By Kristin Smart – MA, LPC, Claudia Stanley – LCSW
“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
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, MA, LPC – www.sisulumicounseling.com
“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.
Claudia Stanley, LCSW – www.fwhcounseling.com