The Sinister Side of People Pleasing.
I believe that wanting to please others, typifies a caring and considerate person — one who isn’t self-absorbed or narcissistic. It may even sound like a cute and harmless term, but ‘people pleasing’ also has a sinister side. People pleasing becomes a problem, when destructive behavioural patterns develop. When we become a watered-down version of ourselves, because gaining approval from others has more weight than expressing who we are. Our ‘pleasing’ can also be unhealthy when motivated by significance rather than contribution.
I’m familiar with the trappings of craving validation from others. I’ve said ‘yes’ when I should have said ‘no.’ I’ve kept my hurts inside for the sake of making everyone else feel comfortable, and I’ve pretended not to be affected when others have caused me deep suffering.
Until recently, I’ve considered ‘keeping others happy’ an indicator of success. I’ve wasted copious amounts of time ruminating over my failure to please. I didn’t understand that my objective was impossible. I take full responsibility for my naivety and actions, and I’m aware that my ‘attempt to please’ stems from my own long held insecurities. It’s natural to want others to approve of us, but at what expense? I thought I was being virtuous — but in reality, I was being dishonest.
Here are some of the consequences I’ve personally experienced from people pleasing over the years: -
I’ve internalised my feelings which resulted in me not expressing my own needs
I’ve been submissive which resulted in other people controlling my destiny
I’ve supressed my emotions which resulted in inauthenticity, anxiety and stress
I’ve experienced a build-up of heavy emotions which resulted in magnified reactions
I’ve lacked personal boundaries which resulted in people taking advantage of me
I’ve apologised when not warranted which resulted in remorse and shame
I’ve been retracted and held back which resulted in me remaining stagnant
I’ve not spoken my truth which resulted in physical manifestations
I’ve accepted bad behaviour which resulted in granting permission to be treated this way
As women, we have been culturally conditioned to zip our lips. We are taught to be peacemakers. I remember my dad saying ‘Good little girls should be seen and not heard.’ We are great at sacrificing our own needs, to please others. It’s a role we are shown from early in life. Our hormones also play a role. Apparently, we’re hard wired to look after other people’s interests before our own. Lara Briden explains in her book Homone Repair Manual, that as we age, we have less tendency to want to please than during our reproductive years due to the changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. This allows us to be more self-sacrificing when we are younger. I believe it also has a lot to do with experience, confidence and knowing ourselves more intimately.
I am getting better at speaking up and saying how I’m feeling these days. The need to explain my position has dissipated too. In the past, I would have been desperate to have my side of the story heard. It doesn’t matter anymore, and that itself is liberating. Taking control of my own healing has been a wonderful source of peace.
I’ve redirected my time and energy. If I am not able to communicate my feelings to others without backing up what I’ve said with evidence, it’s not my tribe. If I have to justify my every action, and explain myself, it’s not my tribe. I know my tribe. With them I can speak freely, make mistakes, and I receive genuine forgiveness. I don’t have to convince them of my worth. I prefer to surround myself with those who offer their hand to pick me up when I’m down.
I still care so deeply for others. I can’t change who I am. What has shifted is that I don’t expend useless emotion on what anyone else thinks of me anymore. I no longer fear rejection. We all eventually work out that no matter what we do, we have absolutely no control over other people’s thoughts. I have let go of needing others to validate who I am. My opinion of myself is all that matters.
The approval and acceptance that I had craved from outside, now comes from within. Finally, I am able to welcome the woman who embodies this, and I feel a lightness I never imagined. Take a moment to think about whether you have taken on the burden of trying to please the unpleaseable.
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