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People Pleasing is another theme that seems to be plaguing many of my clients lately. I admit it is something I with which I have and continue to struggle. Somewhere as women (and I know quite a few men who have this issue too), we learned that our needs aren’t as important as other people’s. In fact, we learned that our role is to predict, mind read and generally guess what the other person needs or might need so that we can fill it for them.
Here is an extreme example of a friend of mine. Liz (not her real name) attended her annual family vacation last month. She spent so much of her time making sure that her brother and sister were happy that she didn’t even know if she had a good time. She spent the whole week of vacation, trying to figure out the perfect restaurant for everyone, the perfect beach spot, the perfect dinnertime conversation! She made sure she kept her brother and brother-in-law (sisters husband) separate the whole time and made sure her mother didn’t get on her sister’s nerves. In short, she felt responsible for everyone else’s happiness. I asked Liz what would happen if she stopped engaging in the behavior and she said she had no idea but she could only imagine how awful it would be. She had played this role for years and they counted on her they needed her in that role.
The first step in trying to change your people-pleasing ways is to recognize that you engage in this behavior. The second step is to recognize that you are getting something out of it!!! Yep, that is a hard one to swallow, my friend. But it is true. Because she people pleases, Liz feels more important, they “need me to take care of them”, they “need me to pick the perfect restaurant” if “I don’t take care of them they will be miserable”. Truth is they might be stunted or stymied briefly if Liz didn’t step up and take over, but they would eventually figure it out. If they had to, Liz’s family would figure out how to get along. As a people pleaser, we tend to get in this rut of believing we are irreplaceable believing that our overt need to over give, and wear ourselves out is helping everyone. In reality, we are hurting ourselves AND those around us.
So once Liz recognizes she is a people pleaser she has to ask her self–what am I getting out of this pattern? The two main things I have seen in myself and in my clients that we gain are: One, A sense of importance, a sense of security/identity in her role, the kudos from her family that she contributes. Two, When she pours all her energy into her family/friends she doesn’t have time to really look at her life, to look at her own wants/needs. For some of us looking inward is too hard and challenging because we are afraid we might not like what we see. So by focusing on everyone else Liz is too exhausted to look at her own life and figure out what she desires. People pleasing allows her to stay in victim mode, allows her to never really go for her dreams because she just doesn’t have time. Changing the habit of people pleasing is a hard one because we usually are gaining a lot from this role. Once we realize what we are gaining and that it just isn’t worth the price we can start changing the behavior.
The problem with people pleasing is it can’t be done and at the end of the day we are hurting ourselves and those around us. We get so caught up in being hyper-aware of everyone else and making sure everyone else is having fun and getting their needs met–we forget our own. It is an unfulfilling way to live. Logically we can’t read people’s minds, we can’t make everyone happy. We can only make ourselves happy and be kind and caring to those around us. We have to then trust that if we stop people pleasing and look inside there is a wonderful magical world there. We have to trust that those around us will figure out how to make themselves happy. We have to trust that when we all just take care of ourselves, stop mind reading, stop playing the victim and be kind to one another we will live happier.
Are you a people pleaser? What are you gaining from this role? What tricks have you tried to catch yourself people pleasing?