Feeling overstretched? Is everything on your plate a bit overwhelming? Find it hard to say no? Maybe you neglect your ‘self’ while trying to keep everyone else happy? If this sounds a bit like you then you, my friend, could be a ‘people pleaser’! Luckily, you are in the right place.
It’s almost in our DNA to be kind and helpful to one another. From a young age we are encouraged to be respectful of other people’s feelings. There is nothing wrong with being a lovely person who others consider to be helpful and kind.
Sadly, for those of us who go a little too far to please others, we can often feel emotionally drained, stressed and even anxious. I bet you haven’t seen those traits in that super reliable friend that you lean on, have you? Us people-pleasers are quite good at hiding it.
People-pleasing, or sociotropy to give it it’s scientific name, can lead to quite a harmful pattern of self-neglect – some more obvious than others. We have a difficult time saying no to people, either at work or in our social lives, so often overload our workloads and schedules. What people think of us is important, so we don’t want to be judged as selfish and strong feelings of guilt make us worry we are letting those around us down in some way.
In an attempt to keep everyone happy, we will often agree with people when we don’t really share their views, or do things that we don’t really want to do in order to somehow earn approval from those around us. This results in us being really busy and a little bit miserable. But you’ll never know because you think we are thoughtful, caring and kind, and maybe a little bit bossy as we busy ourselves with all the plates we are juggling.
My people-pleasing started as a child. I was very shy with very little self-belief let alone confidence. I was also a bit of a loner, often quite happy with my own company. This is what led to my initial people-pleasing – I started to seek approval from grown-ups who thought children should be seen and not heard and wanted to make them happy.
On the whole, growing up my people-pleasing wasn’t really a bad thing. It wasn’t until I became an adult that my traits began to harm my own emotional wellbeing. My fellow young adults, as well as some older ones who should have known better, took advantage of my behaviour leaving me in a cycle of feeling sorry for myself for being a mug and angry with myself for allowing them to do it.
My early twenties brought a new people-pleasing health condition for me to play with … anxiety. I didn’t know what it was at the time as we didn’t talk about feelings and mental health in those days. Oh no. All that ‘nonsense’ was for ‘weak minded people’ and swiftly swept under the metaphorical carpet as we dusted off our British stiff upper lips. But while I was busy using my mental resources to give other people what they needed, I wasn’t looking after myself and could often become tearful and worried.
On the surface, nobody had any idea of how I felt – I was that jolly reliable lass that was always there to lend a hand, turn up on time and get stuff done. Underneath I was exhausted, overstretched and not looking after myself, surviving on adrenaline, chocolate and cigarettes.
Us people-pleasers are not necessarily genuinely nice people all of the time, so we can get in a bit of a pickle. There is a fine line between doing things for others to feel good and doing things because we are afraid of what will happen when we don’t.
But the good news is that I have found a balance that mostly keeps my people-pleasing to a healthy minimum and you can, too. It’s all about balance, so it’s back to that fine line again. By learning where our limits are and even setting a few boundaries, we can find a balance between our own happiness and that of those around us.
So what can you do?
- Limit phone calls, texts and social media contact by setting yourself clear times during the day when you are available to talk, meaning fewer opportunities for people to persuade you into doing something before you’ve had a chance to think about it.
- Learn to say ‘no’. Start with the smaller requests first to minimise the guilt. If you struggle to do this face to face, start by first doing it electronically in a text or email, for example.
- Practise saying ‘no’ in situations that are less of an ordeal, such as when ordering at a bar or when buying something in a shop.
- Pause and think. Nobody ever expects an instant decision, so next time you are asked for something, ask for a moment and say you will have a think and come back to them.
- Question why people are asking for your help. Do they genuinely need your input and expertise, or are they being lazy and trying to manipulate you into doing their ‘thing’? If you feel your generous nature is being abused, say no, or if that is a step too far for you, suggest how can help them if you work together instead.
- Stop making excuses – be direct when you are saying no. You can be polite, but be firm. If you keep talking with long explanations they will sense a weakness, reframe their question and try you again.
- Life is about give and take so look at what others can give you in return for your generosity. If they make sacrifices to help you, then all is balanced in the world.
- You can’t please everyone all of the time, so stop trying. Deep down you already know this and it’s why you are still reading in case I tell you something new.
Take back your time, set some boundaries and find your happy. And continue to do nice things for genuine people, but do it on your terms. Ditch the guilt – ‘no’ is a complete sentence.