About people-pleasers and how to stop being one

I’ve been talking to a friend about what it really means to be happy. We are quite similar and we are facing the same issues when it comes to feeling happy and fulfilled on a daily basis. We’ve realized that we’re both making the same mistake, which is caring too much – about others, about what people think of us. This leads us to putting other people first instead of ourselves. We will always be the girls who’ll try to make everyone happy, always thinking about how the other person will feel if we disagree or refuse. This drives us to compromise at almost every step in order to not upset the other person (which would make us feel guilty). However, here’s the catch: making other people happy does not make us happy. And putting them first makes us frustrated. So why do we keep doing it?

We can’t really help it. We think that putting other people first and making them happy will make us liked and that saying “no” will make them hate us. This mechanism is embedded so deeply in our personalities that if we quit cold turkey I really think it’s gonna drive us mad – mad with guilty conscience: “What will they think of me?”, “I bet they’ll be very upset”, “They’ll stop talking to me”, “They’re gonna scold me”, “They’ll want to stop being friends with me”, “It’s not worth ruining my friendship over this” etc. These are just some of the thoughts that go through our minds when we think about saying “No”. We know this is twisted, we know it is unhealthy and we know that we should stop.

So let’s recap. Putting others first will:

  • make you compromise even when you don’t want to;
  • make you not want to say “no” even when you know you should;
  • make you frustrated;
  • make you the supporting character in your own life (where you should have the lead role).

Sometimes trying to please others will make you poor. You will say Yes to things you’d rather skip (such as trips, gifts, events etc.) just because you don’t want to offend or to argue. This will also make you waste your time. Instead of doing something you realy like and spending your time as you see fit you will waste it by attending things you’d rather skip or by taking on too much, either workwise or in your personal life. This will also make you have less energy because you’re wasting it on things that you think will give you a nice, quiet life. But this is not true – you will become tired and emotional. By not having enough time and energy you also risk to alienate the people you love and cherish because instead of focusing on them you put them second and think “They will understand”. And they will – at first. Then they’re gonna become frustrated because you’re never there and when you are, you’re always on edge, always quick to get upset (because you lost your energy with less important things).

Another consequence of being a people-pleaser and never saying No is that you come off as a pushover. People will not move their schedules around for you because they know you will somehow make it work – why should they compromise? They stop respecting your wishes. They won’t be flexible because they know for sure you are. And if you start saying No then you’re a bad person or a bad friend because of this. And from their point of view, they are right somehow. Because they’re so used to you saying Yes all the time that when you’ll say No it will make you seem like you are being mean or ignorant to their feelings, because this is not what they are used to and it seems out of character for you to do so. This is just an example of how never saying no affects your personal life.

Let me give you one from a professional point of view. You take on too much at your workplace for different reasons – because you want to seem involved (which is always helpful if you want to grow within a company), or because over-time pays very well, or because you’re chasing that light at the end of the tunnel (either a promotion or a reward or the appreciation of your superior etc.). And it will be noticed and appreciated at first. But then if you always do it, it will soon become a normal thing that no one appreciates or even notices anymore. Moreover, they will pile on some more because they know you are a hard worker and that you do not shy away from responsibilities. They know you will always help them and you will always be there to put out all the fires. This is incredibly unhealthy and it destroys your energy, time, self-worth, health and relationships. Yes, you’ll be making more money than before, but will not have the time or the energy to do anything else.

All these things, but especially how you are seen by the people in your life, will have a direct impact on your self-confidence. You never say No because you want people to like and accept you. Because you’ve been doing it for so long, they stop noticing your efforts after a while. This is when you start to feel unappreciated and underestimated. You will become unsure of yourself, you will question everything you do, you will become angry and frustrated. But you have to know that these people don’t know they’re hurting you. They don’t know they are overlooking your efforts because they have no idea that these efforts are being made – they think this is how you are and that compromising and not saying No is a part of your personality.

Let’s recap once again. Not saying No will make you lose:

  • money;
  • time;
  • energy;
  • the respect of others;
  • your self-confidence.

So, the answer is simple. We have to stop with this behavior. But for a chronic people-pleaser (myself included) it seems like the hardest thing in the world. However, we have to try to change if we want to stop being frustrated and improve not only our relationship with others, but also (and more importantly) our relationship with ourselves. Only then can we feel fulfilled and be truly positive.

Here are a few tips – conclusions I have reached – on how stop being a people-pleaser and get back on your path to a happier life.

1. Say No once in a while

I know, it will hurt you more than it will hurt others, but believe me it’s gonna be worth it in the long run. Start off with little things and gradually move on to bigger issues. It’s gonna be hard for you to start, but it will also be hard to re-educate people who’ve known you for years to see you differently. They’re gonna be shocked at first. They’re gonna be mad at you for saying No. But they’re gonna adjust in time, and so are you. And more importantly, if they were your true friends, they will understand. If this is enough to break your friendship then maybe you were never friends at all.

2. Make fewer compromises

Just as before, start with the little things. Try to remember at every step that you matter too. Instead of compromising, maybe try to explain what you want as well and maybe this way you can reach middle ground together. Maybe someone will compromise for you for a change. This is just as hard as saying no, but it will make you less frustrated and give you back your confidence.

3. Be honest

I’m not saying that people pleasers are liars by definition, but we do tell the occasional lie in order to avoid conflicts. We’d rather tell you that we have somewhere else to do/be instead of telling you that we don’t want to do something and go somewhere. (I am not a good liar so if I have other plans I use this excuse, if I don’t, I’ll  just do the thing I wished I had an excuse to skip). Communication is important in any relationship, especially if want to change and make people see you differently than they do now. You have to start telling them the truth about how you feel and not make up excuses instead. Admit it to them and to yourself so you can start the healing process and start to change. If you don’t do this, then there’s no chance for you to truly stop being a people-pleaser. Try to understand this. First you have to change yourself and only then can you start to change the way others see you.

4. Spend some quality time with yourself

Do something you enjoy, take an hour a week to do something you want to do. Do it by yourself or with company. Doesn’t really matter as long as you do it. Be selfish and put yourself first during that hour. It will really make a difference and relax you. I’d say meditate or stuff like that, but as I haven’t tried it I don’t know if it works. If this works for you, awesome! If not, do anything else that relaxes you – go to the spa, listen to music, go for a walk in the park, go see your parents, do something new etc.

5. Try not to take it all so seriously

Relax. It’s really not as bad as you make it all seem in your head. I know this is very hard, so try to take it step by step. Let the little things go. People-pleasers generally tend to be over-worriers and a bit paranoid as well. We have to learn somehow to care less. Sometimes the person you’re trying to please doesn’t even think about the things you do. They sometimes don’t notice if you do something for them, so be sure they won’t notice if you don’t. So let go. Hey, I’m not saying let’s all be a bunch of ignorant people and not care about other people in your life – just care less than you do now (I’m only talking to people-pleasers now, beware!). It’s really gonna have a positive impact on your life.

On a final note I’m advising you to please be careful of not becoming ignorant or mean – this is not what this article is about. You can stop being a people-pleaser and still be a nice person who is considerate towards others. Never forget about good manners. Oh, and don’t lose yourself in the process! 🙂

Hopefully you will find this article a little bit helpful, at least by knowing that someone else out there feels the same as you do. I am going to try and follow my own advice and hope to be successful – I hope you do as well. I really want to hear from you, to know about the challenges you face and if you think my advice will work for you.

Till next time – be strong!


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