Let’s replay this familiar scenario. You want a day (or maybe even just part of an afternoon) to yourself. You’re hoping to decompress for a few, precious moments. You deserve it, you tell yourself. You work hard for other people!
And then, the phone rings. The email beeps. The kids barrel in, coworkers ask for a small favor, and a neighbor knocks at the door. In just a flash your entire afternoon disappeared. Again.
You’re tired of this cycle. You want to know how to stop people-pleasing but you worry about hurting the people you love. You want to prioritize yourself but you’ve lost sight of how to do that when everyone else needs you first.
Identify Your Fears
During our first years, we lived in a self-absorbed world, in a fascinating reality where everyone and everything revolved around us. You cared very little about making other people happy and it was all about you. Ahhhh, sounds like pure bliss, right?
As it turns out people-pleasing is a learned and reinforced behavior. Maybe you watched one of your parents cater to everyone else’s needs. Perhaps you receive a lot of praise when devoting your time or energy to help others. Or you simply enjoy the way you feel when you make other people happy. Making other people happy is indeed a wonderful feeling. The problem starts when it becomes an exhausting and repetitive pattern of self-sacrifice.
And here’s the dirty little secret about people pleasing - when you work hard to please others you suddenly find yourself surrounded by people who want to be pleased! If you’re a giver, takers will hone in on you like a heat seeking missile.
You want to change but change is scary. Start by taking some time to identify your fears about stopping or changing your people-pleasing tendencies. Do you worry about rejection? Abandoning others? Being labeled mean or cold? Do you fear that you’ll try to assert your needs only to find yourself falling back into old patterns?
Reflect On Your Own Goals
People-pleasers often struggle with internal identity crisis and a shaky core sense of self. Somewhere along the way you got the message that your worth is tied to pleasing others. But to cultivate a sense of self, you must reflect on your personal goals, morals, and dreams.
When you gain confidence in who you are and what you value, you will find it is easier to say no to the people, places, or things that no longer serve you.
Reflect on your immediate short-term goals (within a day or week), medium-term goals (within the next few months), and long-term goals (within the next few years) on a regular basis. Write them down and keep them in a visible location. Start with easy goals.
You want an afternoon to take that long hike? Write in down and add it to your calendar. You want more time to cultivate your hobby? Grab a sticky note and write “I WANT…” and place it on your bathroom mirror. You want your husband to hang with the kids this weekend instead of playing golf? Send him an email letting him know you’re out of the house on Saturday afternoon and he’s in charge. The more you can remind yourself of your visions and plans, the more likely you are to place them at the forefront of your routine.
Practice With Safe and Small No’s
When it comes down to it, breaking the pattern of people-pleasing requires changing behavior. Most of the time, this will require some variation of the word, NO. No to that extra assignment. No to that dinner party. No to spending time with someone you don’t even like. No to picking up the phone just because it’s ringing.
That said, NO may be harsh. If you’ve struggled with a lifetime of pleasing others, it may feel completely alien. It may feel like aggression rather than assertiveness.
Fortunately, no doesn’t need to be the only answer. You can use other, truthful answers like,
I would love to, but I’m going to be busy that day, or I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’ve been so busy that I can’t give the assignment the time and energy it deserves.
That said, it is essential to avoid lies or excuses. Doing so just reinforces the notion that you “owe” a specific reason for saying no. And guess what? You don't.
Accept The Difficult and Uncomfortable Feelings
Releasing your people-pleasing behavior can feel painful. Know that it’s normal (and expected) to feel some guilt, shame, fear, and sadness when saying no to a request. In fact, if you do feel a little guilty it’s probably a sign that you are on the right track. Remind yourself that these feelings are part of the process. They don’t indicate that you’ve done anything wrong.
Many times, we assume how others will feel or think based on our responses. In saying no, we believe they will be angry or disappointed. However, you are not a mind reader, and it is not your job to rescue the entire world. What you will find is that many times the actual response you’ll receive in return is, “ok, no problem”
Think about it this way: whenever you say yes to doing something you don’t want to do for someone else, you are inadvertently saying no to yourself. Is that fair?
Identify Those Who Take Advantage
Many people ask for favors or requests because they simply need help. Others, however, expect you to say yes because they know they can take advantage of your generosity. These are the people who will react unfavorably when you start asserting yourself.
You can first start by setting boundaries with yourself and with that person. This means establishing your needs and clearly outlining what you will and will not tolerate.
If somebody cannot or will not respect your boundaries, it’s time to reflect on the nature of this dynamic. You deserve to be in reciprocal relationships with a mutual take-and-give. If one person is doing all the taking, does he or she really add positive value to your life?
Final Thoughts On How To Stop People-Pleasing
Of course, learning how to stop people-pleasing is one thing. Doing it is an entirely different challenge! Be patient with this process. It will take time.
Remember that self-growth manifests from self-esteem. You build your self-esteem based on finding inherent value within yourself and honoring your needs. You are allowed to be generous with others - just don’t forget to be generous to yourself!
Are you ready to stop people-pleasing and harness your true happiness and potential? We can work together to break old habits and establish new patterns. Contact me today to learn more about my services.