“Niceness is the psychological armor of the people pleaser.” ~ Harriet B. Braiker
I once believed that being kind, gentle, and agreeable was the way to lead life from the heart.
To a certain extent, it is. But there is a paper-thin line between being kind and being a pushover, being gentle and being weak, being agreeable and heading down to Bitterville—population: you.
At first glance, people pleasing may come across as selfless acts of service—f*cking sneaky, I know.
And, in some cases, some people are so unaware, they actually believe it is true.
But if we take a closer look, we’ll soon discover that people pleasing is a comfort zone—a nice, little place for us to hide from all of our f*cked up flaws.
When I took a peek behind the curtain of my people pleasing tendencies, I was pretty horrified to discover that it was a selfish coping mechanism so I wouldn’t have to face some uncomfortable truths.
Denial is powerful, playing the victim is powerful, living in constant need of validation is powerful.
All destructive, but all infinitely powerful over human behaviour.
It’s easier to let things slide because it’s harder to enforce our boundaries.
It’s easier to claim kindness when we just want to feel loved and accepted.
It’s easier to hide than have to confront behaviors that are in desperate need of changing.
People pleasing is drenched in the unhealthy need to win love and acceptance, and it has the complete opposite effect. I’m always slightly amused (but, more likely, disappointed) by how some of our most entrenched coping mechanisms do the exact opposite of what we would like them to do.
People pleasing leads us down dark roads of feeling disrespected, violated, and disconnected, and if we aren’t aware of it, we may then cry victim with great gusto and conviction. Pity party for one, please.
I have spent a great majority of my life doing things to avoid looking bad, imperfect, or God forbid, unlikeable, and I landed up so incredibly bitter that I even started questioning my belief system.
Gratefully, I learned that it had nothing to do with my belief system and everything to do with the fact that I actually hated who I was.
I placed a great deal of value on projecting an image and keeping everyone around me happy at all times, depleting myself physically, financially, and emotionally.
People pleasing is what I was using to fill the void inside me with “love.”
How, then, as recovering people pleasers, do we stop the endless cycle of bullsh*t?
1. I’ll get back to you.
One trait of a committed people pleaser is being the “yes” person. “Yes.” To. F*cking. Everything.
There is value and self-love in saying “no” to things we simply do not want to expend energy on.
If I had learned this a while back, I could have saved myself a sh*t ton time on social gatherings that I had to force myself through, just because I didn’t want to come across as unkind by saying “no.”
I have now instituted the “I’ll get back to you” rule.
It gives me time to digest the request, digest my feelings about it, and then decide if it is something I genuinely want to be part of.
If it isn’t, I, then, am more mentally prepared to deliver a respectful “no.”
Or, if the situation is really bad, I can deliver the “no” in an easier way for me, like texting or emailing. It’s a slightly cowardly way of going about it, but hey, work with me here.
2. A slight delay.
Columbia University did a study in 2014 that if you paused for 50 to 100 milliseconds, you make better decisions. Wild, right?
According to this research, this is the time the brain needs to block out all distractions and process the information. The study was titled, “Humans optimize decision-making by delaying decision onset.”
I think this is especially important for people pleasers whose automatic response is usually favored toward the other person and their needs and wants.
3. Stop saying, “I can’t.”
I was having dinner with a friend, and the conversation went like this: “I told them I can’t,” I said.
“You mean you don’t want to,” he responded.
“I just can’t,” I replied.
“Do you want to do it?” he asked.
“No…,” I whispered, processing intently.
“Then you don’t want to—it’s not about not being able to. It’s not ‘I can’t,’ it’s ‘I don’t want to.'” He stated, matter-of-factly.
How we say “no” is important.
If we say can’t, we invite questioning, and if there is one thing people can be counted on to do is push the boundaries. That’s why we need to be steadfast with ours.
Naturally, research backs this up. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that when we say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t,” we can smoothly exit unwanted commitments.
Your “I don’t” is a clear boundary communication.
4. Stop apologizing.
I think “sorry” is my second favorite word.
I’m pretty sure that “sorry” is the word that follows a great deal of what I say to people. In fact, I have had people point it out with, “Why are you sorry?” and a look of utter confusion drifts over my face as I respond, “I’m actually not sure…”
We don’t have to apologize for prioritizing our needs, our time, our commitments, or our desires.
There is nothing to feel bad about if we put ourselves first, and quite honestly, that’s where we should start with anything we do.
It brings us back to the old adage, “If you don’t stand up for you, no one else will.”
5. Unleash your internal validation.
People pleasers are people who have lacked in some form of validation and love, most likely in their formative years of development, or have experienced trauma that has left them feeling displaced, emotionally and mentally.
There is nothing wrong with being validated externally—it becomes dangerous when it is your primary source of self-love.
Because anything external is fleeting, and you will forever be chasing it, like a drug addict looking for the next fix.
Internal validation is an infinite resource dependent only on you—this means doing things that make you happy, hanging around people who don’t want anything from you other than to enjoy your company, and surrendering to what is not in your control. Let that sh*t go and move on. It really is that simple–don’t overcomplicate it by overthinking it.
Do activities that you know will get you into that sweet state of flow. When the rest of the world fades away and time stands still, you are just giddy in the glow of what you have spent your time enjoying doing.
People pleasers, like myself, are often riddled with illogical guilt, and it’s time to unshackle ourselves from that guilt and start saying “yes”—to ourselves and the life we want to be living.