“You can lie down for people to walk on you and they will still complain that you’re not flat enough. Live your life.”
At some point in our lives, we have all cared what someone else thought of us or did something with the intention of making another person happy – and there is nothing wrong with that simple fact. It’s a great and even admirable thing to be caring, helpful, compassionate and thoughtful. The problem, though, is that many of us take these tendencies to the extreme, often sacrificing our own needs and values in hopes that it will provide us with some sort of external validation, acceptance or approval. However, this often results in feeling resentful, burned out, underappreciated and even taken advantage of instead. When trying to make someone else happy comes from a place of lack vs. a place of abundance, it can become unhealthy and even harmful to our mental well-being.
Here are some common people-pleasing behaviors that we all need to stop (pronto!) and some tips on how to do it:
1) Saying ‘Yes’ When We Want to Say No: While the intention here is often to be helpful, saying yes to something we don’t have the time/energy/resources for or that isn’t important to us solely because we feel like we ‘should’ or ‘have to’ only leads to resentment and burnout, which actually isn’t helpful to anyone. Over-extending ourselves and filling our plates with things that aren’t aligned with our own goals or values is communicating to ourselves and others that what we want to do is less important than what someone else wants us to do – and this actually ends up making us feel unappreciated or taken advantage of, which in turn ends up hurting our relationships. How to Stop: Before saying ‘yes’ to a commitment, ask yourself if it’s realistic to add it to your plate right now and if investing your time in this way is aligned with your priorities. If you find yourself feeling like you ‘should’ do something, this is a good indicator that it is probably not. Politely say no or decline (without a need for an apology or explanation) – or if you aren’t able to completely say ‘no’, suggest an alternative option or boundary that’s better suited for you (i.e. I can come to your event, but only for an hour).
2) Valuing Other Peoples’ Opinions More Than Our Own: Criticism and negative feedback are rarely easy to receive, but when the opinions of others become more valuable than our own, it can indicate a lack of confidence or a lack of trust in ourselves and our own judgment. While it’s important to be open to feedback from others, it’s equally important to be selective about which feedback matters. When we allow our critics’ thoughts/perspectives to get the majority of our focus and attention, we begin to second guess everything we do and essentially lose control over authentically living our lives. People will always have varying perspectives and judgments about us and what we do, so we might as well live in a way that’s true to and supports our own beliefs and values. Opinions are subjective, so just because someone else might disagree or think what you’re doing is wrong, it doesn’t mean they’re right. How to Stop: Make a list of the people that love and support you unconditionally, truly have your best interest at heart and that you trust to be honest with you. These are the only opinions, along with your own, that actually matter. If you receive a criticism from someone who is not on this list, assess it, but don’t let it shake or define you.
3) Putting Others Peoples’ Needs First: Many of us, particularly those of the caretaker nature, often derive our sense of self-worth by taking care of other peoples’ needs or sacrificing our own in place of them in order to feel more worthy and lovable. However, like many of the other people-pleasing behaviors, this can lead to burnout and resentment if we realize our own needs are unmet or reciprocal efforts aren’t being made in exchange. Additionally, it can create challenging and/or co-dependent relationship dynamics with our loved ones and can lead to unrealistic expectations of us for the people in our lives. How to Stop: Be helpful. Be compassionate. Be thoughtful. Be caring. But make sure you are also constantly being all of those things to yourself. Ask yourself daily ‘What do I need in order to feel taken care of today?’ and whether it’s rest, movement, organization, clarity, connection, etc. – give yourself that before pouring into your work, family, friends or partner. You will all be better off and much more cared for as a result – and you will be setting a positive example and teaching them how to take care of themselves, too.
4) Avoiding Confrontation/Honest Communication: We often avoid confrontation in order to be well-liked or to avoid the discomfort of a difficult conversation, but this often makes it difficult to form authentic connections and relationships. When we consistently and effectively practice healthy confrontation & assertive communication, it shows other people that we respect both ourselves and our relationship with them and they feel more confident and trusting of our connection as a result. They gain confidence that we will communicate truthfully instead of just being agreeable or superficial. How to Stop: Practice! Write out what you want to say or practice with a friend/therapist. Gathering your thoughts and processing your feelings ahead of time will ensure that you articulate your message clearly and thoughtfully.
5) Apologizing For Everything: Apologizing has become a second nature for many of us and, the majority of the time, we say ‘sorry’ for things that aren’t even within our control, aren’t our responsibility/fault, or that we otherwise just simply don’t actually need to apologize for. This is a way that we take on the burden and responsibility of everything around us in order to alleviate that burden/responsibility from others and avoid assertive communication. Apologizing and explaining ourselves can be a way to soften boundaries we’ve set or to feel less badly about saying ‘no’, but we should be mindful that apologizing too much demonstrates insecurity about these things, which sometimes causes people to take them/us less seriously. How to Stop: Before writing or saying sorry, ask yourself if this is something that you should be apologizing for/if it’s even your responsibility or within your control. Sometimes it will be, but be sure to use your apologies sparingly. Take an inventory of every time you apologize in one day or one week by writing it down in a notebook. This will raise your conscious awareness about this habit, which can help you to do it less.
6) Taking Responsibility For Other Peoples’ Feelings: While we shouldn’t go around intentionally hurting people, we also shouldn’t walk on eggshells or tiptoe around their feelings or blame ourselves for other peoples’ reactions to what we do/say. Everyone is responsible for having and coping with their own emotional experience and their feelings are their own responsibility — not yours. Similarly, if someone else is feeling hurt, upset or angry, know it isn’t your job to fix it. It’s theirs. When we fear upsetting someone or making someone else angry, we’re more likely to compromise our values. It’s okay if someone is upset, angry, etc., even if it’s with us, and it’s important to learn how to sit with the discomfort of this. How to Stop: Let people take care of their own emotions without feeling like you are responsible for or need to fix them. Instead, offer your support & empathy, but not a solution. This will create boundaries and allow them to become more independent, which is healthy for you both.
Remember: you can be a thoughtful, helpful, caring and compassionate person who ALSO sets boundaries, says no and puts their own needs first.
Which people pleasing behaviors do you struggle with most? Are there any others I forgot to mention? Feel free to share in the comments below!