Three ways to end being a people pleaser
Being a people pleaser is draining.
I still remember the day I had enough.
I was standing in the middle of the room, and everyone looking at me.
I was about to speak to a crowd of 150 people. It was being filmed, so if I messed up, it would be a humiliation that would stick with me forever.
I had to get it right.
I wanted them to like me. That’s all I ever wanted. To be accepted.
My parents always taught me to treat others as I wanted to be treated, so when my friend called and was in tears, I came running over to comfort her.
When my friend’s toy car broke down, I came to pick him up.
When another friend was without a place to live, I let him live in my flat.
When a friend I borrowed money could not pay me back, I gave him the time he needed.
I was always there for others and prioritizing their needs.
I guess that is why people liked me and wanted to be my friend.
I wanted women to like me too, so I tried to make dates fun, but it felt draining, stressful.
Was dating not supposed to be fun?
I was happy that people liked me, but hidden underneath was resentment of the many disappointments when I had been let down, and my needs have not been met.
Or, I prioritized someone else’s needs over my own and wondered why they would not return the favor when I needed it.
I would forget my boundaries and say it’s not a big deal with people who did not stick to what they promised me.
Canceling dates, forget to pay me back, being late.
I was the easy-going guy, and it was always just cool.
Except that it was not because inside I felt fake and upset that I was not respected and that my needs always came last if they mattered at all.
I wanted people to like me.
I never wanted to feel let out, unwanted, and unloved again.
The memory of school bullies laughing at me; no one wanted to play with me.
The humiliation and loneliness.
Even neglecting my boundaries and needs seemed better than that. Less painful.
I especially remember this kid called Gerry.
Gerry was a mean little kid, and he enjoyed causing me pain.
I remember the day I was supposed to do my presentation in front of the entire class, and Gerry was waiting outside the classroom.
He snatched my school bag and found my notes and tore them to pieces.
I was already feeling nervous, but no, I was having a full-blown meltdown as I had no idea what to say, and the entire class would laugh at me again.
I just wanted to be liked.
I crashed and burned that day in the classroom, and Gerry was right at the front, laughing at me.
The hall is full, and the cameras are rolling.
I can sense the tension in my stomach and my hands shaking a little.
At least I can’t see Gerry in the front row.
I get into a flow, and people seem to love it. I get big applause, and people come up and tell me it was the entire event’s best presentation.
I am supposed to feel happy, but somehow, it’s short-lived.
As I come home, I sit down and reflect.
Why had I been doing this for so long?
Chasing approval. Trying to get people to like me.
It’s so draining, unsatisfying, and disconnecting. The more I try to make people like me, the worse I feel about myself.
Then I look at a picture of my son, and it hits me.
I can never have authentic and connecting relationships until I learn to value myself.
Value my needs. Value my boundaries.
I have never been able to set my boundaries without mobilizing anger. But perhaps I don’t need anger.
As I start implementing the three ideas, I begin to love myself, value myself, and enjoy my own company.
I am done being a people pleaser, and if I can do it, so can you. Start by using the three tips that worked for me and thousands of others.
Kick people pleaser syndrome to the curb tip 1: Regulation
It was like it was always on high alert looking out for possible rejection.
I realized that my people pleasing was a strategy I used to soothe my anxious, nervous system.
We are social creatures, so we all need acceptance and feel part of a tribe.
I had learned too early that rejection was likely, so I kept living out that pattern repeatedly.
Being dependent on others to regulate my nervous system was the trap that kept me stuck in people pleasing because I was always dependent on their approval.
I did workshops, studied neuroscience, and psychology, and did therapy.
But after years of practice, I realized the strategies are straightforward.
When our nervous system is aroused (anxious, fearful, etc.), it wants us to fight or flight.
So, it wants us to move to discharge the energy that adrenaline created.
That’s why I would use movement to calm down.
Then I would use deep and slow breathing to activate my parasympathetic nervous system to restore calm and peace.
I would also turn my head and remind myself there were no real dangers.
I would tell myself that even if this went wrong, I would be fine, and there would be other opportunities in the future.
Our negative bias means the story we tell ourselves is overdramatized and predict catastrophe when the consequences are insignificant.
Look at all your worries over the last 20 years, and you are still ok today.
I would use touch by holding my stomach, hugging myself (if in a private location), or pushing my hands together.
Once I could regulate myself, I became much more relaxed around others, and therefore needed their approval less.
Kick people pleaser syndrome to the curb tip 2: Needs
Your needs are important. You are important.
Once I realized that my needs are as important as other peoples, I started prioritizing them.
To have energy and capacity for others, I first had to take care of my own needs.
So, taking care of myself first was both in my and their interest.
To learn how to discover and express your needs, see the article marriage therapy
When you feel frustration or resentment, then it’s often a sign you have unmet needs.
Kick people pleaser syndrome to the curb tip 3: Boundaries
This is the big one.
As a people pleaser, we allow others to overstep our boundaries. It’s damaging for our self-worth, confidence, and damage to the relationship as eventually, we will grow angry and resentful.
It’s the perfect recipe for a toxic relationship.
So, asserting your boundaries is a gift to your relationship as you will prevent resentment.
You will allow both you and your partner to be freer as you can explore safely.
Your partner doesn’t have to walk on egg shelf to avoid violating your boundaries.
To learn how to discover and express boundaries, see the marriage therapy article.
I hope you enjoyed the article today.
Check out the podcast I did on people pleasing
If you want to end people pleasing for good then check out our End people-pleasing program here.