I’ve often wondered if I suppressed my tears when I was born, in fear of upsetting the doctor and my parents.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this about myself, as many of my childhood memories involve a fear of causing trouble, and an even greater fear of the consequences.
As I grew older, I began to shape-shift to please the people around me. It was exhausting, but I frequently tried to control their perception of me so I could feel confident I was likely to receive their approval.
I was always hyper-vigilant in a group dynamic, monitoring the room for signs that someone may be angry, annoyed, or otherwise bothered by me.
Since I was highly empathetic, and paranoid—and I couldn’t read people’s minds—I often recognized emotions in others and attributed them to something I said or did “wrong.”
Thus began the draining dance of trying to win them over again. But because they were likely feeling something that had nothing to do with me, I’d ultimately feel even worse after trying to earn some type of validation and failing.
Very few people knew the real me—and I wasn’t sure I did, either—which meant I felt incredibly alone.
It’s taken me years to understand the roots of my people-pleasing instincts, and to challenge them so I can form authentic relationships based not on fear and need, but rather love and mutual respect.
Since I still struggle with this from time to time, I was eager to read Micki Fine’s book The Need to Please: Mindfulness Skills to Gain Freedom from People Pleasing and Approval Seeking.
A certified mindfulness teacher, Micki Fine has written an insightful book that delves into the causes of people-pleasing, and offers tools to overcome it with non-judgment and self-compassion.
If you’re tired of worrying about what people think of you, and beating yourself up when you fear you’ve lost their approval, The Need to Please could be life-changing for you.
I’m grateful that Micki took the time to answer some questions about her book and people-pleasing, and that she’s offered two free copies to Tiny Buddha readers.
To enter to win one of two free copies of The Need to Please:
- Leave a comment below
- For an extra entry, tweet: Enter the @tinybuddha giveaway to win a free copy of The Need to Please http://bit.ly/1CQUh66
You can enter until midnight, PST, on Friday, July 24th.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write this book.
My childhood taught me in many ways to be a people pleaser, and I lived it unconsciously for a long time.
In my mid-thirties a series of events helped me wake up a bit. As a result, I decided to follow my own path and went back to school to become a psychotherapist after being a CPA for many years. I also started meditating.
In 1994, when I saw Jon Kabat-Zinn on the PBS series, Healing and the Mind, I had a deep sense of knowing that I wanted to teach mindfulness and eventually became a certified MBSR teacher.
The idea for the book came during meditation. I ignored that idea for some time but at a certain point I simply had to pay attention.
2. What causes some people to become people-pleasers and others to feel less dependent on external validation?
When our parents reflect our goodness back to us appropriately and accept us as we are, we can grow to trust our own experience and feel worthwhile. The greater the love and acceptance, the less we feel the need to look outside ourselves.
When love and acceptance is inadequately shown, our hearts are wounded. (We all share some level of this wounding.) Because of this treatment, we can grow up feeling insignificant, unworthy, and fearful and then look to others for the love and acceptance we didn’t get enough of as children.
The experience of abuse, neglect, and abandonment are obvious indicators that we have not been treasured as children. Other experiences affect us too: having parents make all decisions for us as if we don’t matter, being told we need to be different than we are, and having love withheld if certain conditions are not met.
3. How can mindfulness help us overcome the need to please?
Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when you bring open-hearted, non-judgmental awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness helps you wake up to life.
When you know you have only this moment to live, you might be moved to live life as if it matters. This helps you get off autopilot, like when you’re in the shower but thinking about someone’s opinion of you.
If you decide to be present, you might catch your mind wandering to worry and intentionally decide to experience the pleasant sensations of the shower.
Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, whether you set time aside from your daily activities to meditate or intentionally experience the present moment as it is.
Through mindfulness practice we come home to ourselves after having our focus on others and what we think they want from us. We gain an intimacy with the body, our thoughts, and emotions instead of running away from ourselves.
As we come to know ourselves better, mindfulness asks us to let go of judgment and allow things to be as they are, instead of struggling to make things different.
This attitude helps us to relate to life and ourselves with kindness and compassion, making it possible to befriend our lives. We develop the capacity to relate to things in a radically different way: less reactivity and more lovingly.
A wondrous thing that can happen through this allowing, kind-hearted, present-moment attention is that we come home to our inner loveliness through which we begin to trust ourselves instead of relying on others.
Mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation can help us value ourselves after spending years thinking we are not okay. When we know our true nature of love we can truly feel at home.
4. What do you think is the key difference between generosity and unhealthy self-sacrifice?
I think a big difference is whether a caretaker behavior is motivated out of love or fear. Of course there can be a mix of motivations; our lives are complex. With mindfulness we can help discern more skillfully our feelings and motivations.
I think it’s important to say that sometimes we do have to and want to make sacrifices for others. But, once again, is the behavior motivated out of love or fear?
5. What are some of the most common people-pleasing behaviors, and how do these negatively impact our lives?
The main behavior is doing whatever others want you to do even to the detriment of your well-being. In addition to the behavior, there is constant worry and hyper-vigilance to determine others’ imagined needs and what we should do.
Another behavior is the inability to say no when you want or need to. A particularly sad behavior is not following your own path.
The people pleasing cycle fuels feelings of anxiety, shame, and resentment. It is exhausting, as we focus almost completely outside ourselves, making it difficult to know our inner loveliness and wisdom, which in turn keeps us from valuing and trusting ourselves in order to act of our own volition. It is a self- perpetuating cycle.
There are two important ideas here.
One is that people pleasing is, at its core, an attempt to find love and to be free. To remind ourselves of that deep loving intention when we get caught up in people pleasing can help us to have compassion for ourselves and not be so self-critical.
Another important thing is that our attempts to please others can never yield the experience of unconditional love precisely because our effort involves doing something to earn love. But since it is a self perpetuating cycle we keep trying in vain to earn love.
6. I found the section on “the unspoken contract,” in Chapter 4, particularly eye-opening. Can you tell us a little about this and how people-pleasing creates an imbalance in relationships?
One might think that being the partner on the receiving end of people pleasing would be great. You get everything done for you! However, the “unspoken contract” is that the receiver of all the caretaking is obliged to love the people pleaser unconditionally and never abandon him or her in return for all the caretaking.
This is an impossible task because both partners have human hearts that are wounded and thus rarely capable of giving and receiving perfect love. Not only is this contract unspoken but it is unconscious and creates resentment, anger and disappointment for both partners due to the untenable expectations.
7. In Chapter 6, there’s a heading that reads, “It’s not the thoughts that drive us crazy.” Can you expand on this?
Two things come to mind. One is that a thought is simply an event in the mind (even the one that tells you it’s not). As we meditate we begin to find that thoughts simply come and go without our bidding and most of them are not true. The mind simply has a mind of its own. In other words, thoughts are not our fault.
The other idea is that what we resist persists. We struggle with our thoughts, either trying to think “good” or “happy” thoughts or get rid of difficult thoughts. This can elicit a fair amount of discontent because the mind is like a two-year old who is having a tantrum.
The harder you try to control the child having the tantrum, the more he or she kicks and screams.
Taking our thoughts personally and struggling with them only serves to make the mind more agitated. So it is not the thought itself that makes us suffer, but how we relate to the thought.
Through the active process of mindfulness, we practice kind, accepting observation of our thoughts so we can see thought as events in the mind that are not you.
8. What’s one simple thing we can do to ground ourselves and get out of our head when we feel overwhelmed by people-pleasing thoughts?
When you feel overwhelmed with thoughts, give yourself a chance to regroup by grounding your awareness in sensate experiences. Precisely notice your moment-to-moment physical experience.
For example, if you’re taking a sip of water, notice your arm muscles moving as you reach for the glass, the feel of the glass as you touch it, the temperature of the glass on your lips, the feel of the water in your mouth, and the sensations of swallowing and the water flowing down your esophagus.
Notice how you feel afterward. You may be more grounded and able to access a more independent perspective.
9. In the chapter on befriending your emotions, you shared a helpful acronym, RAIN, from mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald. Can you share a little about this and how it can help us deal with difficult feelings?
RAIN is a non-linear process of Recognizing, Allowing, Investigating, and Non-Identifying.
To work skillfully with our emotions we first need to release ourselves from autopilot by taking a conscious breath and bringing awareness to the present-moment experience of the emotion.
We recognize the emotion is present perhaps by silently saying “anxiety is here.” Allowing the emotion means that we let go of struggling with the emotion. Most of the time we try to make difficult emotions go away and hang on to the pleasant ones. Instead we cultivate a kind, friendly attitude toward the emotion.
Then we investigate the emotion by dropping into the body to explore the sensations with compassionate curiosity. We non-identify when we remember that everyone suffers and that we are not alone. This can help us feel comforted because it helps us take the emotion less personally.
Practiced together we can bring a friendlier attitude toward our emotions.
It is important to practice RAIN with patience, kindness, and non-striving. For example, sometimes it is not possible to allow an emotion to be present, but we can allow the resistance. We need to be charitable with ourselves.
10. What’s one thing we can do daily to develop self-compassion so we can give ourselves the approval we’ve so desperately sought from others?
Offering ourselves compassion can be a beautiful thing. It can interrupt the harshness with which we treat ourselves and provide an opportunity to choose more wisely what comes next.
For those of us experiencing people pleasing difficulties, it is important to do things that focus us inward, recognize perfectionism at work, and give kind understanding and compassion to our humanity.
Here is one such practice. When you notice a people pleasing or other stressful moment, stop and take a breath. Then speak to yourself in a way that recognizes the moment as being difficult and also offers kind words toward you.
Using a pet name that reminds you of your goodness can add a touch of kindness. Also, adding a physical gesture such has putting your hand on your heart or cheek can help foster gentleness.
For example, with hand on heart, you could tell yourself “Dearest, this is really hard. How can I take care of you now?” My book has many suggestions about self-compassion.
You can learn more about The Need to Please on Amazon here.
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