Recovering People-Pleaser Can't Hang
Growing up, we all develop a toolkit for dealing with life, fully equipped with many skills, coping mechanisms, and survival instincts that help us as along the way. But some of the tools we’ve developed don’t actually serve us in dealing with life in the present day. Depending on our circumstances, the tools we end up with might actually be behaviors that negatively impact our lives. Fun “aha moment,” right? Stick with me.
Somewhere along the way, I learned that people-pleasing helped me get through the days easier. I believe this idea became so deeply woven into my being because it helped me avoid conflict at home. I also perceived it to help me navigate the bullying I experienced from first grade all the way into high school. Prioritizing other people’s feelings, comfort, happiness and opinions over my own allowed me to slide through the cracks a bit more easily. I liked this, so I got really good at suppressing my own preferences to the point where I couldn’t even recognize what they were. I was saying yes to everyone else, and no to myself. If you want a sure-fire way to effectively lose yourself, look no further.
An important thing to mention is that developing pesky traits like this is a very natural side-effect of life, so this recovery is shame-free territory.
I’ve only just begun to tease this tendency apart within myself. I’m getting better at deciphering between the things I do for myself versus the things I do to prioritize others and keep the peace. Any lifelong people-pleaser will know, it’s hard to break the cycle, and not just because it’s a deeply ingrained behavior. It’s hard because a lot of the time, the people around us subconsciously prefer us to be agreeable and affirming. Once we become more opinionated, more true to ourselves, we might notice resistance in the people around us. This is especially difficult for someone who has spent their entire life feeling solely responsible for the happiness of everyone in the room, but it’s a necessary shift to make. In undoing the tendency to please, recovering people-pleasers might not be available in the way we once were. Here are some explanations as to why the recovering people-pleaser just cannot hang anymore.
We are reestablishing boundaries
Say my friend is having a big event for work and invited me to go. I am socially burnt out and exhausted this week, but I say yes anyways because I’m an expert-level pleaser. On the surface, I feel like I’m saying yes to make my friend happy. I’m really saying yes to avoid my own internal conflict and discomfort. I’m doing it for me. Deep down, conflict equals pain and I please to avoid that pain. It feels like creating a sense of safety, but we can’t be truly safe if we’re prioritizing others and ignoring ourselves, can we? So I show up to the event, overwhelmed and unable to be present. I am violating my own boundary and injecting a subtle dose of dishonesty into my friendship. Yes, there are certain times in life where we have to do things we don’t want to do. However, recovering people-pleasers are reestablishing healthy boundaries. We are learning that prioritizing our values is worth risking the discomfort of saying no when we need to. When we can’t hang, we’ll more likely be able to be honest about it. When we decide we are emotionally available, you’ll know we are showing up because we genuinely want to. Relationships grow healthier and boom, we all win!
We prioritize our sense of self-worth first
Since I’ve started the work to shift my people-pleasing tendencies, I’ve noticed what some might see as regression. I cry more. I protest more. I get more negative feedback. These things happen because I prioritize my values and my mental health over the demands of my life. If I am caught in an anxiety spiral, I cannot compromise myself. I cannot put a smile on to make others feel more comfortable making unfair demands of me. Truly not sorry about it. I see myself, my mental health, my output and time as valuable. I’m learning to put my oxygen mask on first, as the saying goes. I get upset more often because I allow myself to even acknowledge my feelings enough to express them. I’m actually allowing myself to work through these things instead of suppressing. So in noting the emotional side effects and negative feedback, I’ve been able to sift through and make important discoveries. I can see these things as signs that I am relearning my own values and honoring them enough to let them see the light of day. I’m paying attention to myself, despite the discomfort. I am not just being endlessly agreeable and if that has social consequences, it’s a price I’m willing to pay for my sanity.
We’re learning to show up as our truest selves
For whatever reason, as people-pleasers we learned keeping the peace took precedent over living in our truth. Pleasing became a key component to our identity. For fear of conflict or judgement, we developed new personas, and made connections in our lives with those masks permanently intact. Undoing this tendency means making sure that when we do show up, we show up mask-free. We are working, connecting, and operating in a way that aligns with our own truth. Pleasing others versus listening to our own feelings is a very important distinction the people-pleaser must learn, maybe for the first time. So be patient if we take some time to turn inward. When we reemerge you’ll know we do so finally honoring our own feelings and values. Ultimately, this will help us to cultivate a truer sense of belonging in our circles, and fulfillment in our endeavors. We’ll be able to make more honest external connections. To me this sounds like a much better way to reduce the pain we feel than attempting to suppress and please it all away.
People-pleasing is a trait that can run core-deep. The undoing is hard work, but it’s well worth the arduous shift it requires. Maybe we can’t hang, we say no, and we turn inwards for a bit while we reestablish our priorities. This is not only okay, but crucial for the recovering people-pleaser.
Does any of this resonate with you? What have you noticed on your journey away from people-pleasing and toward honoring your own truth? Let me know down below!