“If you are busy pleasing everyone, you are not being true to yourself.” ~Jocelyn Murray
Do you say yes to things only to keep people happy?
Do you fear saying and doing what you actually want?
I know how that feels.
From a young age, I was the polite, good girl. I rarely rebelled. I wanted to keep everyone happy. I thought that if I was honest I’d be rejected. That those closest to me wouldn’t love me. I thought I’d end up alone.
At friends’ houses, asked what I’d like to drink or eat, I would always respond with “Whatever’s easiest.” I never wanted to be a burden.
At twenty-one I met my boyfriend’s parents. Dinner was fresh sardines complete with tiny bones. I was vegetarian and hated fish, yet I said nothing and ate away.
I fought the urge to be sick. I followed each revolting bite with a gulp of water. I should have spoken up, but I feared disapproval.
After college, the desire to keep everyone happy led me into jobs I thought people would approve of. By my mid-twenties I had a job in management. I was successful. But inside I was miserable.
Living my life according to the word “should” was gruelling. When I finally stopped, I felt empty and unsure of who I was.
One day it became too much. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Everything was an effort and I spent hours sobbing.
I looked in the mirror. I was disgusted by my reflection. I’d roll my hand into a fist and hit myself around the head. I thought I deserved to suffer.
I knew I needed help, so I reached out to a doctor. He put me on antidepressants and I started to talk to a counselor.
After I started to understand my motivations and explored my values, I started to believe I was enough. I didn’t need to hide who I was to gain people’s approval. I started to feel less depressed.
I still have my days when I worry what others think, but I don’t feel the urge to adjust who I am, or to follow paths that aren’t right for me.
This process didn’t happen instantly, but looking back I see the steps I followed.
1. Start with the root.
It’s tempting to ignore people pleasing. You feel in control. You feel comfortable .
But until you start to examine the root of your behavior, it’s likely that you’ll continue to constantly want to please others. This comes at a cost to your own happiness.
Instead, take some time to explore the motivations behind your people pleasing.
How does it benefit you? What belief does it show that you hold about yourself?
I believed that by not speaking up, people would love and accept me. This all stemmed from the root belief that to be accepted and loved I needed to be someone else.
As a small child, there was a lot going on in my parents’ lives. They were loving and caring but they were young, new parents with a lot of financial pressure on their shoulders. Life was busy.
I didn’t want to be another thing that they needed to worry about. If I was polite and kept everyone happy I thought this would create less stress for them.
So that’s what I did. Over the years, it became an ingrained habit that showed up in all areas of my life. I associated being loved with people pleasing and the truth as rejection.
2. Ask yourself these two questions.
Letting go of the belief that lies at the root of your people pleasing can seem impossible. It’s scary to step away from something you have held onto for so long.
One way to make it easier is so examine your belief further.
I find these two simple questions help:
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
In Katie Byron’s The Work, she suggests we use this question to investigate our beliefs. When I first read this question, I struggled with it.
My people pleasing was so ingrained that the belief that I needed to be someone else to be loved felt so real. Of course it was true.
What helped me was to consider the word “absolutely.” It implied there was no room for doubt. So I searched my brain for examples that would 100% prove this belief.
There weren’t any concrete examples. I realized I had created the belief myself. There was no way I could know that it was absolutely true.
Is it helpful?
We often pursue harmful behaviors and beliefs because we believe they offer us something. In reality, they drain us of time and energy.
So ask yourself is my root belief helpful? Does it help me move further toward my life goals?
When I asked myself these two questions, I realized that my belief was neither absolutely true nor helpful. This made it easier to let go and to move onto something new.
3. Get to know yourself.
When your life has been full of people pleasing, it’s hard to know what to replace it with. It can be tempting to let the habit creep back in. To fill the space it left.
I felt this way. At first, it was painful to confront the fear that perhaps I didn’t know who I was. It felt like I was moving closer to a trap door about to take a peek inside. What if there was only darkness?
I fought the urge to run the other way. Instead, I slowly started to take note of my reactions to things. I let my intuition guide me.
As I did I started to rediscover things about myself, things I had known but had remained hidden beneath the trap door.
I remembered my love of helping and supporting people. My curiosity for different cultures. The draw toward acting and improvisation.
I realized I would never be happy in my job, stuck behind my desk working with data rather than people.
4. Sow new seeds.
Giving up people pleasing is challenging. It can seem overwhelming. Instead of thinking of it as planting acres of maize, think of it as sowing a seed. One small seed. That’s all.
What’s one tiny thing you could do to take yourself away from people pleasing and closer to authenticity?
Could you express your true opinion about something?
Could you be honest that you don’t want to go to that social event?
As you start to sew a new seed and nourish it with action, new shoots and roots will appear. Yes, you may feel guilty for being honest at first, but it will get easier.
As you practice, the old root and belief will naturally start to wither. You’ll feel more assured and confident.
Constantly trying to please others is exhausting, particularly when it leads you to live a life based on what you think you should do rather than what you want to do. But taking small steps to understand this part of you can have dramatic effects on your life.
Imagine not having to constantly adjust who you are to please others.
Imagine feeling more confident in expressing who you are.
Start with step one. It doesn’t mean you have to give up doing things for others. It does mean giving up a toxic habit.
Adjust less to others. Listen more to yourself.
Six faces image via Shutterstock