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People pleasing is a survival strategy that many of us started doing when we were children.
We’re not bad or wrong for creating it; in fact, we’re pretty damn smart. In a sense, we needed to—it’s how we got our needs met for love, acceptance, and safety.
Some of the reasons why we have and why we may continue to people please as adults are:
>> We may be sensitive and we don’t want to hurt others.
>> We may want to avoid conflict and feeling bad.
>> We may depend on other people’s approval and/or doing for others in order to feel valuable and worthy.
>> We may fear that we won’t be liked if we don’t do or say what others want us to.
>> We may fear being punished, screamed at, and/or abandoned.
>> We may fear honoring our own needs because that’s “a selfish way to be.”
>> We may do manipulation—meaning we people please because we want something. We have a hidden agenda, “If I’m nice to you, say what you want to hear, and give you gifts, love, and attention, then ‘you must’ love me and do for me in return.” In a sense, it’s a control strategy.
The problem with doing this is that it creates inner conflict because we’re not being true and authentic, and it can create anger, resentment, and/or disconnection from the other person if they’re feeling the manipulation.
The longer we try to please others, the more we lose touch with our true nature; we may not know what we truly like, what we truly want, or how we truly feel because we’ve built a foundation on suppressing our truth and conditioned ourselves to be how others want us to.
Underneath people pleasing is often the idea of not being good enough and that we won’t be loved and accepted unless we’re taking care of others and/or doing and saying what we think others want us to; but really, we’re abandoning ourselves and even if someone shows us love and acceptance, we won’t feel it because they’re loving and accepting a mask we’re wearing.
I started people pleasing at a young age; it wasn’t really a conscious choice since something in me concluded that I needed to.
When I was in hospitals and treatment centers, I had to follow my family’s ways and suppress how I was thinking and feeling; otherwise, they would highly medicate and sedate me. Because I had anorexia, sometimes they’d forced me to eat tons of food in one sitting; if I didn’t, I would get tube fed, which felt like rape. When I was outside of hospitals and treatment centers and shared in therapy the struggles I was having with eating and being in the world, they would tell me, “If you don’t keep up with your nutrition and isolate at home, you’re going back into the hospital.”
I didn’t know what else to do, I “had to give in” and be the person others wanted me to be. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. My body moved into a hypervigilant state and concluded I needed to be who others wanted me to be—my “survival” was at stake.
This is what happens when our survival feels threatened because of traumatic experiences—a part of us finds ways to get our needs met even if it means self-abandoning.
The people pleasing thing for me eventually turned into self-harming and self-abandoning. At age 15, that energy turned into symptoms called anorexia, depression, and anxiety. I starved my body because it wasn’t okay for me to take care of me. I deprived myself of experiencing any fun or joy, and I locked myself in a prison where eating little then exercising all day and cutting my wrists and face became the “normal way” for over 23 years.
People pleasing is something that often gets engrained by what we were praised for as children. Anything that upset our parents and/or we were shamed for often gets pushed down into a place inside that says “never again.”
What was acceptable and praised for was how we built our identity—how we “should be”; it’s how we’ve found safety, and something in us holds on tightly even when we try to change.
Some ways of being praised may have been by being the good girl or boy for following the family’s ways—doing for others, suppressing our anger, sadness, disappointment, and instead, putting a smile on our face, not asking for anything or overachieving, and being the “best on the team.”
Those of us who do people pleasing often experience fear of sharing our unique expression and our true thoughts and feelings. This can show up as challenges in relationships, apologizing to others when they hurt us just to keep the peace, writer’s block, and not allowing our creativity to flow—which can create anxiety, depression, or we may turn to food, drugs, or alcohol to help us find ease with that suppressed energy.
It’s natural for our energy to flow, but when we think about sharing how we’re truly feeling or sharing our creative expression with others, “social consequences are at stake” and something inside of us says, “No way.” This happens because we’ve moved into our heads and past pain, and away from our heart space.
I used to get really hurt if my creative expression was criticized or rejected (it doesn’t feel good when this happens); sometimes I take it personally, and it activates the “not good enough wound” and the recurrence of criticism and rejection. This is when I hold myself in compassion and love, acknowledge the hurt in me and my inner child, notice what I’m saying it means, and also look at the bigger picture.
What’s the bigger picture? I’m not being rejected or criticized; what I’m sharing or the ways I’m being may not be resonating with the person receiving, as we all view our lives through our own beliefs, meanings, and needs.
Sometimes it’s a mirror reflection; we may be judging and criticizing ourselves for what we’re feeling or sharing. This goes deeper into shadow working—noticing the “mirror” and what it’s reflecting.
We can learn new ways on how to have a more healthy connection with ourselves and others, but first, instead of denying or suppressing the part of us that’s doing the people pleasing, a better approach is to make peace with it and take time to understand why it feels it needs to be this way and why it may be afraid to let go.
Why we feel we need to be the good girl or boy? What does that mean about us when we are? What is the reward?
Why we feel the need to act in accordance with how other people want us to be? What happens if we don’t?
Why we feel the need to seek love and approval from others instead of learning how to be our own loving friend and offering ourselves our loving attention?
To the latter one, I would say love and acceptance are important; they’re human needs and are healthy. The challenge comes when we ignore our own needs and self-abandon to “get” love and acceptance.
Knowing the difference between people pleasing and doing for others because it’s natural is also important; we don’t want to deny our natural expression. If we’re being authentic and true without any hidden intentions—giving, sharing, loving, being supportive, understanding, and doing for others because it’s who we are—then it’s truly a beautiful thing. It allows us to experience true connections with other beautiful beings.
What’s most important is to notice the energy behind our actions.
Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself before doing or saying anything:
>> Why am I doing or saying this?
>> What need(s) am I trying to meet? Is it to be loved? Is it to be accepted? Is it connection? Why is it not okay for me to honor my feelings, my wants, and my needs?
>> What am I feeling? What am I needing? How can I meet my needs in a healthy way?
>> How can I help that part of me that may be afraid to feel seen, heard, loved, accepted, and safe?
Taking care of ourselves at the beginning may or may not be so easy. First, because it may be unfamiliar, and a part of us may not feel it’s safe to do so. Second, because some people may get mad at us because they, too, may have an underlying belief that “when someone does what I want, it means they love and accept me.”
I remember the first time I started honoring myself, saying how I was truly feeling and not doing what everyone else wanted me to if I didn’t want to. I did receive some anger and resentment; I was called selfish, screamed at, and given the silent treatment—that wasn’t easy.
However, by staying with it and offering myself compassion (as I felt those uncomfortable feelings of people being mad at me for not “complying” and continued to be true to me), eventually, it did get easier and helped me experience a deeper and a more trusting, loving, and harmonious relationship with myself and others.
Resisting the part of us that’s doing the people pleasing by going to the other extreme isn’t healing. Healing isn’t about fixing, suppressing, or compensating; it’s about embracing ourselves with compassion and empathy, helping that part that’s afraid to feel loved and safe, and finding healthier ways to meet our needs.
Otherwise, what we’re doing is creating fragmentation and reinforcing an idea that we’re bad or wrong, which isn’t true; all parts serve a purpose and want to be accepted and loved.
So, really, healing from people pleasing is learning how to reconnect with ourselves and our true feelings and uncovering and embracing those parts of us that we pushed down and/or disowned because they weren’t accepted and inviting them into our heart space.
Most often, those parts are our greatest qualities, our authenticity, our natural ways of being, and when we integrate them, we start to feel alive internally, our creativity flows more naturally, and we have more energy because we’re living true to who we are.
And instead of focusing on not trying to do people pleasing, a better approach is to start finding and focusing on what makes you truly happy, ways to have fun, trying new things, getting in touch with your authentic, creative expression, your natural talents and qualities, noticing what you’re needing, finding ways to meet those needs, and learning how to be more kind, compassionate, loving, and nurturing.
Mindset work has its time and place, but it’s not the best for those who have experienced trauma along the way, as our survival mechanisms run deep and often override any conscious thinking. And those of us who have experienced traumas, we’re tender and vulnerable—we don’t need to be pushed to believe or do something. We need to be seen, heard, understood, and held in a space of compassion and love.
Here’s the simple truth: you, my loves, are good enough, worthy, and lovable as you are. You’re loved in every moment no matter what you look like, what you say or do, what you have, what you achieve or don’t achieve. Being human can be messy, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re a beautiful, lovable, and valuable being.
Remember, my loves, the healing journey is about compassion and learning how to be more kind, gentle, and loving; it’s about offering thanks to those parts that created the survival strategies to help us feel safe and finding healthier ways to get our needs met today.
I invite you to consider this, “Instead of trying to be perfect, allow yourself to be authentic.” The more we live authentically, the more alive we feel internally, the more we experience a true homecoming with our souls loving energy, and the more we enjoy our life journey.