Always putting others ahead of yourself can lead to problems at home and work. Helen Snape discusses why it’s time to learn to say ‘No’ – and to start looking after number one
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
I am a recovering people-pleaser. People-pleasing is a pattern of behaviour where you put the needs of others before your own and seek others’ approval. It gives you a temporary reward, such as keeping the peace, avoiding a conflict, saving time on arguing, as well as a ‘buzz’ that you have made someone else happy.
However, it begins to create problems in relationships, jobs, and health, which get worse over time. You don’t get your wants and needs met, you ignore your feelings, store up resentments, avoid intimacy, and give and give and give until you fall ill or burn out.
The good news is that people-pleasing behaviour can be unlearned.
Recognise the patterns
When is it that you can’t say ‘No’, or can’t express your wants and needs? Who with? What events or environments are problematic? What happens before and after? How do you feel at the time, and how do you feel after?
Keeping a journal will help you to recognise when you do these things and where there might be trends and themes. You can then ask yourself where these patterns have appeared in your life before, and when they began.
Don’t judge yourself. Just becoming more aware of what we are doing creates space for exploration and change.
Your most important relationship
Healthy relationships with others stem from a healthy relationship with yourself; we look for the approval of others when we don’t know how to fill our own cup.
Spend time getting to know yourself, what you like, what makes you laugh, what you enjoy doing, and what you are good at. Be as kind to yourself as you are to other people. Try new things. Find a way to connect with your highest self – the best version of you.
Cultivate self-love, so that you are giving from an overflowing cup.
Seek approval from yourself
When you have a decision to make ask yourself why you want to ask others’ opinions about it. Do they bring a new perspective or experience – or are you seeking approval and reassurance from them? When we seek approval from others, we are giving our power away.
Learn to seek approval from yourself and be your own best counsel. You know your life better than anyone, and also what is best for you. Find a way to tune into your little voice of truth – that quiet inner voice that is there to guide you. Meditation can be a great way to do this.
Create healthy boundaries
Our boundaries are simply what is okay for us, and what isn’t. Chronic people-pleasers tend to have poor, or non-existent, boundaries.
As you work on your relationship with yourself you will begin to notice more how you wish to be treated and what is okay for you in terms of physical, emotional, and time-related boundaries. When you begin to communicate your boundaries to others, expect some resistance. People don’t like change, and they need to know that you are serious about your boundaries. Don’t give in.
Start off with smaller, easier areas of life to build your confidence – and keep at it!
One of the roots of people-pleasing is often a ‘lack’ mindset, or a deep feeling of not being enough. This then shows up in every area of your life, and means you try to hold on to love, people, possessions, money and jobs. You play small and safe, and do anything to have a ‘smooth’ life.
Challenging the beliefs that we grew up with is hard work, but it’s worth it. The universe is an abundant place, and there is plenty of everything for you. If you hold on tightly to what you have, you have no space to receive more. Know that you deserve the best life has to offer – it isn’t just for other people.
People-pleasing leads to a disconnection from others; because we constantly worry what they think, we don’t open up to anyone.
Breaking old patterns, and creating new ones, is much easier with the encouragement of those who understand and support you. Find someone you feel safe sharing your goals with, someone who can help you identify areas to work on, keep you accountable, encourage you, and celebrate your successes. If you want professional support, you may want to talk to a coach or therapist, or you may find a self-development group to join, or that self-help books give you new insights and breakthroughs.
Remember it’s okay to ask for help. We aren’t meant to do everything ourselves.