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November 20, 2018

How To Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing What’s Right For You: 5 Must-Know Insights Revealed Inside


“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” 

― Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu People Pleasing Quote

A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to stop people-pleasing and start doing what's right for you.

# When we know what we value, and we know that our values are worth just as much as the next person, we are less like to people please

Why is being a “people pleaser” problematic?

What I’ve noticed in my practice working with people who have a strong need to please others is that they are often fearful of hurting someone’s feelings. They strive to keep the peace, and in doing so, have a tendency to put other’s before themselves.

Considering the wellbeing of others is certainly not a bad thing, but when we lose sight of our wants and needs, and place a higher value on other people’s wants in needs, that is a problem.

One of the first things I will work on with a “people pleaser” is how to say ‘no’.

I do this because people that are overly concerned about hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing them are far more likely to say ‘yes’ to things that they may not want to do or don’t feel comfortable doing. They might find themselves saying ‘yes’ in a situation that goes against what they value, and this often is the root of distress. It doesn’t feel good to act in a way that is counter to our values.

When we behave in a way that is counter to our core beliefs, this creates cognitive dissonance

For example, someone using drugs because they feel pressured to do so would experience cognitive dissonance if this behavior did not align with their values.

Thus, learning to say ‘no’ is an important part of being true to ourselves.

Here are a few more reasons why it is crucial to be able to say ‘no’ sometimes.

1. It demonstrates to others that they can’t take advantage of you.

2. It’s a way of setting a boundary, and setting boundaries helps garner respect.

3. Saying ‘no’ to things will hopefully create more space in your life to focus on what’s important to you.

4. Once you get the hang of saying ‘no’, overtime, you will be less consumed by concern or fear that you are hurting someone’s feelings by turning down their request.

So, how does one learn to say ‘no’? By turning inward and exploring what they value.

Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say my fictional client, Sally, has been slammed at work. She has been staying late and working long hours because she has been taking on some of the work of a colleague that often asks her to help him out.

Sally always says ‘yes’ because she is concerned if she says ‘no' that her colleague will be disappointed. Unfortunately, her resentment is starting to build as the colleague keeps requesting more of her time, but she doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ without being consumed by guilt.

If Sally were to turn inward and explore what is important to her and what she values, she might find that she values having quality time with her kids and partner. Sally might explore how taking on more work is getting in the way of having time with her family, and this would help her recognize that she is trying to please her colleague at the expense of something she values more than work.

When exploring how to say ‘no’ with a client and ultimately, how to set boundaries with others, I encourage them to start small.

This might look like identifying one small thing each week to say ’no’ to. As you begin saying ‘no’ instead of trying to “people please”, you might be faced with difficult emotions such as guilt and shame. Over time though, you will find that your confidence will build in this area, and the difficulty of this practice will fade away.

I’m a big fan of using positive self-talk when trying to change a behavior.

When it comes to changing the behavior of people pleasing by always saying ‘yes’, I would encourage you to remind yourself that it is okay to say ‘no’ to requests from others. Maybe you need to tell yourself that you are a good person even if you set a boundary with someone? Whatever you need to hear to interrupt the behavior of always saying ‘yes’, I encourage you to tell yourself.

People often express concern that if they say ‘no’ to requests from others, that they will be viewed as “full of themselves” or “uncaring”.

To be clear, it’s not about saying ‘no’ to every request, but it’s about being more selective and assertive. Using the example above, it is very nice of Sally to offer to help her colleague, and she can still accept extra work from him occasionally while being selective about the amount of work she takes on.

When we know what we value, and we know that our values are worth just as much as the next person, we are less like to people please.

Ultimately, my hope for every “people pleaser” out there is that they recognize that they deserve to put themselves first sometimes. If there is one mantra that I hope you take way from this article, it’s that it is absolutely okay to say ‘no’.

Leslie Samdahl, LMHC - www.leslieweisgramtherapy.com

# Know the most common blocks to assertiveness and how to overcome them

If you’re a self-described people pleaser, you probably have been advised that you need to be more assertive. But you may not really understand what that means, or how to do it.

That is understandable, since many individuals are never taught assertive ways of communicating. 

You may have been surrounded by indirect, manipulative people in your early years and assumed that indirect communication is the norm. An equally unfortunate situation is to be accustomed to overly aggressive communicators, who use an angry tone, sarcasm, or criticism, to get a point across.

Assertiveness is a learned skill and it does take effort to practice and learn.

Let’s begin by defining assertiveness as any communication or action which is honest and direct and expresses thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or opinions in a way which is respectful of others. It is distinct from aggressive speech in that it does not involve any blaming, threatening, or shaming of others. It is distinct from passive-aggression in that it does not involve feigning agreement just to keep peace and then not following through on that agreement.

Assertiveness actually makes our lives much easier when it becomes habit.

We stop agreeing to do things that we don’t want to do. We are more honest with ourselves and with the people who are important to us. We end up with less resentment for having been drawn into another project or plan that we wanted nothing to do with from the start.

Given these benefits, what stops people from being assertive?  

In my experience teaching assertive skills, I have seen and managed some common barriers to individuals’ willingness to learn and practice them.  A very common barrier is the confusion between assertive behavior and aggressive behavior.

Secondly, assertiveness is often wrongly confused with selfishness. A third barrier is the fear that others will react with anger or disappointment.  

Let’s look at each of these common blocks to being more assertive, as well as what you might do to overcome them

Block #1:   “I feel guilty or selfish if I say no.”

A common block to assertiveness is feeling guilty when saying no to a request.  For example, your partner wants you to go with her to join friends for a night out. You’re exhausted from your work day and really don’t want to go, but you feel that you should go with her. If you say no and offer instead to go another time, are you being assertive or selfish?

When you are concerned about being selfish but your instinct is to say no, you might stop and consider your values and whether accepting the request is consistent with them.  

After reviewing your own values, you may decide that saying no to the request is a matter of self-preservation as opposed to selfishness. Pushing yourself to do that one more thing might mean getting less sleep than you need.  

Your first responsibility is to your own physical and mental well-being. (If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re unable to help others anyway.) An assertive response which is not selfish might be:  “I’d like to go with you another time, but I really need to get more sleep tonight.”

Block #2:  “I don’t know if I’m being assertive or aggressive.”

When you’re unsure as to whether your response is aggressive, it is helpful to identify aggressive forms of communication. Aggressive communication is disrespectful of others. It may include name-calling, blaming, or shaming, as well as obvious threats to harm the other person either via rejection or physical aggression. The following responses are assertive, but not aggressive.

Practice the following responses to requests that you decide to decline.

“No thanks; I am not interested in that.”

“I am too busy at this time to take on any more tasks.”

Or simply, “No.”

Block #3:  “I don’t want people to be angry at me, or disappointed in me.”

Maybe you worry that others will be so put off by your assertiveness that s/he will “lose it”. That may happen, particularly if you have been a non-assertive person up to now and have suddenly begun responding with assertive statements.

In some cases, those who know you may ask why you “have changed” or what you are “upset about”. This was a commonly reported problem for adults in an assertiveness training class that I taught at a university. Friends and partners reacted with defensiveness or anger to statements.  

Practicing assertiveness often involves getting a new type of reaction to our responses. If one person becomes more assertive, the other may wrongly perceive the new behavior as aggressive, or as some form of rejection, when in fact it is assertive.

To manage this risk, it is often helpful to prepare your partner/friends for the change in your behavior. You might say something like:

“I am trying to be more assertive because I believe it will be better for both of us,” or

“I am learning to be more direct. I hope we can both be more direct with each other.”

To sum up, all too often, people avoid being assertive because they do not want to be seen by others as aggressive or selfish, or to make others angry or disappointed with them.

With practice, you can change your communication into a form which is more honest and direct. It will become easier to resolve problems and to get your own needs met more often, while still respecting others.  

Once the assertive communication style is established, it is not difficult to maintain.

It becomes what others expect of you and, more importantly, what you expect of yourself. You may even be surprised to discover that the most important people in your life come to appreciate your more direct and open communication.

Dianne Grande, PhD - www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-it-together

# Follow the below 5 step process

Most of us are born with an innate desire to please those around us and feel as though our coworkers, friends, family, and even acquaintances like us.

When we feel liked or someone praises us, it sets off a small reward system in our brain; similar to how we feel when we finish a project at work, accomplish something on our to-do list, or score a goal in a soccer game.

For most people, this reward system exists for a reason and is a good, healthy thing.

It ensures we play well with others at recess, work well with classmates on group projects in school, or collaborate with our coworkers. 

For some people, however, their reward system gets hijacked and they either have absolutely no care for others or what they think (i.e. sociopath) or they care way too much about what others think and feel the need to make others like them far beyond a healthy level. The latter is what one could call a “people pleaser”.

People pleasers are those friends or family members who always say yes, who always go along with what others say even when they disagree, or who never stand up for themselves or what they want, all of which end up affecting them in a negative way.

While assisting others or being agreeable and kind whenever possible is a good and healthy way to live, when you find that you are helping others or going along with whatever someone else says to the point that it causes you stress, pain, anxiety, sadness, or damage; that is the sign that you are a people pleaser.

Unfortunately, we don’t usually have any outward, obvious injuries that could show us that we are people pleasers. The damage from people pleasing usually show up in more subtly harmful ways like tension headaches, feelings of depression, concerns that someone is upset with us, or lashing out at others. The signs might be there, but they can be hard to identify, creep up on you slowly, and be difficult to fix.

So how in the world do you 1. start to notice you are a people pleaser and 2. stop being a people pleaser?

1. First, You Need to Identify if You are a People Pleaser.

If you aren’t sure if you are a people pleaser, read back over the last paragraph and see if you notice of any those feelings or do any of those things. If you’re still not sure, read this article and take the short assessment within to learn more about yourself and if you might be a people pleaser.

2. Know Your Values and What You Stand For

Starting to realize you’re a people pleaser and want to fix it?

The first step is in knowing yourself, your identity, and your values.

When you have a strong sense of who you are and what your values are, it will be easier to say no, disagree with others, or stand up for yourself because you know you are acting in a way that is in accordance with your values. 

While the search for identity can be a challenge, especially in a world that may not always value who you are, knowing your identity and values can be a strong factor in self-esteem and confidence. Here’s how I recommend getting started:

a. Write down your VIPS (Values, Interests, Personality, Skills/Strengths). 

Sit down, take out a fresh piece of paper, and answer the following questions:

-What do you consider to be the most important values you have for yourself?

-What are your interests both inside and outside of work or school?

-How would you describe your personality if you had to narrow it down to 5 adjectives?

 -What are at least 5 skills/strengths you possess?

If the activity above was difficult, I’m guessing it was for 1 of 2 reasons, either you don’t know yourself as well as you thought you might or you found yourself only writing negative things about yourself. If this activity was difficult for either of those reasons, I would suggest seeking outside help.

Jump down to number 5 on this list and seek out a therapist or trusted friend and start doing some work on your own self esteem at home through reading or workbooks. 

My two favorite resources for this are Self Compassion by Kristen Neff, PhD and Mind over Mood by Dennis Greenberger, PhD and Christine Padesky, PhD. If you are ready to keep going, continue reading below.

b.  Do a values card sort or values evaluation.

There are some great free resources for this. The first is the Personal Values Card Sort by W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, and P.L. Wilbourne or try a values evaluation like this or this. This card sort or evaluations can help you think creatively and exhaustively about the values you hold.

c. Take some time to think about how you live out each of the values that are important to you, or if you are not currently living them out, what you might do in order to start practicing living out your values.

Some important things to keep in mind are that 1) we are all ever-changing and evolving so it okay to still be working on incorporating values into your life and 2) we are all human so there are some days that we will mess up or make a mistake and not live out our values fully and that’s okay.

3. Take Up Meditation or Mantras to combat the negative thought cycle: 

Even when you know yourself and your values, and you know you are living those out, it can still be jarring when someone is upset with you. That’s where meditation and mantras come in to play. Meditation can help you practice the act of not dwelling for too long on one thought or word that someone said to you.

It is the practice of acknowledging your thoughts, observing them, and letting them pass without them affecting you in a detrimental way. I know this is a challenge especially for those who aren’t used to meditating, but the results that come from the practice of meditation on a regular basis are astounding.

If mediation is a really big struggle at first and you can’t stop dwelling on a negative thought no matter how hard you try, that is when I suggest trying a mantra. Mantras are simple phrases that can help you regulate your thoughts and emotions, break negative thought spirals, and eventually become part of how you naturally think.

Someone who is practicing saying no and setting boundaries for themselves might come up with the mantra, “I am a helpful, caring person but I cannot always manage everything for everyone and that is okay”. 

Someone who is trying to cope with a coworker or friend who said something hurtful about who they are might think, “Sometimes even good people can be unreasonable or rude, but I know that I am still a X (insert value or characteristic) person." 

You can think these mantras over and over on repeat in your head while you take a walk or you can practice saying them to yourself in front of a mirror. They are extremely helpful when you need to regulate yourself, calm down, and stop your negative thought spiral for even just a few minutes to reset.

4. Stand up for Yourself: 

For some people, I know this will be the hardest step. If you were sitting in front of me you might say, “I can’t stand up for myself, that’s the whole problem… if I could I wouldn’t be reading this article”, and to you I would say, I completely understand. I wouldn’t be able to write this article if I personally hadn’t experienced being a people pleaser and still struggle with that in my daily life. But what I also know, is that you have to try.

If you never stand up for yourself, you will continue to be plagued by people who constantly try to make you feel inadequate, like you aren’t helping them enough, you’re not living the right way, or you’re not a good or fun or kind (insert whatever word gets thrown at you) enough person.

Even people who, for the most part are good, sometimes take advantage and put down others when they are having a bad day or to make themselves feel better. So you should practice standing up for yourself in both the small and big situations. 

Some strategies to help with this are to:

a:  Remember your values.

Standing up for yourself doesn’t have to be angry, hostile or rude. If one of your values is kindness, how can you point out to someone that what they are asking you to do or what they said to you is rude, unkind, or something you are unable to do?

Perhaps a value you have for yourself is self-respect or honesty; so how can you live out those values when someone tries to take advantage of you or asks for too much? Keep your values in mind when standing up for yourself and they can be your guideposts.

b: Stand up for yourself the way you would for a friend or a child.

We are often able to be kinder to others than we are to ourselves. We think we can take on more, we can handle that ourselves, we can stomach that pain, but picture them asking, saying, or doing what they did to you to your son or daughter or to your friend that is hurting, what would you do then? Practice that reaction and how you would stand up for someone else for yourself.

5. Talk to a Friend or Your Therapist

Last but not least, talk to a close friend or book an appointment with a therapist. As humans, we are not meant to go through life alone or work through things on our own. We were made to be social creatures and the more we isolate and try to handle everything on our own, the more wrapped up we can get in our own negative thought cycles. Talk to someone you trust who you know will be honest with you, but can also encourage you.

Even with all of these suggestions, even if you start doing all of them today, they are not a miracle cure. They are tangible suggestions, but they take time to truly implement, practice, and see results.  Kicking old habits, patterns of thinking, and people pleasing is no easy task so I encourage you to give these strategies a try but be patient with yourself!

Kristin Smart LPC Intern, MA, LPC-I - www.smartcounselingdfw.com

# Have healthy boundaries

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others." - Brené Brown

Why are boundaries important to keep and how do they relate to the need to people please?

First, let’s start with what boundaries are.

Boundaries are seen to separate, limit or define something. There are three primary forms of boundaries: rigid, porous, and healthy. I like to visualize rigid boundaries as a large brick wall.

Rigid boundaries make entering and leaving difficult and may be too restrictive or permissive. Porous boundaries are the opposite of rigid.

Someone with porous boundaries may become a “yes person.” Meaning there are no limits as this person will do and say almost about anything to please you. Then there are healthy boundaries. Which is normally a healthy balance between rigid and porous. These people place their needs first, but also know when to take off their suit of armor when appropriate.

If we ask ourselves, which boundary type would someone who enjoys pleasing others to the extent that they are compromising their well-being, be in which would you say? That’s right. Porous boundaries.

Let’s get into this a little more.

There are many things that can lead to someone developing porous boundaries. It can be due to the type of parenting in the home growing up, it can be a teacher that had many expectations, it can be a strong need to be perfect, etc. Whatever the reason behind why an individual developed porous boundaries, there are normally a few common characteristics: overly-trusting, overly-open, have a difficult time saying no to others, overly-relating to other’s problems and fear of rejection.

With these common characteristics in mind, transitioning from porous to healthy boundaries is not an easy journey. You may experience things like guilt, fear and anxiety which might keep you trapped in the cycle of people pleasing.

So why do it? Why add boundaries when it may cause icky feelings?

Well, because you matter. Your needs are important, your thoughts are important, your feelings are important and because you are important. If you constantly give, even after you resent or regret the giving, you are more prone to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

You might find yourself stuck in a cycle of low self-worth, low self-esteem and high stress. It’s turmoil. But what if you had a choice to get unstuck in this cycle and just find better ways to manage the outcomes of being firm and saying no.  Would you be willing to try it then?

I’d like to think at the end of it, whether we make a choice to say no or continue to say yes, we end up with guilt. But if we begin to say no, we might be able to interrupt the cycle and become more effective in caring deeply for ourselves and enhance our well-being. Imagine if you had the time to say yes to yourself more often? What would that feel like? What would you do?

Here are 10 tips for incorporating healthy boundaries:

1. Make a list of where in your life, with whom, with what, you would like to create more limits with. With that same list create a pros and cons list of doing so.

2. Explore your values. What is important to you? How do you want to carry out your life? How will healthy boundaries help you get there?

3. Practice affirmations that remind you of your worth. These can range from “I matter” to “I have the right to practice no.”

4. Remind yourself of why you are setting limits. If you want to increase your self-esteem and worth, you need others to respect you as an individual. Unfortunately, when we allow all to enter our safe bubble, we are communicating that we don’t matter.

5. Communicate effectively (try “I feel statements”, be direct, be consistent, be clear, be assertive).

6. Offer compromises where possible. So maybe you can’t take your mom to all her medical appointments Monday thru Friday but you can take her on Monday’s and Wednesday’s and your brother can take her the other days.

7. Practice saying no. Role play with yourself, your dog, etc. You can start by saying no with a safe person; someone who won’t reject you and make you feel horribly about yourself. Then reflect on the benefits of doing this.

8. Make it a habit. Our brains are so used to pattern and we are by nature, driven by consistency. Like everything else in life, trying something new won’t happen overnight.

9. Engage in daily “me time.” Have one task daily that you look forward to. Build self-compassion and assess the benefits of engaging in activities that make you feel good about yourself. This can help you deal with the backlash you might get from aunt Susie when you finally tell her you can’t come after work every-night to walk her dog.

10. Create a self-care plan that will allow you to have balance for your physical, spiritual, emotional and mental well-being.

It's time you started saying yes to yourself, and respectfully saying no to others.

Live mindfully, hopeful and persevere.

Until next time!

Claudia Stanley, LCSW – www.fwhcounseling.com

# Notice how your body feels + notice your thoughts

Many of us may have that inner dialogue where we feel we only have worth or value to others if we are trying to please them

This may be a result of low self esteem from depression and/or anxiety.  Our self-worth seems to be fulfilled by pleasing others but in reality, people pleasing feeds the depression/anxiety as we are denying our own wishes and needs. 

The need to please others can be overcome. Overcoming the need to please will help ease the depression/anxiety. 

Notice how your bodies feels as the thoughts to please others begin.  

Often our bodies will tell us about our thoughts before we realize we are thinking them.  You may notice a muscle twinge, a headache or an upset stomach.  

Notice your thoughts.  

What are they telling you? Do I really need to follow through with the action?  Is it for me or for them?  Challenge your inner thoughts and begin the inner dialogue as to reasons behind the thoughts.  You can challenge the thoughts of doing for others by placing value on your own reasons for following through.  

Think of the times and reasons for not continuing with the actions and how you felt afterwards.  Look at the success you have when you also include how you are doing. Re-affirming you own self worth helps to keep your thoughts clear and to begin a clear path.

Keep a journal for all the successes you have had with saying no.

Continue to question the motivation behind the actions we are asked to do.  This will help to develop your ability to see in a more positive light--challenge the negative thoughts and turn them positive.  This will help you to be more positive overall.  

The more you fulfill your needs, the lesser the depression/anxiety becomes. As the depression/anxiety reduces, the easier it is to say no to others.

Angela Collier, MS, LPC, NCC – www.angeladcollier.com