“The truth is, you’re never going to be able to please everybody, so stop trying. Remember, the sun is going to continue shining even if some people get annoyed by its light shining in their eyes. You have full permission to shine on.” ~Unknown
I used to be a rebel. I was the girl at the party who would waltz into a room and have everyone in awe, their attention and curiosity caught by my presence. I felt it, they felt it, it was magnetic. I loved it—I had become the girl I wanted to be.
That was until one night at a party, while I was making a batch of popcorn in the kitchen, someone came up to me and asked, “Why do you need to prove yourself all the time?”
This question caught me so off guard. I was instantly confused. I was staring into space trying to figure out how I was proving myself all the time. So, I asked exactly how I was doing this.
It turned out that when someone shared a story about themselves, I would share one of my own, and it came across as bigger and better. This person went on to tell me, “Actually, no one likes it, and it’s totally not necessary to win over your friends.”
Holy Moly. My blood started pumping faster through my veins, my face was burning up, my gut was wrenching at the thought of these people who I called friends not liking me. I thought I had finally found my community of like-minded souls.
In this exact moment, I made the biggest decision of my life.
It was time to squash down who I was, again. You see I was in my mid-twenties, and I finally felt free from my childhood patterns. I was confident. I had friends. I could finally be me—who I was without the filter.
They needed a toned-down version of me.
So, I began to hide.
I would sit in the corner or behind someone else. I wouldn’t share stories of my life adventures. I stopped dressing to impress. I apologized for silly things, and I watched every move I made around these people. It was exhausting, but the fear of them not liking me was crippling.
Over the years I perfected these new behaviors of how to not be “too much” for the people around me. I went from being a wild, carefree soul to someone who was filled with anxiety in every social scenario.
These new patterns overflowed into my work, family, relationships, and friendships. I became over-sensitive, reactive, and uncomfortable to be around.
After a decade of self-punishment, I was on a call with someone who I was working with, and they called me out for apologizing for not getting something right, even though it was the first time I had tried what they were teaching.
Then the words that flew out of my mouth were: I did it again.
Seriously, here I was, thinking I had it all figured out. I had adapted my behaviors, beliefs, patterns, and values to get through life, all in order to please other people. This was the slap on the face that I needed.
So, I went on a deep soul journey that involved journaling daily. I took a real good look at myself and what I had created in my life. I began evaluating friendships, my work, the people in my day-to-day life, my family, and my environment.
I had created a reality where I was no longer happy.
My life revolved around everyone else’s needs, and I placed them before my own. I had become so aware of people’s energy, reactions, body language, and tone that I felt like I was suffocating.
And for what?
To not have friends, to not have people like me, to sacrifice my life for others.
From that moment forward, I chose me.
In order to do that, I needed to recognize how I’d formerly denied myself and my feelings so I could become aware of when I was tempted to fall into old patterns.
Let me share with you the six personality types I lived through for a decade, how they play out in our daily lives, and how I overcame them.
The Six People-Pleasing Personality Types
The Approval Seeker
When I was living in approval-seeking mode, my actions were geared toward praise. I would do anything to be the best employee in my jobs, from working overtime to taking on extra responsibility. I would play by the rules when it came to my family, I would make an effort to be noticed by my friends all while chasing that sense of belonging.
Praise was the fuel that kept me going. It reinforced the things I was doing right.
The remedy to being an approval seeker is self-trust, owning my values and my beliefs instead of looking for external validation. I simply started by questioning my motives in my actions.
If I suspected I was doing something solely or primarily to receive approval, I asked myself, “Would I make this choice if I were being true and fair to myself?”
The Busy Bee
As a busy mumma of two, wife, business owner, sister, daughter, and friend, there was a time where I thought I had to keep it all together for everyone around me. I was the person who organized all the parties, Christmas dinners, birthday celebrations, family get-together, kids school activities, groceries, holidays, and anything else you can think of.
The people around me saw me as dependable and organized, and they knew that I would do any task to help out. Of course, without any fuss, because I was being of service to the ones I loved.
After I spotted a yoga class I really wanted to attend and realized I needed to make time in my schedule, I started to review my weekly routine. I realized I didn’t have to be everything for everyone, at all times, which was hard to accept, since “acts of service” is one of my love languages. But I knew being less busy was an act of kindness and love for myself.
The Conflict Avoider
When people raise their voice or assert their authority to me, I tend to crumble. It looks like I am still standing there, but in my mind, I’m in the fetal position on the floor.
Speaking up for what I believe in is sometimes easy when I am fueled by passion for topics I love, but there are a few people in my life who turn me back into the conflict avoider in a second.
In tense situations with these people, I often observe what is about to play out and create an exit strategy. I ask myself, “What do I need to do? Who do I need to be? What do I need to say to get me out of here?”
When I recognize I’m doing this, I now take a few breaths to ground myself before leaning into the discomfort I’m feeling. I consider how I can stay true to my values and respond in a way that opens the space for discussion.
This is the most common form of people-pleasing because it is driven by love. It happens with our nearest and dearest.
I once had a boyfriend who was into punk music, and slowly, over time, while dating him I turned into a punk chic. I listened to his music, I wore all black, I tore up my clothes, and I went from blonde to black hair. I would have done anything for his love.
Self-sacrificing is when we put others’ needs ahead of our own, fitting in with their agendas and adapting to them, yet in this process we lose small pieces of ourselves.
It’s a personal crime when this happens because it takes years to rediscover all the things we once loved.
Experimenting is the cure to finding that feeling of pure happiness we once held. I took belly dancing and various yoga classes, went for walks in different places, and challenged myself to try new and old things to see if they lit me up. I also reminded myself that I don’t need to sacrifice my interests and needs for anyone else because, if they truly love me, they’ll want me to honor those things.
Sorry! Oops, sorry. Oh yes, I would apologize for everything from accidentally bumping into someone at the grocery store to taking a long time getting drinks at a bar.
I eventually realized I apologized all the time because I believed I was at fault in each situation—not just super observant and sensitive to other people, as I’d formerly believed. I blamed myself for all kinds of things, from meeting my needs to taking up space.
One day I decided to walk the busy city streets with my head held high, no more side-stepping to get out of other people’s way or apologizing for almost bumping into them. I bit my tongue and simply reminded myself that it is okay to have my own agenda, I am not to blame for things that are out of my control, and I have a voice.
The Sensitive Soul
Often, I would guard myself against the world, even though I wanted to trust it, because I had a hard time creating emotional boundaries. The word “should” always hung over my head—I should always be available, I should be able to listen whenever someone needs me. But this took a huge toll.
Everyone would come to me to share their story, offload their junk, and then move on, leaving me with a negative energy load. I would push down my feelings and pretend everything was okay. Also, I felt like I couldn’t share my story with others because they were in a bad mood, feeling sad, or the timing wasn’t right. I was a doormat.
I needed to address my conditioning in order to stop taking on other people’s problems. Why did my feelings come second to others’? Why were their stories more important than mine? I discovered that I had been putting others on a pedestal and that I needed to dig deep into the “shoulds” and start tackling one at a time until I was able to speak up and set limits.
I started people-pleasing because someone told me I was always trying to prove myself, but ironically, that’s what people-pleasing is—trying to prove you’re a good person by doing all the right things so no one will be upset or disappointed. Ultimately, though, we end up disappointing ourselves.
Since I’ve started challenging these personalities, I’ve slowly offset my need to please. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m now a lot closer to the person I used to be—someone who likes who she is and has nothing to prove to anyone.
Do any of these personalities sound familiar to you? And how are you going to tackle it?