• Leatha Kingi

Recovering from People Pleasing

So what is a people pleaser? The simplest definition is someone who goes out of their way to make others happy. Doesn’t sound so bad right? In fact, an awareness of how we affect others and a responsibility to do good are both traits of emotional maturity.

But a people pleaser infringes on the stewardship of others and takes on responsibility that isn’t actually theirs - namely, the happiness of others. People pleasing is a sign of wounds that need healing.

I never thought of myself as a people pleaser. I knew early on I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But I can now say that I am a recovering people pleaser - and that kicking the habit of pleasing others has brought so much more peace and joy into my life*.

Some possible signs of people pleasing:

  • You apologize frequently for things that aren’t your fault. You accept blame that isn’t yours. You feel guilty about things that are not your responsibility.

  • You say yes when you mean no. You say yes without considering your own boundaries.

  • You say you agree with people around you when internally you disagree. You may tend to act like the people around you.

  • You have a hard time even knowing how you feel and what you think. If you have been pushing aside your own needs and wants for a long time, you may no longer be in touch with them.

  • Your relationships are superficial. You don’t express your true feelings to others so it is impossible to go deeper.

  • You don’t acknowledge when your feelings have been hurt.

  • When you look at your schedule it feels overwhelming and burdensome and doesn’t bring joy.

  • You need praise and validation from others to feel good. Praise and validation can feel good to anyone.However, consider if your self worth relies wholly on what others think and say. You may experience emotional roller coasters depending on how much validation you’re receiving in the moment.

  • You’re a giver who gives with the goal of being liked or appreciated. If the gift is not acknowledged in the way you desire you may be upset.

  • You’re afraid of others being angry. To prevent their anger, you do whatever you feel is needed. You walk on eggshells and are hypervigilant.

  • You may prioritize others over your spouse or partner. You help others over putting time and energy into the main relationships in your life. You may also seek validation from others in a way that results in behavior that is disloyal to your partner or children. Conversely, you may break your commitments to others consistently to “please” one or more particular people.

  • You do so much for others that they may become complacent, or unable or unwilling to do things for themselves.

  • You lie to avoid telling people things they may not want to hear.

Possible motivating factors for people pleasers:

  • Low self esteem/ self worth. Seeking validation from others as the source of our self worth.

  • Fear of rejection. Doing whatever we can so that we are accepted and receive love.

  • A need to be needed. Feeling that being needed equals receiving love.

How we may have become people pleasers:

  • Trauma or abuse. We may have learned it was safer to do what other people wanted, perhaps in childhood, and this may later be reinforced by our choice in romantic partners.

  • It can arise without abuse. If our parent/care-giver was emotionally wounded and overwhelmed, they may have been inconsistent in their love and affection and ability to connect with us as their child. A child is wired to crave close connection with their parents. So when that connection is intermittent, a child learns how to track their caregiver’s moods and what actions she can take that seem to please the parent and give her the connection she needs. This may start a lifelong pattern of seeking to please others because that is how we receive love and affection.

  • Internalized ideas about our worth. Low self worth can start with offhand comments from (wounded) caregivers or others that start us on a downward self esteem spiral. This can cause us to attempt to “earn” our worth by pleasing others.

  • If we received love and affection based on our behavior, that reinforces the idea that we earn love based on how we behave - people pleasing 101.

  • If we received harsh criticism whenever we didn’t behave the way our caregivers wanted, then we may have learned to engage in people pleasing behaviors as a way to avoid criticism.

To consider:

  • In your own upbringing, were you the golden child, always obedient and doing exactly what you thought your caregivers wanted?

  • Were you a high achiever and did you do so primarily to seek parental accolades and approval? Were you a perfectionist, and was there part of you that did things “perfectly” to gain acceptance from a parent?

  • Or, did you rebel and push back and distance yourself from your caregivers? Perhaps your inner knowing pushed back at the idea that you needed to change yourself for others.

  • When you disagreed with things did you speak up or did you stay silent in order to continue receiving love and affection?

  • Did you feel deep shame any time you did deviate from being the “ideal” child? Do you feel deep shame as an adult when you fall short of your self imposed ideals?

  • Did you adapt all of your parent’s values and beliefs and perhaps even preferences in an attempt to be closer to them? Perhaps you pursued a specific path in life not because you wanted to, but because you wanted to please them. Consider if and when you stopped pursuing what you wanted and focused on pursuing what you thought would gain their approval.

If you are a parent, and you recognize any behaviors that have inadvertently created people pleasing tendencies in your children, have hope! You can help them by precept and example. Young children are unable to discern that our issues as parents are our own. Kids internalize whatever is happening with us. Our own healing is the greatest gift we can give our children.

So how can we heal and recover from a lifetime of people pleasing?

  • Self love is the key! People pleasing stems from seeking love and validation outside of ourselves.

  • Boundaries are essential.

Tips for recovery from people pleasing:

  • Try the phrase “let me get back to you” if you have a hard time saying no to requests of your time and energy.

  • Don’t apologize. Instead, replace regret with gratitude. Instead of, “I’m sorry I can’t,” try “Thank you for thinking of me. That won’t work for me.”

  • Say won’t or don’t instead of can’t. Don’t offer excuses, just speak your truth matter of factly.

  • Accept that you are not for everyone. Think of the most seemingly universally loved thing or food you know. Somebody doesn’t like it! You’re not for everyone and that is okay.

  • Question your own motivations. When you do something for someone, ask yourself if you are doing it for acceptance or validation, or because you truly want to do it.

  • Wait to help until you are asked instead of jumping in to rescue.

  • Put yourself first. Tend to your own needs before the needs of others.

  • Practice saying no - even in small ways like saying no to a drink refill at a restaurant.

  • If you say yes, set time/ resource limits. For example, say yes to babysitting - but specify the hours and what you need provided.

  • Express your opinion, particularly when it differs from those around you.

  • Take a stand for something you believe in despite what others may think or feel.

  • Know your goals. It is much easier to say no when you know what you want to say yes to in your life.

  • Learn how to be assertive.

  • Set and modify boundaries as needed with people who don’t honor yours.

  • And above all, deepen your self love and self compassion!

These practices can feel very foreign. That’s ok! We can also feel like we are regressing - that is okay too, because healing is cyclical, not linear. Little by little as we consistently make our own healing a priority we can change. As with any time we create new neural pathways - new ways of being - there will be some resistance, both internal and external. Quitting people pleasing can evoke feelings of guilt. And in relationships with people who are accustomed to your people pleasing, there will most likely be pushback. This doesn’t mean you are wrong - in fact, the pushback can often be a signal that we have been betraying our own boundaries for far too long. As we increase in self love and create a new way of being where we honor ourselves in our interactions, it gets easier. I promise! It also invites other people to honor themselves too.

Here is where essential oils can have such a profound impact. As we move beyond the resistance and persist in creating new neural pathways, oils help to magnify our self healing work and reinforce and affirm what we are creating. Using essential oils consistently has amplified my own healing work in incredible ways. Use the oils by applying them over your heart, on your wrists or bottoms of your feet, or by inhaling them from the palms of your hands. Do what feels right to you and apply them in whatever ways you will be consistent at doing.

As we progress from needing external validation to recognizing and embracing our own wholeness, people pleasing behavior becomes a thing of the past. And that is so liberating!! It frees up so much energy to serve people in the way that we are meant to - in ways that are powerful and empowering and helpful for all those involved.

Comment here or message me with your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!

*As with everything I share, I am not an expert. I am simply a woman on her own healing journey sharing my ever deepening and expanding Truth.

**My suggestions and recommendations are based on doTERRA essential oils. Here's why.


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