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It took me three natural disasters to uncover my people-pleasing ways, which is a lot to admit for someone who is highly ambitious, driven, and simply wants to be liked by everyone.
There is a depth to people-pleasing that many gloss over and don’t see in themselves because they are so busy doing life. Each day is filled with work, friends, family, travel, hobbies, and keeping ourselves active, while striving for what is next. Never giving ourselves a second thought or opportunity to slow down and connect to our deeper self, our intuition.
That is how three natural disasters forced me to slow down and take a big old look at myself.
In late 2019, here in Australia, we had the worst bushfire season on record anywhere around the world, with over 17 million hectares cindered. I was running an event in early 2020, and it was time to launch it into the world, but the eyes were on the media.
People were scared—it didn’t go to plan. Fast-forward to February 2020, and our region was hit by floods, which shocked our local villages, and I questioned if the event was going to make it through. It was almost like I couldn’t get a break, and then March 2020 happened, and we all know what happened then—yes, COVID-19.
It took me down.
I had projected to run an event in May for 200 people, and that was canceled; I was stripped of all that I had invested in the project—time, money, and pride.
I was naked. Vulnerable. Filled with grief.
The only thing left for me to do was pour my heart out into my journal. I spent three solid weeks writing, and what transpired was a common theme in each entry: I was giving my power away to others. I was people-pleasing.
Here is what I discovered.
12 People-Pleasing Traits Exposed:
1. Prioritizing others’ needs ahead of our own.
Not only was I running a business, but I am also a mother and a wife. In my business, I was looking after speakers, and at home, my kids and partner. I was making sure they all had what they needed each day to be their best: from lunches, dinners, clean clothes, the best time slot to speak.
But, somehow, I managed to forget what I needed.
2. Scared we might let someone down.
Juggling 18 speakers, nurturing their every need, I wanted to make sure they had everything taken care of: pre, during, and post-event. I navigated each of their individual changes and requests, making sure not to upset another.
They had no clue that simply asking to change their time slot would have a ripple effect—one that impacted me and my inner need to please.
3. Don’t take sick days.
Over the years, I have barely taken a sick day.
On the days that I did, I was dying on the couch with severe flu-like symptoms. The thought of letting my employer or a friend down was not something I did. I took pride in pushing through.
Though, these days, when my body shuts down there is usually a reason for it.
4. Don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.
When the truth is hard to deliver, it can cause all kinds of pain in your body. You know that a friend might need to hear something but you don’t want to tell them because you know it would crush their heart. Good intentions are often held tightly by people pleasers for the fear of hurting their loved ones.
5. Say, “Yes,” when we really mean, “No!”
Sometimes, it’s easier to say yes than having to explain yourself. This was the thinking I used to have about standing my own ground. I would simply just nod and do what the other person asked, because often, the outcome of saying no was frightening.
Trust me, you might be surprised after you practice saying no a few times how your life changes.
6. Avoid conflict at all costs.
Have you ever skirted around a conversation or knew that it was going to get a little prickly?
Conflict avoiding is a double-edge sword for people-pleasers, as the need to be liked and the need to not upset anyone feels heavy. Avoiding conflict situations became an art form: from simply stepping away to changing the subject quickly to simply nodding my head.
It took years for me to realize it was safe for me to have an opinion.
7. Don’t speak our truth.
When I was younger, I realized that I was a bit different; my thinking was complex, and my reality was not the norm.
My way of fitting in was to hold my tongue and to observe, instead of speaking the truth.
Through deep observation, I would interpret situations and feed those involved with what they wanted to hear or simply not contribute at all. It wasn’t until I worked with Gail Larsen—who teaches that we all must share our gifts or they are lost in the world forever—that I realized this.
8. Crushed when someone doesn’t like us.
Earlier this year, someone said to me that they didn’t like me—it was the most gut-wrenching experience.
I was hurt beyond belief. I was so kind, thoughtful, loyal, the whole package. It was my worst nightmare come true. However, when I look back at that relationship, it wasn’t one that was cemented in time. We were both on very different paths and behaved differently in the presence of each other—that is not real friendship.
My lesson was that not everyone was going to gel with me, and that I needed to be surrounded by like-minded kindred spirits.
9. Mirror the people around us.
Changing who we are is something we have all done at one point in our lives, for sure. Let’s rewind back to high school for a moment, remember those years? That desire to fit in? Those Reebok Pumps or Doc Martin shoes that you so desperately wanted because all the kids around you had them?
Yep, we do this as adults too. It’s not just about clothes, but our behaviors. Perhaps you picked up a new word that you wouldn’t normally say? Or the way you drink your cup of tea?
10. Take on extra responsibility.
Before I was self-employed, I was the best darn worker going. I would do long hours, I became the star employee, and was given extra responsibility. I would show off in a sense to be seen.
I wanted my bosses to acknowledge how awesome I was for doing all this extra work; I wanted them to be proud of me.
This scenario plays many different ways with parents, educators, partners, and family.
11. Apologise way too much.
I bet you’re eye-rolling right now. Sorry was a word that would slip out of my mouth within a second when I bumped someone, when I didn’t do something I thought was right, like put the teapot down in the wrong place, or when the store vendor didn’t have change for my 50-dollar note.
I apologized more when I was in a place of deep self-loathing. It’s was like my existence here on Earth was putting everyone else out.
Don’t ever be sorry for being you.
Accidents happen, for sure, but you don’t need to be responsible for someone else’s reaction to who you are.
12. Don’t share when someone hurts our feelings.
People pleasers find it hard to share their emotions; it’s something that goes on internally and definitely not vocally.
Let me ask you this: has a friend ever done something to you that upset you, yet you simply brushed it off? Your feelings are hurt, but you don’t share how you feel, because if you do, what if it upsets them? This is common, as it ties back to the thought of not belonging.
You have a voice; speak your truth and share your feelings. You might be surprised how people will respond and actually love on you for a moment.
People-pleasing comes in all shapes and forms, and each of us have our own unique set of traits. However, once these traits are identified, this is where the work really begins.
We get to decide. We get to put ourselves first.
If there is one thing I want to leave you with, it’s this: tackle one trait at a time. Practice it, keep changing those patterns, and allow yourself some grace as you learn with heart to be yourself in your truth.