Guest post by Christina Reinke | Life Coach/Consultant|Platforms for Peace Consulting
I first learned the benefits of being liked in fourth grade.
Even though Martha (not her real name) had teased me mercilessly all third grade, I was told to ‘play nice,’ overlook the bullying, and be her friend. And so I did. And I quickly learned that being ‘nice’ was really the most effective way to maintain status quo in the schoolyard, even if it was at the expense of my own wellbeing.
Through the years, I found gratification in being seen as ‘nice,’ and I enjoyed the benefits of being well-liked. In fact, I didn’t see it as a problem for a long time.
My thinking went, “Well, I don’t go into every single situation trying to please others. I just do.” It took years for me to discover that worrying what other people thought of me was my main criteria for my decision-making, and this criteria came at a cost. I would judge myself when someone didn’t approve of me, and yet, I was simultaneously resentful of others who took advantage of my ‘niceness.’
What I have learned is that this habit is called people-pleasing, and it can be exhausting cycle of behaviour that keeps fueling our discontent and unhappiness with ourselves and within our relationships.
The People-Pleasing Habit Defined
So what exactly is people-pleasing? How do you know if you are a people-pleaser?
People-pleasing is the emotional need to please others at the expense of ourselves. It is rooted in a need to be loved and valued. Although these are basic needs that all humans have, this pattern turns unhealthy when our self-image is consistently dependent on the favourable opinion of others.
There are five behaviours or traits common to the people-pleasing pattern:
1) Difficulty expressing a different opinion than others.
2) Trying to be helpful at all costs.
3) Feeling responsible for how others feel.
4) Needing praise to feel good.
5) Overthinking about how to say something for fear of saying it ‘wrong.’
Why is People-Pleasing Habit Unhealthy for Us?
For many of us (and especially many of us women), we learn at an early age that we tend to gain love and approval from others when we are ‘nice,’ or ‘caring,’ or ‘self-less.’ These characteristics become powerful motivators to continue the habit because this reinforces the feelings of approval and recognition.
While being helpful and receiving praise and recognition for that help can certainly be positive outcomes, it becomes destructive when we do things and serve others with strings attached, namely, an underlying need to be needed.
For many of us caught up in the people-pleasing cycle, we can’t stand the thought of someone not agreeing with us, or not liking us, because it feels threatening to our sense of self-identity. In this way, doing things and serving others becomes a way of controlling another person’s response to us so that we continue to serve and maintain our own self-image.
When we’re in this mode we essentially want to be the arbiters, or the final decision-makers, of how people think about us. And this often comes at the expense of what we truly want and need.
For example, when I am in people-pleasing mode, I am essentially making decisions about what I do or say based on your response, not what I truly want or need. I will overthink about how to say something because I am calculating how you are going to respond to me and think of me within that exchange.
The people-pleasing pattern says, “I will hinge my happiness and sense of well-being on what it is you think of me. I will rely on your praise to feel good. If you don’t feel good, then I don’t feel good. Conversely, I am responsible for your feelings. If you feel good, then I am responsible for that feeling.”
4 Strategies to Curb the People-Pleasing Habit
So how do we curb the people-pleasing habit? Here are 4 strategies that can help interrupt and change this pattern in your life:
1) Reflect on earlier childhood messages about gaining approval. Seeking approval begins at a young developmental age because our very survival is reliant on our caregivers tending to and caring for us. As adults, the meaning we attach to these messages continues, and impacts the bonds and connections we form with others. What things were you taught to do or say to gain love or approval as a child? What experiences as an adult have reinforced this learning?
2) Reflect on what motivations are driving your desire to please. What do you fear/worry/anticipate will happen if you say ‘no’? What does that mean if someone is unhappy/angry/disappointed with you? What is another better-case scenario that could happen instead?
3) Develop greater self-compassion. Remember the people-pleasing pattern is rooted in a desire to be valued and loved. What ways can you treat yourself with kindness and compassion? Try to be the compassionate person or friend to yourself that you are for others.
4) Don’t delegate your emotional life to others. As people-pleasers, we’ll feel terrible when someone doesn’t like us or agree with us. This risks abandoning our own emotional life, because we are essentially saying that the other person is actually in charge of our emotions, not us. Taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions can be very scary and uncomfortable, but being in the driver’s seat of your own emotions can also be very empowering. A statement for you to complete: “I chose this because I feel this way______.”
People-pleasing is a pattern of behaviour that can have detrimental impacts on us, but the good news is that it can be changed. If you are exhibiting some of the above people-pleasing traits, try out the above four strategies for greater self-awareness, and to set you on the path to better managing your people-pleasing tendencies.
For more information on this topic, please connect with Christina at the following social media channels.
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