“One of the most freeing things we learn in life is that we don’t have to like everyone, everyone doesn’t have to like us, and it’s perfectly okay.” ~Unknown
I have a confession to make: I am a recovering people pleaser.
If I had a dollar for every time I did something that I didn’t want to do because I didn’t want people to be angry or disappointed if I said no, I would be a rich woman.
I say that I am recovering because, as with any ingrained pattern, sometimes I slip back into the tendency to put other people’s wants before myself and my needs.
When I talk about putting other people’s needs before your own as a pleaser, I don’t mean being there for someone or helping someone in a way that you want to. If you want to help someone, or you compromise with someone that you care about to come up with a solution that works for both of you, that’s healthy.
Pleaser behavior goes beyond this and becomes unhealthy when:
- You say yes to something that you really don’t want to do just to keep someone happy and have an ‘easy’ life
- You feel uncomfortable about a situation that you’re in but carry on regardless; for example, being asked to do something dishonest or that isn’t in line with your values
- You feel exhausted and depleted from putting everyone else’s needs before your own and not taking the time out to practice self-care
- If you do say no (for whatever reason) then you make excuses and spend a lot of time feeling guilty afterwards.
Luckily, there are some ways that you can start to manage your people pleaser tendencies. Here are five of the most effective actions and mindset shifts that have worked for me:
1. Make peace with the fact that not everyone is going to like you—and actually, that’s okay.
The quote at the start of this article says it all. It certainly set my own mindset shift into motion a few years ago when I decided enough was enough and that I was going to start putting myself first.
When I feel my own pleaser instincts kick in, I always take the time to remember that it’s okay for people not to like me; I don’t like everyone and everyone isn’t going to like me.
As a pleaser your main drive will be to do everything in your power to make someone like you. For me, and for many other pleasers, this comes from a place of severe low self-esteem. Basically, when people like you, you like yourself; when they don’t, your opinion of yourself drops.
The best way to lessen the need for validation from others is to start working on loving yourself and increasing your self-esteem.
As a starting point list all of the things that you love about yourself. Aim for at least ten things initially, and refer back to it and add to it regularly. Also, start treating yourself as you would a loved one or really good friend, and start connecting with people who love and accept themselves as they are. Model their behavior until it becomes your own.
2. Learn to say no in a way that feels okay to you. (No making excuses allowed!)
“No” is a word that many of us could stand to use a little more often. How many times have you said no only to go back on your decision when put under a little bit of pressure from another person?
I used to do that all the time, or I would say no and then make a number of excuses to justify my decision (many of these were white lies to make saying no more feasible).
The thing with making excuses rather than offering a firm and honest no, complete with a truthful reason that you can stick to, is that it opens up the possibility of negotiation with the other person. If that happens, your inner pleaser is likely to give in and you’ll once again find yourself doing things that you don’t want to do and putting yourself last.
So, how do you stop this behavior? Say no in a way that feels good to you, but in a way that is strong.
You don’t have to use a one-word answer, but you should be truthful; for example, “I would love to help, but unfortunately I have booked a me day that day,” or “That sounds like a great opportunity, but I think someone else would be better placed to help.”
Stick to the original answer and if someone tries to enter into negotiation them simply but firmly repeat it.
3. Accept that you will feel guilty when you say no to something the first few times.
Pleasers often feel guilty when they say no to a request. You probably feel that you are being selfish or that you have let someone down. This is misplaced guilt. You have done nothing wrong, and that person will most likely find another solution to their problem.
When you feel guilty, honor the feeling, but think about how much worse you would feel if you said yes to yet another thing that you didn’t want to do. The likelihood is that this would feel worse. Remember that the guiltily feeling will fade quickly.
If you feel that bad, grab your journal and list all the pros and cons of your decision. I bet the pros list is longer!
4. Start setting some boundaries.
It’s okay to put yourself first. In fact, you will be a happier, more productive, and more amazing person for it. The best way to do that? Set some boundaries. When we stand for nothing, we will fall for everything, as they say!
Find somewhere quiet, where you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and list all of the things that you’ve done over the past three to six months that you didn’t want to do.
Once you have your list, go through and write down the reasons that you didn’t want to do each thing. You will probably notice some recurring reasons; for example, it cut into my time with my family, it made me too tired, it wasn’t something I was comfortable doing because…
Use these reasons to start setting some boundaries for yourself. For example:
- Getting enough sleep is important to me. If it stops me getting eight hours a night I will say no.
- I don’t want to be around negative energy. If something is going to expose me to negative energy, I will say no.
- If something goes against my values of honesty and integrity, I will say no.
Start by setting yourself four or five boundaries at first, and then practice upholding these over the next few months. You can then add more and gradually build up knowing what you will and will not accept in your life.
5. Let go of the people who use your people pleaser tendencies on purpose.
As with anything in this life, there are people who will try to take advantage of your good nature.
As you begin to raise your levels of self-esteem and start to assert yourself, you will begin to see those who are trying to trigger your inner people pleaser for their own benefit.
They will be the ones who deliberately try to push your buttons, no matter how many times you say no. They will continue to overstep the boundaries that you set.
The best thing to do here is to let them fall away from your life and accept the lessons that they’ve taught you about who you are and what you want in life.
If it’s not possible the let someone go completely, if they are a family member for example, simply create some healthy distance and prepare for any meetings that you may have with them by reaffirming your boundaries to yourself.
Remember, this is a process and if you slip back into old behaviors don’t be too hard on yourself. But do keep going and making progress, your life and self-esteem will be much better as a result!