I first heard the term ‘people pleaser’ in my mid 30’s when I started working in a residential addiction treatment facility. Until then, I had never really thought about how my bending over backward to please others had affected me. I had always believed that accommodating other people’s needs was a good thing—that I was being nice and helpful.
I grew up in a household where it was more important to be liked and to make other people happy than to express my own needs. I could not see the connection between my well-being and the ability to practice assertiveness and set boundaries with others. I secretly admired my friends and coworkers who could easily stand their ground and be firm with others, as it was utterly foreign to me.
Working in the field of addiction treatment, it didn’t take me long to learn just how important it is to be assertive instead of worrying about being liked by others. This newfound knowledge didn’t make things any easier—I still had to work through my issues to find balance in my life.
I started to self-reflect and gained insight into my behaviors, particularly regarding my interactions with others. I learned that I had developed an intrinsic need to be liked and accepted, which meant I often held back from expressing my views and opinions for fear of offending people. I thought it was better to smile and nod, acting as though nothing bothered me, rather than speak up and be assertive. These beliefs led me down a path of unhealthy behaviors, resulting in passive aggressiveness, lack of patience, and high stress. Yet, for so many years, I failed to see how my own behavior had created this very predicament.
Navigating respectful relationships while maintaining boundaries can be tricky, especially when our expectations are based on how others respond to our boundaries. Not everyone will be okay with the boundaries I set, but that doesn’t mean I should keep myself from following through on them.
Over the years, I have noticed in my counseling practice that many individuals engage in people-pleasing. I have worked with numerous clients who have struggled with assertiveness and setting healthy boundaries in their interpersonal relationships. Drawing on my own experiences, my word of caution to people pleasers is that you will never be truly happy with your life if you’re constantly living up to the expectations of others.
No matter how hard you try, there will always be those who are critical of your efforts, and for people pleasers, this can lead to a low sense of self-worth and feelings of extreme disappointment. If you’re too focused on receiving external validation from others, over time, you lose the ability to validate yourself (intrinsic or internal validation). I can tell you from my own experience that it’s really hard to improve your self-esteem if your intrinsic validation is low.
So how does someone break away from their people-pleasing habits? The first step is to acknowledge that it isn’t your job to make everyone else happy, and it’s okay if people don’t always agree with your choices. Start by asking yourself what is important to you and what it is you want out of life.
Next comes learning how to use your voice to practice assertiveness and set firm boundaries with others. The trick here is to start small—if you’ve never been assertive and aren’t used to setting boundaries, don’t expect yourself to be an instant expert at it. It’s a slow process that requires time and patience.
Boundary setting is a skill, and like any other skill, there’s a learning curve. Breaking old habits is hard, and there are bound to be ups and downs along the way. It’s important to remind yourself that this is perfectly normal because progress is never linear. To be successful, you must allow yourself to learn from your mistakes.
People pleasing is something we have probably all done at some point in our lives. To make the shift away from people-pleasing habits, we first need to be aware of them. You can’t fix a problem behavior if you don’t know you’re doing it. By self-reflecting and developing greater self-awareness, you allow yourself the opportunity to understand yourself better and change these old habits that may be negatively affecting your well-being. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help others out now and then. But if that becomes your primary focus and detracts from your ability to achieve your goals and aspirations, it might be a sign that you need to re-evaluate your priorities and start thinking about what makes you happy.
About the Author: Sureeta Karod is the owner and founder of Healing Tree Counselling Services, located on Vancouver Island, Canada. She is a licensed mental health counselor specializing in addiction treatment. In her free time, Sureeta enjoys reading, going to the gym, and spending time outdoors with her dog Kingsley.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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