Notes from a recovering people pleaser

You’ve been working all morning, and you’ve finally completed that enormous project. You’ve achieved everything on your to-do list, and you’re about to close your computer and leave the house. In fact, you’ve got plans to go out for lunch and buy yourself something new. You’ve shut your computer, you need a break, and you’re excited about going out.

You’re putting your shoes on when right on cue, you get a message from a friend. Hey, what are you doing? I’m struggling with this [insert thing you’re good at], can you give me a hand?

How do you respond? If your immediate instinct is to drop your plans (or even seriously consider it), you might be a people pleaser in need of some real talk.

The difference between kindness and people pleasing

The world certainly needs kindness, and I’m not here to discourage helping others. To figure out which category a situation fits into, ask yourself some questions.

Do I feel good about helping, or uncomfortable about not helping?

Would this person do the same for me?

Does it need to be me, and does it need to be now?

Am I being honest with them and myself about my needs?

What am I giving up to say yes?

The paradox of people pleasing

As people pleasers, we often adapt to the desires of others, put their needs first, and perhaps even agree with their opinions and ideas rather than express our own. We may do this to avoid conflict, to avoid being rejected or disliked, or to try and fit in.

Paradoxically, you may notice that the more you do this, the less people do the same for you. The more we adapt to others, the more alone and neglected we may feel. We can even start to build resentment or feel victimised, and when that happens, we start giving off passive aggressive vibes, often without knowing it. Consider the most popular, charismatic, and loved people you know. I bet they have very defined senses of self, and are not afraid to disagree or express controversial opinions. I bet they say no when a request doesn’t work for them.

You see, confident authenticity and healthy boundaries are hot.

What are you afraid of?

The first step to recovery is to understand what’s behind your people pleasing.

It may be a trauma response, conditioned through abuse or violence. This is a complex pattern to heal, but the journey is important and worthwhile.

A fear of rejection or desire to fit in may drive it. If this is you, is people pleasing giving you the results you’re after? And if not.. could you try something else?

You may have a deeply programmed guilt around letting people down, a sense of obligation to serve others. If so, I invite you to sit with curiosity about who you are when you strip away the service component of your persona.

The gift of No

When you people-please, you rob people of the chance to know the real you. Instead, you’re offering them a weak reflection of themselves. I guarantee the real you is more interesting.

When you say no, you give people the gift of knowing your yeses are full-bodied, whole-hearted, genuine yeses. Friends with boundaries are such a treat; we know we can ask them anything and they will only say yes if they truly mean it. We don’t have to worry about imposing.

When you prioritise your own self-care, wellbeing, and truth in expressing yourself, you have the resources to support people you love in a genuine and mutually satisfying way. Otherwise, you may feel taken from and deprived, and others feel that too.

Boundaries as self-love

Could you see yourself as your best friend? I recommend it, because you are the only person that is guaranteed to be with you until the end of your life. You’re together 24/7, so to get the best out of that relationship, be generous with your love.

Self-love has become a bit of a buzzword, personified by thin airbrushed models in bathtubs, laughing at rose petals in their champagne (or something) in ads for expensive candles. If you want to truly step into love with your best friend (i.e., yourself), making and enforcing boundaries is worth more than a lifetime of mani-pedis.

You are a unique human with a combination of gifts and traits unlike anyone else in this world. Give yourself permission to be who you are. Give others the gift of knowing you. Anyone who isn’t into it will leave space for those who are.

Where to start?

Gestalt therapy focuses on defining and strengthening the self and authentic connection with the world. When you’ve been adapting to others and defining yourself by their needs for so long, it can be helpful to have a supporter on the journey to getting to know your true self. The therapists as Northside Gestalt will never tell you who you should be, but will walk beside you while you define it for yourself. Contact us for a free consultation to find your perfect companion on the journey back to you.