How many of the below questions can you answer yes to?
Do you find it difficult to resist helping others, even when they haven’t asked for help?
Do you struggle to acknowledge and meet your own needs?
Do you feel unappreciated when people don’t acknowledge your help or reciprocate?
Do you have a deep desire to be accepted by others, getting pre-occupied with who may or may not like you?
Do you actively avoid conflict and disagreement, in an attempt to keep the peace?
People pleasing is a common motivation for many of us, particularly in parenting and work.
People pleasing is our unconscious drive to prove to others that we are worthy and loveable. Our seeking of this external validation pre-supposes a deep belief that we are not deserving of love, that our worth and destiny are determined by others and the quality of our relationships.
People pleasing behaviours are born from the overuse of some extraordinary gifts and strengths. For those of us partial to people pleasing we offer the gifts of warm-heartedness, empathy, an ability to anticipate the needs of others and excel where engaging people matters. However when we overuse these strengths they become our limitations.
While the strengths described above are foundational for connection, follower-ship and influence, when overused we find ourselves expending unproductive energy altering our image and behaviour trying to be more desirable and likeable to others, to feel appreciated and needed. We might find it hard to resist helping people, even when we're feeling tired and overwhelmed. We may background our own needs, compromise our boundaries, and overcommit ourselves by habitually saying 'yes' to things that aren’t within our span of responsibility. So why do we overuse these strengths?
The overuse of our strengths stems mostly from unconscious limiting beliefs we have about needing to be seen as a likeable and giving person. Other limiting beliefs that stem from this include a sense of co-dependancy – that our destiny and worth is determined by others, that we therefore need to prioritise the needs of others over our own.
So what are the origins of these limiting beliefs that drive our people pleasing behaviour? We developed this unconscious motivational need to be liked and appreciated early in our childhood through our social conditioning and nurturing. We learnt to receive love and security by accommodating the needs of others over our own, and in doing so we created an over-developed sense of personal responsibility.
The key to changing our people pleasing habits is self-awareness of the contexts in which these behaviours play out and the limiting beliefs that are driving their expression. Awareness is a process that takes time, patience, curiosity and self-compassion. Because our people pleasing habits are mostly out of our conscious awareness, the process of reflecting on the intention of our actions to gradually catching ourselves in action, to catching ourselves before we act, takes time. The best approach is to let go of the need to judge our experience and give ourselves permission to take a light-hearted and curious approach to the learning process.
Here are 5 tips for re-establishing a healthy expression of your strengths.
Ask permission before giving assistance or advice. Ask yourself what is the positive intention of me helping here? Start to notice when you give and help in order to receive appreciation and validation in return. Notice when you feel resentment and frustration that others are not returning your favour - this is a clue that your giving is conditional.
Notice when you are rationalising your people-pleasing behaviour. What are you saying to yourself? What do you believe is at risk if you do otherwise?
Notice when you instinctively move into helping action before thinking about the consequences. Are you helping someone with something they are capable of learning or doing themselves? Remember helping is not helpful when it displaces an opportunity to empower others.
Become more discerning of when saying ‘yes’ is an instinctive response. Start by giving yourself time to respond in a context-appropriate way. Use statements like, ‘let me consider your request and I’ll get back to you’, ‘I’d be overcommitting myself if I said yes to that’, ‘I can’t commit to that right now’, ‘let me process how I’m feeling about that and I’ll get back to you’.
Access your internal source of self-worth instead of looking to the outside for validation. When you define your worth from the inside-out, you free yourself from a need to be seen, appreciated and validated by others.
Letting go of people pleasing traits means choosing courage over comfort and challenging the status quo of who we take ourselves to be. When we begin to validate ourselves for who we are and identify less with our relationships and giving image, we reconnect with our authentic sense of self and in doing so create deeper authentic connections and relationships with others.