Do you ever agree to do something for someone else and then really resent that fact that you have to do it? Do you continually hear yourself say “Yes”, when you are really tired and actually quite keen to get some rest? Do you find that you cannot say “No” to someone for fear that they may reject you?
People- pleasing is an insidious disease. Often it commences in childhood, when a child learns that to get positive attention, it must be a ‘good child’, neat and tidy, and characteristically, undemanding. Our society encourages people pleasing from an early age, especially in girls. Being seen as a ‘good child’ is applauded, and being seen as a child with character is not.
How this translates into adult behaviour can depend on the individual and the circumstances. Very often, the ‘good child’ finds adulthood confusing as they are so used to adapting their behaviour to their parents’ needs and expectations, that leaving home can find them unsure of who to please now.
The behaviour is deeply entrenched, and so the people-pleaser will find someone else or another group of people to impress. This could be teachers, healers, a partner, a church member, or anyone who enters their world.
People- pleasers are usually fairly easy to spot. They are always pleased to render service, and they usually have a lot of friends and associates. They are also commonly very tired, and take very little care of themselves, as they spend all their time giving and taking care of everyone else. This can be at the expense of their family, friends, health, and social life.
They are charming and excellent company for the sector of society that is the opposite. Selfish people and takers love the company of people-pleasers as they never say “No”, and continue to race around trying to please those in their circle.
The fact that society encourages us to be kind to our fellow man and doing nice things for other people is seen as being loving does not help the people-pleaser. They are getting praise for what they are doing because they are seen to be being of service to others.
To the people- pleaser, giving always comes at a price. Self care is often not a consideration to them because they learned early on not to have needs and wants. They find gifts and help for themselves extremely difficult to receive and often go without to assist someone else.
The issue with being around a people –pleaser is that there seems to be a desperation to please that you can almost feel. If challenged, they often have no idea that they are trying too hard, as they are deeply wired to please others regardless of the cost to themselves.
If this is resonating with you, you are not alone, and neither have you done anything wrong. We all adapt the best way we know how in order to survive. One of the best ways to stop this behaviour is to look at your motives.
If you are helping someone for fun and for free, then there is no problem, continue by all means. However, if you are giving because you want to receive, this is dishonest. Likewise if you are helping someone so that they will like you, this is not honest. If you are saying “Yes” to someone when you mean “No” because you are frightened of them, or you think that they will reject you, then again, your motives are not honest.
Learning to say “No” when you mean “No” can be a challenge for someone who is not really aware of their own wants and needs. In the beginning, a great way to get around this is to say, “I’ll get back to you, I need to think about that”. This way you buy yourself some time, and you can really decide if you want to do it or not. Always check your motives, and be really honest with yourself. Do you want their approval? Does saying no make you fear rejection?
Learning to listen to the needs and wants of your body is the next important step. Can I do this or do I need some time to myself? Have I committed to doing too much already? When do I need to go to sleep in order for me to have enough energy the next day to function? Am I eating properly?
Treat yourself how you would treat someone that you are trying to please. Would you let them go hungry, or without the sleep they need? Probably not! In the beginning this all feels unbelievably selfish as meeting your own needs has never occurred to you. However, it is important for a people- pleaser to learn to take care of themselves first so that they can continue you take care of others.
The next step would be to look at the people that you are trying to please. Do they really have your best interest at heart, or are they just using you? What would happen if you said “No”? Would they leave? If the answer to that question is “Yes”, then take a good look at why you would want that person in your life, if all they do is take?
Giving and receiving are both strong indicators that a relationship is a healthy one. If one person is doing all the giving, then the other is doing all the receiving, and this suggests that it is not an equal partnership.
You have the right to an opinion, feelings and a “No” that are completely independent from anyone else. Learning to accept this can take some time, but life really does improve when you find out that good friends like you because of who you are and not what you can do for them.
A healthy friend would understand if you needed an early night and would respect the fact that you were taking care of yourself. When you start to respect yourself and treat yourself well, other people learn to respect you too.
Imagine how much time you would have to spend doing the things that make your heart sing, if you weren’t constantly doing things you don’t really want to do, but find it hard to say “No” to. Do you know what makes your heart sing? Saying “No” to others more often would give you the time to discover what you really love and also the time to pursue it!
As this is a journey, you will catch yourself from time to time more tired than usual, or feeling resentful. Look back over the last two days and see if you have slipped into old behaviour again. Without criticising yourself, recognise that when you are tired, or resentful, it is usually that you are people-pleasing, and it is not good for you.
And now practice....No thank you. I just can’t today. That doesn’t suit me. Another time perhaps? Or any variation on these themes.
Written by Caroline Nettle
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