In our last blog, we explored indicators of people-pleasing tendencies: difficulty saying no to others, feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings, and overextending yourself are signs that you may be caught in a people-pleasing trap. If you identify as a people-pleaser, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction simply by recognizing your patterns.
If you’re reading this blog, then you’ve likely reached a point where you feel ready and motivated to make a change. So what are some small but meaningful changes you can make to your relationships to tone down the people-pleasing and be more authentically YOU?
1) Give yourself permission to matter. When we suppress our needs and exclusively focus on what others want, we’re telling ourselves, “my feelings don’t matter. I don’t deserve an opinion.” Now is the time to challenge that problematic line of thinking. Where did you learn you’re not deserving? When did you learn you weren’t enough? The first step toward breaking free from people-pleasing is to acknowledge that you are worthy and valuable and important simply because you exist. Once you’ve given yourself permission to take up the same amount of space as anyone else, you’ll feel all the more empowered to do something different.
2) Be protective of your time. People-pleasers prioritize everyone else above themselves . And if you’re saying yes to everyone else, then it’s impossible to leave time in your schedule for YOU. Couple that kind of pressure with the belief that you’re not entitled to or deserving of anything, then you’re going to give away your time like candy to trick-or-treaters. In order to curtail this pattern, it’s time to begin carving out time for yourself. Here’s an exercise: take a look at your calendar over the next two weeks (or three or four, if you’re a serious planner). In addition to taking inventory of what’s already scheduled, take stock of any and all free blocks of time. Can those hours be used for yourself? Whether you need to make more time to run errands, hit the gym, organize your apartment, or simply relax unencumbered, bookmark those times in your calendar. Those hours are now yours, no matter what anyone else asks of you. Treat those blocks of time no differently than the way you’d protect the times you’ve already booked for plans.
3) Seek opportunities to express your preferences. Anytime that you’re figuring out plans with someone else, use it as a chance to express your preferences. If you’re figuring out dinner plans, try expressing what you’re in the mood for (“I’d love to go out for sushi”), or sharing a time that works best (“7pm would be great for me”). No matter the situation, look for an opportunity to express what you want. It doesn’t mean you’ll get your way, but it doesn’t mean you won’t. Compromise is a foundational component of every relationship, and that can only be accomplished if you speak up for yourself. You’re starting the habit of giving yourself a voice.
4) Remind yourself that you are not responsible for how anyone else feels. People-pleasers work tirelessly to keep everyone else content. If you dig deeper inward, you may notice that by people-pleasing, you’re also working to avoid others’ anger or disapppointment. As long as you say continue to say yes to everyone else and remain agreeable, no one can get upset with you, right? What you’re really trying to do is control how other people feel, and this requires critical examination. You don’t have the power to control how other people feel, react, and respond, just as others don’t have that kind of control over you. If, however, you were raised in a home where you were expected to keep the peace, or keep a parent happy, then you were taught otherwise. You learned an unfortunate untruth: that how others feel is entirely your responsibility. To unlearn this kind of thinking takes a lot of practice.
5) Practice saying no. Say it over and over, and keep practicing. This word may not yet be a part of your repertoire, but it’s essential in maintaining healthy boundaries, preserving your wellbeing, and putting yourself first. As a people-pleaser, the idea of saying no to somebody will at first provoke anxiety, but the more you can confront this fear, the easier the practice will become. Allow yourself the opportunity to learn new ways to exist within your relationships. Learning to say no is empowering, and it will build your self-worth. The next time someone invites you somewhere you don’t want to go, asks for a favor you’d rather not provide, or requests your time when you’re busy, try speaking your truth: I don’t think I’d like anything on that menu; unfortunately I don’t have any time this week; or I don’t think I’ll be able to help with that. Give yourself the chance to see that saying no does not invite feelings of anger, resentment, or criticism. And if it does, then that says more about the other person, and it’s not about you or the boundary you set.