How do we stop people-pleasing and break free?

Do you consider yourself a people-pleaser?

Last night, while performing our nighttime routine with my preschool-age daughter, she began telling me about an incident at school where another kid struck her. She told me the teacher saw it but retracted her story when I said I would talk to that particular teacher about what happened. She told me she didn’t want the teacher to get in trouble. In my adult mind, I thought she was not getting in trouble; it was just a conversation about safety. But to this child, she cared more about the teacher’s feelings than her own and what had occurred. I started thinking about how often we do this and how early it starts‚ÄĒpeople-pleasing.

I found myself the victim of this for many years, feeling that it was a kind and wonderful thing to put others’ needs before my own. The Bible says to love your neighbors, and we often miss the primary component of this verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31 NIV). We love ourselves, so the desire to please others should not overshadow our needs and the second greatest commandment.¬† I constantly said yes, even when I didn’t have the time or felt tired, because saying no felt wrong. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you might be a people-pleaser.

So what are some signs of people-pleasing?

People-pleasers are often seen as amazing friends, colleagues, and family members. They’re the first to be asked to help, the first to volunteer, always there to lend a hand, and go above and beyond to make others happy. But this relentless selflessness often comes at a cost.

Other examples include:

– You have difficulty saying no, even when overloaded or uncomfortable.

– You constantly worry about what other people think of you.

– You feel guilty when you prioritize yourself.

– You take on other people’s problems and anxieties as your own.

– You put the needs of others over your own.

– You feel your worth depends on how much you do for others.

The downside of people-pleasing

While it may seem harmless at first, people-pleasing can lead to:

– Low self-esteem: Constantly putting others first can leave you feeling invisible and unimportant.

– Resentment: It’s natural to feel resentful when your needs are consistently ignored or neglected.

– Burnout: Trying to please everyone can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

– Loss of identity: When you’re so focused on what others want, you can lose touch with who you are and what you truly desire.

So, how do you break free?

People-pleasing is a learned behavior, and like all learned behaviors, you can set yourself free by setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing your own needs and well-being. Here are some tips that can help:

  • ¬†Practice saying no and setting boundaries.¬† “No” is a complete sentence! You don’t owe anyone an explanation. However, if you feel guilty, saying ” No ” is okay. Some different examples of “No” are:

¬† “No, thank you.”

¬† “Unfortunately, I can’t.”

¬† “Sorry, I’m not available.”

¬† “No, thank you. I’m already booked up.”

¬† “I’d love to, but I have a prior commitment.”

¬† “I’m not comfortable with that, but thanks for asking.”

¬† “I can’t do it today, but how about [alternative time]?”

¬† “That doesn’t quite fit my expertise, but maybe [person or organization] could help.”

¬† “No, thanks for this, but I appreciate the offer.”

¬† “Thank you for thinking of me, maybe another time.”

  • Identify your values and needs. What’s truly important to you? Do you know? Take time to explore yourself and what brings you joy. Be that kid again and try new things.
  • Focus on self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you offer others, take time for yourself, and pour into yourself.
  • Build healthy relationships. Healthy friendships and family dynamics will respect your boundaries and value your self-care.

Remember, to be the best for others, you must care for yourself. You can show up in the full version of yourself for your relationships and live a more fulfilling life.  Lastly, people-pleasing is a habit. Reflect on what you are getting from always saying yes. Reflect on your motivation. Is your goal validation or praise? Introspection is needed and extremely important.  Develop your emotional tool belt to find a healthy balance of being there for yourself and others.

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