When people-pleasing goes too far



Learning to take care of your own needs is not selfish: it can replenish your spirit as you give to others. © Thinkstock

I am a recovering people-pleaser. For many reasons, I used to cringe at the thought of someone not liking me. Now I find this need to please everyone both annoying and unproductive.

Perhaps you’re a people-pleaser. If you’re curious about some of the traits of this behavior, read on.

You stay in situations such as a job or a relationship that is not safe or healthy for you because you’re so loyal.

You minimize, alter or deny how you feel about things in order to comply with others.

You sideline your own interests in order to do what others want to do.

You mask your pain with anger, humor or isolation, instead of expressing it appropriately.

You avoid any direct communication that could create conflict.

You pay the restaurant bill for the group with whom you’re dining.

You loan money to friends or family whenever they ask.

You base your self-worth on the actions of your children. Anything they do is a direct reflection on who you are as a human being.
You are a martyr with a one-way ticket to Martyrdom Heaven. You are the mom who cooks dinner while breast-feeding the baby, while at the same time preparing a presentation for work, without any help. You are the dad in the cul-de-sac that lets every neighborhood kid play at your house all day during the school snow day.

You scoff at the idea of self-care. You think it’s fine for others to take care of themselves but what would people think if you did it?
Enough already. Here are some suggestions for change.

Instead of feeling miserable at work or in your relationship because you feel claustrophobic, oppressed or unsafe, start to make a change. Take a class you’re interested in. Talk to a counselor or therapist. Find a CoDA group (Co-Dependents Anonymous) for support in processing how you can make changes.

In my personal pursuit to minimize my people-pleasing tendencies, I began in a big way by leaving a 23-year career that had become oppressive, demanding impossible tasks that would baffle Super Woman.

Instead of allowing someone to tell you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way when you do indeed feel that certain way, embrace your feelings. They are valid and important. Tell the person what you really feel.

Instead of always saying yes, practice politely saying no, without an elaborate explanation or apology.

Instead of always agreeing with everyone else or doing what everyone else wants to do when on the inside your soul is screaming otherwise, listen. Ask yourself, do I really want to agree or would I prefer something else? Then, speak your truth.

Instead of verbally dancing around your point to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, respectfully and calmly say what you mean.

Instead of basing your self-worth on everything your children do, realize they are their own person. They will make mistakes. Those are life’s learning opportunities for them. Stop worrying about what the neighbors think.

Instead of neglecting your own life, make time for pleasure. Yes, your children are important. And so are you. They will survive an hour or two away from you. Plus you are modeling self-care for them.

In my personal pursuit to minimize my people-pleasing tendencies, I began in a big way by leaving a 23-year career that had become oppressive, demanding impossible tasks that would baffle Super Woman.  It was a scary move but my emotional health thanks me daily as I explore new career options.

I have also changed in less profound ways.

I ask for separate checks when dining out with friends.

I asked our neighbors to share the cost of replacing a decaying, shared fence.

At the pizza shop, I ask that half the pizza be vegetarian despite the rolling eyes of friends who love their meat.

On the golf course, when every cell in my body aches and I’ve had enough, I head to the clubhouse for an ice tea instead of toughing it out further with the group.

I no longer give my adult children advice, trying to rescue them from life’s hard knocks. If they want advice, they know where to find me.

I communicate more directly with my husband instead of dropping back-door comments, hoping he can somehow decipher their meaning.
I enrolled in a beginning drawing class and a naturopathic course for the pure joy of it.

I moved my husband of 31 years into a spare bedroom. I love him but hate the snoring. We both sleep soundly now. (Or perhaps you could see if your spouse has a sleep disorder, apnea, which could be helped with a breathing machine.)

Instead of staying at my mother’s house when I visit her in another state, I now stay in a motel. She’s a farmer who has lived in the same home for 40 years, along with an abundance of dogs and cats. Pets have accidents. Mom lost her sense of smell years ago. Need I say more?

Changing my behavior hasn’t been easy. I feel tearfully nervous at times when it comes to speaking honestly. My heart races and my voice trembles during a necessary but uncomfortable conversation.  But it has been worth it.

I have learned when you allow others to view you as the doormat, the pushover or the coward who can be easily manipulated, they don’t respect you and you don’t respect yourself. All those feelings that you’ve learned to suppress, “go down into the basement, lift some weights and come back even stronger,” often in the form of anxiety and loads of resentment.

So stop abandoning yourself, drop the people-pleasing agenda and reconnect with your life. Be patient with yourself. This journey takes time. And you’re worth it.

LINDA BARBOUR is a freelance writer from Oregon.


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