“I’m good with whatever.” This phrase has unknowingly been a mantra for the majority of my life. When I am at my best, I can be adaptable, spontaneous, and free-spirited. At my worst, I am a unrelenting people pleaser.
I’ve had a few clients come to me with an undertone of being a people pleaser at heart. And yet, I see its thumbprint on the lives of nearly every woman I work with. On the surface, it often presents itself as emotional fatigue resulting from the constant work of balancing the needs, wants, and expectations of others. It fuels many struggles with depression and anxiety. It influences relationships with underlying bitterness and resentment.
At its core, people pleasing is rooted in fear. We worry about how our choices might impact or inconvenience others. Instead of asking the people in our lives for what we need and desire, we say no for them. We find ourselves taking a backseat because we’re scared — often for good reason — to show up in our skin.
My own people pleasing journey began early. Like many young children of divorce, I entered elementary school with an extra measure of insecurity. To top it off, I was a super sensitive kid who did not cope well with even the mildest disapproval or a casual mistake. Classrooms and playgrounds provided the perfect environment for me to internalize what others perception of me was in order to avoid shame or hurt.
In recent years, I’ve begun to notice a pattern. More times than not, my people pleasing begins with feeling anxiety and overwhelmed by the “Have-Tos” of life. I then respond by checking out emotionally when it all just feels like too much. This typically follows with passive-aggressive behavior, complaining, and — every once in a while —ends with a good, tear-filled breakdown.
I recently had a conversation in which I grumbled the lack of relational connection in my life. As I processed this, I found myself saying, I would have more time for friends in my life if I wasn’t obligated to spend all of my free time running errands, working, and spending time doing activities I have no interest in. The second these words left my mouth, I knew I was wrong – it didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I was bitter that others were asking for what they wanted, what their needs were, and I wasn’t.
What I discovered was this — my knee-jerk yeses and whatevers often become excuses to not take ownership of my own life. Managing the expectations and anticipating the needs of others is a full-time job that has robbed me of a full life and meaningful relationships and truthfulness to myself. It’s too high a price to pay.
I also have learned that self-care isn’t enough. While I’m all for a good bubble bath and glass of wine, I think what we people pleasers need most is a supportive shove. We need people in our lives who will cheer us on as we commit ourselves to some of those things we always say we’d do if we had more time. We need to be held accountable to making space for those dreams that perpetually remain on the back burner.
The truth is, the people in our world will have far more to gain from our courage to live with authenticity and purpose than they would ever receive from our simple accommodation and fear of disappointing them. Are you ready to be done with “someday”? It’s time for the world to stop missing out on us. Let’s take some steps to move more towards our authentic self.
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