Here are a few realisations I’ve had as I’ve chipped away at my people-pleasing ways.
I actually can’t please everyone anyway
“Well obviously”, I hear you say. For me though, this was a genuine revelation and something I’ve had to remind myself of over and over again. When you’re a people-pleaser you do somehow end up believing it is possible to please everyone, if you just try hard enough.
It’s tiring and confusing being a chameleon
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a special skill for contorting myself into whatever type of person I thought people needed me to be. I would adapt myself to make things feel easier or more comfy others, to keep the peace, or to make sure nobody got hurt. Being a chameleon has taken its toll though. A lifetime of being wishy-washy leaves you disconnected from what you truly think and feel.
A lot of time and effort has gone into reconnecting with the real me, the one behind the many masks that I wear. And it’s taken courage, too, because I can only assume that one of the reasons I became a people-pleaser in the first place was because I was scared about how people would respond to the true me, without all of the politeness and smiles.
I people-please less when I’m around “my people”
With certain people and in certain situations, I seem to shed this part of myself. And damn do I feel free! This part of me tends to come to life in the presence of less-judgy and more open-minded people. People who tend to be kind to themselves, so I assume they’ll be the same with me. People who I feel encouraged to just be myself with. These are my people.
When I’m not sure which way to turn, I use my values as a compass
Often when I find myself in people-pleaser mode, I lose touch with my values and instead start following along with what matters to others, at the cost of what matters to me. This is the trade-off of being a people-pleaser. You keep everyone on side by not rocking the boat, but sometimes you end up feeling like you stand for nothing and even feel a little bit beige.
When I find myself wavering in the midst of a people-pleasing moment, I find it helpful to ask myself what feels right for me, irrespective of the voices around me. I don’t always act on what feels right for me (for various reasons), but just asking myself this helps strengthens this muscle – the muscle of being more real.
Being honest is kind
One of my big fears about turning down the volume on my people-pleasing ways was that people would think I was unkind, rude or dominating. I’m still convincing myself on this one, but I’m realising more and more that being more honest about what I believe, what I need or what I want to do is not the same as being nasty or selfish. In fact, being direct and transparent about how you feel is actually sometimes that kindest thing you can do in your relationships. By not being upfront, we can sometimes end up feeling resentful and even a bit used in relationships.
If you’ve always been a people-pleaser, some people may not be head over heels with you trying out a new way
They may even tell you this straight up. And you know what? As upsetting and unsettling as those moments can be, at least you know you are standing firm in backing yourself. Often the people who we most need to set boundaries with are the people who least like us setting boundaries. They push back, they lash out or they use guilt as a way to try to get us to go back to our old ways. It can feel really crappy and unnerving when you try out new ways of being in old relationships, but it’s worth the effort knowing that you’re not sacrificing your own needs for other people’s.
You will become more visible
I’ve lived a lot of my life trying to blend in. Running a psychology clinic like I do now though, I can’t fly under the radar as much. It’s also not how I want to lead my team or live my life.
But being visible is a constant challenge for me. I much prefer to lead one-on-one, or in smaller groups. I find these interactions are more intimate, so more of the real me comes through. And if I’m honest with myself, I think I also like smaller groups because I can figure out ways to please others more easily (hence this being a work-in-progress!).
I wish that I could say that I’m embracing being more visible and stepping up with confidence and gusto, but the truth is, despite being passionate about mental health and leading my team, some days I find it confronting being the person up the front leading the way, so I waver. I always get back on the horse though, and that’s what counts.
Acceptance and patience is key
One of things that’s helping me to push into my people-pleasing ways is to accept where I am in the process. Through conversations with trusted people in my life, I have much more insight into this aspect of who I am, but unfortunately insight doesn’t always lead to change, at least not straight away. Hence why this blog is about a reforming people-pleaser, rather than a reformed one.
I try as much as possible to hold the people-pleasing part of myself lightly and not get stuck into self-criticism when it comes up. Attacking myself doesn’t inspire me to change. I am a transparent person, so I also like to lead in a way where at times I am open with my team about my struggles in this area. Not only are my team compassionate and supportive about me being a work-in-progress, but to my genuine surprise, they tell me they are none the wiser to me and my anxiety most of the time (except for my impossible-to-hide chest and neck blushing when I’m nervous in team meetings!).
Image by Breeana Dunbar Photograpy