Everyone needs to be safe, loved and to have a sense of belonging. These are innate and natural basic human needs. In an effort to have these needs satisfied, many of us resort to people pleasing. And it works for a while. We find that we experience less conflict with others, but the conflict within ourselves grows. Saying “no” produces feelings of guilt, and saying yes brings anger and resentment. It is the quintessential dilemma– you find yourself caught between a “rock and a hard place.”
The longing for acceptance which lead to people pleasing, began for me at a very young age. My father was in the military so we relocated frequently. I experienced being “the new kid” a lot. Being naturally introverted further complicated matters as I was shy and did not make friends easily. I was naturally “book smart” and making good grades came fairly easy–but being smart–back then–was not on trend as it is today.
To further complicate matters, I grew up in a household where grades, image and how others perceived our family was very important. In our household a “C” was unacceptable, a “B” should have been an “A” and an “A” meant the class was to easy and we needed to be moved to a higher level class. I was too skinny, my sister was too fat and my brother’s lips and ears were too big for his tiny head (actually true–but not his fault).
People pleasing became a way of life.
How to stop pleasing others just for the sake of acceptance
The ability to stop pleasing others as a coping mechanism after it has been a way of life for so long is easier said than done. It’s a long process one in which I consistently am working to perfect.
The turning point for me came shortly after I married my husband. He was a people pleaser as well. We found very earlier in our marriage that in order to remain married and have a successful future together we would have to stop pleasing others and do what was best for us as a unit. That meant learning to say “no” and making people upset.
Best decision we ever made.
One of the very first things we did to end the cycle of catering to others was developing our own identity as individuals and then as a couple. A funny thing happens when you know who you are–you begin to care less about what others think of you.
The second thing that really changed our lives and helped us stop pleasing others was the develpoment of a strong set of core values and a vision for our future. We determined what was important to us, established our non-negotiables and made all of our decisions based on these factors. We developed a habit of discussing all decisions with each other. And this was especially crucial during the initial stages of our transformation. Saying “no” is just hard for some people. It was extremely difficult for us. So, instead of making a decision the moment a request was made, we always told the person we would get back to them. If we could not discuss it and at least sleep on it, the answer, most often, was a no. When we would discuss pending decisions and if the answer was no, we would assist each other with framing the response and then provide support in helping each other stick to the decision.
The third and one of the most valuable things we did during this process was developing our own personal sphere of influence. These are people we surrounded ourselves with who are, older, wiser and more successful than we are and whose opinions we value deeply. The sphere was and still remains very small. Our sphere is objective, holds a similar value system that we have and above all else– is honest with us.
The last thing we did was come to an understanding that sometimes helping people actually hurts them. When we are quick to swoop in and rescue individuals or remain at their beck and call, we actually create a system of co-dependence which inhibits them from every being their best selves. Struggle is essential to success. Struggle strengthens character, builds tenacity and resilience and forces people to use ingenuity an grit. Sometimes allowing a person to struggle is the best thing you can do for them.
Now, when I am approached to attend an after hours office party which I vehemently do not want to attend; I square my shoulders, look my co-worker dead in the eye and say, “I would love to, but my cat just died.”
I am still a work in progress.
Featured photo credit: Hobvias Sudoneighm via flickr.com