idea of someone being upset or disappointed in you?
Do you have a difficult time setting boundaries and enforcing them?
Then you might be a people-pleaser!
What is People-Pleasing?
According to Dr. Susan Newman, author of "The Book of No-- Stop People Pleasing Forever!", people-pleasers want everyone around them to be happy at any cost, including (and usually) at the cost of their own needs, happiness, and safety.
People-pleasers will do whatever it takes to avoid conflict with the ones they seek to be close to. Underlying their behavior is a deep, and sometimes unconscious fear of being abandoned, rejected, or neglected. And because their entire identity relies on the validation and praise of others, they will do anything to get it-- even if it's in a way that hurts them or causes discomfort.
For some, saying "yes" can even become an emotional addiction, because it makes them feel like they are needed and vital when it comes to contributing to someone else's life. When you're always the go-to person, you feel important, valuable, and worthy-- something we all naturally crave (and should have!) in our lives.
This kind of behavior develops unconsciously during our childhood and adolescence. When we are first forming our identities, we are doing so in the context of how others treat and feel about us. Small instances of emotional rejection, abandonment, and/or neglect can lead us to believe that we as our true selves are not worthy of love, and can create an anxiety around figuring out how to make people stay. Because we don't yet know who we are, how other people treat and feel about us make a huge impact on how we see ourselves and our own value. We don't have the capability of understanding yet, that the things people say about us don't actually equate to who we really are.
So, as we continue through life we learn to cope with this dilemma by shrinking into ourselves. We lose our identity when around other people, always adapting and molding ourselves into being whatever they need from us, all just to avoid being rejected or abandoned. We'll ignore our boundaries, needs, and values in order to keep these people in our lives, even if it puts us in compromising or uncomfortable situations. But this way of living ultimately can't serve us in the long term, because we end up feeling resentful, unfulfilled, and incapable of having deeper, more meaningful relationships with others.
But this way of living ultimately can't serve us in the long term, because we end up feeling resentful, unfulfilled, and incapable of having deeper, more meaningful relationships with others.
6 Ways to Stop People-Pleasing
Now that we know the basics, how do we start moving away from this self-sacrificing behavior and reclaiming our inner self-worth? Here are a few tips to help you start saying "No" to others, and "Yes!!" to yourself:
1. Internal Validation
When we seek out approval from others to validate our worth, we place all the power in the other person's hands. We need to realize that we have a choice and we don't have to give them that authority over our lives. By learning how to validate our own worth we can take that power back! We can do this by creating self-care routines, journaling about our experiences, affirmations, meditation, and setting boundaries that align with our core values, We can also do this by doing things that make us feel empowered and happy, things that make us feel capable, and by spending time around people who make us feel awesome without having to do anything for them in return.
We don't want our confidence to be entirely based on external forces, because then we become a slave to making sure those external forces are happy at all costs. Instead, we create that inner confidence by giving ourselves the love, attention, and approval we have been so desperately seeking from others.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Say "No"
People-pleasers traditionally have an extremely difficult time saying "No" to others. We often feel obligated to be there for others', and feel like denying their requests means we are being "mean". They may even manipulate us into thinking this is true. But what's really true is that we have to learn how to set boundaries to protect our emotional, physical, and mental selves, and that means learning how to say "No" to honor those boundaries. It doesn't mean that we are being hurtful towards someone when we opt to take care of ourselves first! Remember, this is YOUR life to live-- you have a choice and you are allowed to say "No" whenever you want to. How other people react is on them-- not you.
It can be really intimidating to start saying "No" more often, so I suggest starting small. If your default answer is "Sure", next time someone asks something of you take a moment to pause and really think it through. Is this something you want to do? Is it going to come at the expense of something else important to you? Is it something you're comfortable with that aligns with you beliefs and values? Do you have the time? Don't rush to say "Yes", and weigh how it might affect your wellbeing.
The easiest way to go about this in the beginning is to practice stalling and saying small "No's". Let's say a friend asks you to borrow your favorite shirt, and you don't know if you're comfortable with it since she usually ends up trashing your stuff. You can say something like, "You know what? I'm actually not sure-- I might want to wear it. Let me get back to you on that." This gives you time and space to breathe and think about how you want to handle it. If you're ready to say "No", you can say something like: "I thought about it and although you're a good friend of mine, I'm just not comfortable lending out my clothing anymore. I hope you can understand." If they ask "Why?", you are not obligated to give any kind of explanation unless you want to. You can even keep repeating that you just aren't comfortable, and that you're honoring how you feel. If the other person has a problem with you setting this boundary, then it might be time to see if this is a toxic relationship. True friends allow us to have boundaries without any problems.
3. Get Clear on Your Goals and Values
When we don't know what's most important to us and where we consciously want to take our lives, it's much easier to fall into people-pleasing patterns. But when we can get really clear about our goals and values, suddenly it's a lot easier to say "No" to anything that doesn't serve them. When we live in alignment with our deepest values and are consciously working towards our goals, that's when we experience true flow, confidence, and happiness! I suggest writing down what you think your values and goals are, and then only say "Yes" to the things that serve them and move them forward.
4. Get Rid of Toxic and Manipulative People
People-pleasers often attract toxic relationships by virtue of their self-sacrificing behavior. Chances are you're actually thinking about that person (or people!) right now. You might have a toxic person in your life that's constantly asking you for favors, or to do things you're uncomfortable with, or even flattering you with compliments in order to guilt you into doing something for them. These people are NOT your friend. I repeat, these people are not there for your best interests!
If you're ever going to get out of the cycle of people-pleasing, it's imperative to weed out these kinds of people from your life. Yes, it's difficult and might be painful, but these people are causing you pain every single day that they are keeping you in this pattern of putting yourself last. Try setting boundaries with these people at first, because some may adapt and change to honor them-- but this is rare. Most times when people-pleasers decide to stop doing it, those who benefitted from their selflessness (aka the toxic people) put up massive resistance. They don't want to lose that person who bends over backwards for them, because it would make them responsible for themselves! They will get upset, they'll try to tempt you back into old habits, and they may even resort to using guilt or shame to keep you under their control. So, just be wary that this may happen.
The good news is that although this may be uncomfortable and maybe a little painful, you will survive without them. In fact, you'll THRIVE! Even more, you make room for new people to enter your life who will be supportive, caring, and respectful of you. These people will allow you to truly be yourself and it is the most incredible feeling in the world!
5. Stop Apologizing
Don't apologize for prioritizing yourself. People-pleasers are habitual apologizers and rush to immediately take the blame or responsibility for things that have nothing to do with them. Pay attention to when you're apologizing and really take time to consider if you're really at fault. Ask yourself if you're truly responsible for the situation. You'll find that the answer is usually no.
Try to find alternative ways of expressing what you mean that don't include saying sorry, unless you really need to. For example, if someone is complaining about the bad day they're having and your response is usually, "I'm so sorry that happened!", switch it out with, "That sounds really upsetting. Is there anything we can do to cheer you up?" If it's not your fault that they're having a bad day, then don't take responsibility for it! Remember, you are your biggest advocate. If you don't stand up for you, no one will.
6. Give Yourself Time and Compassion
This process of stopping people-pleasing is REALLY hard! It takes time, repetition, and lots of conscious changing. It means going against everything you know, everything that's been comfortable (although unpleasant), and your already deeply programmed subconscious mind. We live in our automatic behavior 95% of the time, so don't expect to make huge changes in one or two days. Take it one small step at a time, and try not to judge yourself or get frustrated when you feel there's a setback. It's all about trying again and again, and not giving up until you feel you've reached a place of empowerment and confidence.
I believe in you. I not only helped my clients through this process many times but I've also done the work myself. It's difficult, but it's entirely possible and it's one of the keys to unlocking the infinite potential of your life. Don't wait to reclaim your happiness-- it's what life is all about, isn't it?
Written By: Gabrielle Ortega, M.A.
Owner & Founder of OM Therapy Coaching