How to Stop Self-Destructive People Pleasing

Are you a people pleaser? Are you the first one raising your hand when your church or school is looking for a volunteer? Do you financially overextend yourself to once again help your sibling who just doesn’t seem to get it together? Or, are you the one patiently listening to your friends’ problems for the umpteenth time, but never share your own personal struggles because you don’t want to burden them?

Pleasing others while putting our own needs on the back burner isn’t a virtue or a sign of generosity, but more often a long-standing, self-defeating pattern.

Usually we establish these patterns during our childhood when we were highly dependent on others to feed, shelter and accept us. Before the age of ten, our mind is like a dry sponge, soaking up any information from the outside that appears relevant to answering the three basic questions for our survival: “Where do I belong?” “What am I about?” and “What’s for dinner?” A series of scary or confusing experiences during these early years can shake up our trust and confidence, causing our subconscious mind to develop protective patterns to ensure our safety and survival, such as trying to be perfect, or invisible, or always prepared for the worst, or, of course, trying to please others.

However, while pleasing others as a protective strategy may have served a vital purpose at some point in our lives, taking care of others at our own expense never leads to a sense of inner peace and self-empowerment. As long as we’re looking for others to fulfill our needs to be accepted and approved of instead of learning how to appreciate and value ourselves, we are remaining stuck in the belief of being powerless, unworthy and dependent on others. As time wears on, the need and emptiness in between those brief moments of feeling accepted become greater and start to consume any residue of our self-worth.

The dilemma is similar to a coin. One side of the coin represents the approval, recognition, and acceptance by others, and the other symbolizes their judgment, criticism, and pressure. The problem is that we can’t just pick up one side of the coin. It’s impossible to cherish praise and acknowledgment without also becoming more susceptible to disapproval and dismissal.

The following steps can help you to put this coin down, and overcome being a people pleaser by practicing self-reliance and independence from other people’s approval.

  • Notice how often your opinion of yourself depends on what other people are thinking of you. How often are you trying to please others, trying to make them like you, trying to meet their expectations?
  • Create healthy boundaries as an expression of self-worth and self-care instead of overextending yourself. As my wife likes to say, “No is a complete sentence.” Practice saying no to somebody else’s expectations and yes to taking care of your own needs.
  • Change the dynamic of your relationship by adapting the opposite of your habitual pleasing role. Move from being the listener to the one who shares, from the giver to the receiver. Instead of being passive, try the active role. Instead of following, make a decision.
  • Please yourself by attending to your own needs. For example, eat something healthy and nourishing, take a bath, book a massage, or go to bed earlier than usual. Do something that makes you feel good about yourself and increases your self-appreciation.

Being less of a people pleaser, becoming more self-reliant and independent from the approval of others doesn’t mean that you become anti-social, ignorant, or closed down. Self-reliance simply means that you become your primary frame of reference for how you choose to relate to yourself. Self-reliance leads to not only greater self-appreciation and confidence, but also greater openness, equality, and fulfillment in your relationships with others.

If you are ready to stop pleasing others at the expense of your own health and happiness, tune into this episode of Empowerment Radio on Thursday, February 4th at Noon ET / 9AM PT.

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