For as long as I can remember, I have been a people pleaser. I have prided myself on helping others, on saying yes and never saying no. I go out of my way for people even when it’s inconvenient for me.
For most of my life, this felt like a good thing to me. To be selfless and helpful to everyone. I was making everything around be better, so surely it was the right thing to do.
But then there were the other times.
The times where I felt I acted outside of myself to please someone else and be liked. The times I have done things out of my character, said yes to people who didn’t deserve yes, and went above and beyond to keep the peace.
I never thought about the reason behind this behavior until this year, when a friend asked me for a favor. It was something I had done before for this friend, but it would inconvenience me greatly on this specific day.
I typed out an answer to decline and erased it at least four or five times before I asked myself, why was I so afraid to say no?
Why did I always feel so afraid to say no?
Why did saying no to something I actually could not commit to cause me so much anxiety? Why was I always trying so hard to please everyone around me?
The answer came when I started examining my past, particularly by reviewing the first people in my life, I ever felt the need to please—my parents.
Many of my memories of my parents’ marriage are joyful. They are memories of times we’d go on family vacations, soak up the lovely Irish weather, and go on great adventures.
Then there are the other times.
The times when there would be arguments, there were slammed doors and silent treatments. There were times when it felt like I was walking around on eggshells.
It was in this environment I learned to do whatever it took to keep the peace.
It was in this environment I became what I needed to be— to dissolve stressful situations. It was in this environment I became a people pleaser.
All my life, I never considered the effect growing up in that environment had on me, but suddenly everything became clear. This is where the need to please came from. This is where the part of me that has been so afraid to make any waves came from.
So afraid to upset anyone, so fearful to stand up for myself, so eager to keep the peace.
When I realized this, I finally started to make peace with myself. I made peace with the part of me that wanted everything to be ok and work out as I had planned. I made peace with the part of me that helped everyone to avoid anyone being disappointed.
I made peace and started to let go.
I surrendered control.
It became clear that not everyone will be pleased with me at all times, and that is ok. I can be a source of chaos. I can be the stress of a situation, and that is ok too. Saying ‘no’ won’t make the people in my life judge me, hate me, or leave me.
And if they do, that relationship wasn’t strong enough, to begin with.
When I reflected on my life, I realized that I spent a lot of my time trying to be perfect, trying to fit in, trying to be appreciated and liked by everyone around me.
It became clear just how unhealthy people-pleasing can be. It is disempowering, inauthentic, and extremely time- and energy-consuming.
Here are five simple practices that helped me stop being a people-pleaser.
Allowing Myself To Be Me
I stopped explaining myself for who I am.
If you feel like you’re wearing a mask when among people, I want you to know it is okay to be you. Your perfect imperfections make you special and unique.
Be your own kind of beauty. Stay true to your feelings, opinions, and thoughts. Live your own life, with no apologies and no regrets.
Detaching from other peoples opinion of me
Seeking validation from others turns us into their prisoners.
In reality, we can’t control what other people feel or think, but we are in charge of our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. What other people think of me does not define me. What they see in me is their opinion.
Some might perceive me as smart, funny, and talented. Others might think I’m not. To some, I might be good looking. To others, I might not. It’s all about their standards of beauty or intelligence, and it has nothing to do with me.
I do the best I know and the best I can every day. I love and approve of myself as I am, and other people’s opinion or validation of me is neither required nor needed.
If this rings a bell with you, please know you cannot please everyone, no matter how much you might try. Other people’s opinions of you are nothing but their perception, filtered through their own lenses, expectations, or system of beliefs.
Know you are worthy and beautiful, not because others think so, but because YOU decide to believe it.
Set yourself free from any judgment.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Set healthy boundaries
Saying no doesn’t mean you dislike or reject the other person.
People disappoint themselves with the expectations they set for me and what they expect me to do. It’s always their story. If they love me, they will understand that it’s not a convenient time or request.
I stopped letting anyone take advantage of me.. It is not my responsibility to entertain other people and make them happy. Whenever I offer people time, I give them a piece of my life.
When you set boundaries you quickly realise the people who are truly your friends. Relationships that you need to pretend, or that come with conditions, are toxic.
Spend your precious time with the people who bring out the best in you, who support you, and accept you just the way you are.
To begin with I found it difficult to say no, because I didn’t know how, I feared that I would sound aggressive or impolite. But I learnt to say no without offending anyone.
Here are some simple formulas that always work well for me:
Thank you for thinking of me, I’m sorry I can’t at this time.
I’m not able to make it this Sunday/this week/month/year.
Perhaps another time, I’m busy at the moment.
I have commitments, but please let me know how it turns out.
No thank you, but it sounds lovely.
It doesn’t work for me right now.
I’ve got too much on my plate, maybe another time?
Become my own best friend.
Now I pay attention to my self-talk. I aim to eliminate disempowering words or thoughts like: “They might think less of me,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a failure,”
I treat myself with dignity and respect. I talk to myself kindly. I don’t call myself names and I acknowledge myself for my achievements, for my willingness to learn and grow.
I take compliments gracefully instead of putting myself down, as if I’m unworthy of such a celebration. I enjoy when people compliment me but I am not dependent on them to feel good about myself.
“It’s not your job to like me; it’s mine.” ~ Byron Katie
Key Lesson from Jesus
When you read about Jesus in the Gospels, yes he helped the poor and healed the sick, BUT, He also spent a lot of his time praying on His own. That’s were all His power came from— Solitude with God.
Yes, it’s good to help people, but like Jesus, we also need to take time for ourselves to relax and unwind. When we help others, it takes a lot of energy, and if you are always helping, one day it will become too much. At some point, you will run out of energy and not be able to help.
Don’t wait until you’re burned out to discover— “the people that say they are dependant on you, will manage if you’re not available.”
Thanks for reading.
Enjoy your week.
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