One of the most profound challenges of my adult life has been to shift my “people pleasing” behavior and practice how to say “no” to others and “yes” to myself. For years I feared that I was worthless without the love and approval of others. I gave until I had nothing left to give because of my deep feelings of inadequacy.
In her book Why Good People Do Bad Things: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy, Debbie Ford explains that the challenge of the people pleaser is “to feel the hidden emotions that they suppress through the act of giving” and “recognize how in need they are of their own charity.” Once a people pleaser learns that it was not their job to please others “they can focus their attention on the one person they do have the power to please: themselves”.
It may sound simple, but for the people pleaser it is very difficult to shift these habitual patterns. The guilty feelings and worry that result from just one “no” can be overwhelming when you base your worth on the approval of others. I found that as I practiced conscious choice, I began to see that by pleasing others, making “nice”, feeding my own need to be appreciated, was deeply damaging. I kept others from finding their own solutions and appreciating their own inner strength. I created more problems by rushing in to put out a fire just to find that my water hose held gasoline! How? People pleasing can lead to taking sides, sometimes both sides, gossiping while trying to “fix things”. Suddenly I was in the middle of something I couldn’t easily extract myself from without more people pleasing. I recognized this exhausting cycle as truly destructive to myself and others.
Pleasing others leads to trouble as you give away your time, resources and energy in your ongoing effort. Being “nice” and saying “yes”, when you’d rather care for yourself by saying “no”, leads to resentment toward the very people you are trying to please! A no win situation.
How do you break the people pleasing cycle? The first thing to do is “fess up”. Recognize that you are a people pleaser and know that deep down inside you aren’t a bad person, that your desire to please is truly from a core of goodness and caring.
Second, ask yourself this question: Am I standing in my power or am I trying to please another? (From The Right Questions by Debbie Ford) Give yourself the time and space to make a clear choice centered in your personal integrity. Understand that when you give up people pleasing you risk not being liked, but it’s likely an unhealthy relationship if it can’t withstand your empowerment. Those who truly care about you may be confused by your change in behavior; ultimately they will respect and love you more for taking good care of yourself. You’ll also be empowering them through your new choices. You’ll set an example for others on how to have healthy personal boundaries.
What about saying “yes” to others sometimes? You will. And when you do you’ll feel the joy of standing in your power and giving from your heart. When you say “yes” to yourself first, everyone wins!