The soul-sucking habit of people pleasing

Growing up I always saw my mum putting everyone else’s needs above hers. She would make sure the table was set and dinner was ready by the time dad got home, she would agree with everyone’s opinions out of fear of voicing her own, and forbid guests from lifting a finger when they visited us. Every time I went to school with a new hairdo, she always asked “What did people say about your hair? Did anyone mention anything?”. 

My little brain unconsciously captured all this information and said: “Other people’s needs and thoughts are really important, forget about your own”. And that’s how it all started.

The signs

A people pleaser can be defined as someone who’s kind, supportive, and unconditional. Most people don’t realise that this person feels a strong urge to please others, often at their own expense. They feel as if their own needs don’t matter and will always strive to be liked and accepted by everyone else in their lives. And yes, it’s mentally and emotionally draining. 

Some other signs include: 

  • Finding it hard to say no to requests
  • Taking on extra work even if they don’t have the time
  • Over-committing to plans and responsibilities
  • Avoiding conflict by agreeing with others

What to do? 

People pleasing isn’t a medical diagnosis or a personality trait that psychologists measure. It’s simply a compound of behaviours, or as I like to call it, a soul-sucking habit. 

The worst part is you will NEVER be able please everyone. All that work you’ve put into being liked and accepted won’t change the fact that you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. So what do you say we get rid of this habit once and for all? 

Here’s what you can do: 

  • Wait it out. Next time someone needs something from you, take a few minutes to think about it instead of answering immediately. Ask yourself if you can (or want to) do it, then be honest about it. 
  • Set limits. While people may be used to you always saying yes, it’s not too late to set boundaries around your availability. A simple “I can’t commit to that time” or “tonight doesn’t work for me” can go a long way.
  • Time blocking. Block out time in the day in which you won’t take any new requests or plans. You can do this mentally or use a calendar. 
  • Rehearse your ‘no’. There are many nice ways to say no, and it’s time you start practicing them. Try to please yourself for a change and turn down any plans that don’t align with what you want. 

And the most important thing: take care of yourself. It might feel weird and new, but the only person you should be striving to please is you. Do things your way in your own time, stop waiting for people’s approval and start living your life in a way that feels true to you. If people don’t like that, well, show them the door…

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