Hello, my name is Clara Kennedy and I am a recovering people pleaser.
Even though I don’t agree with labels, that felt oddly good to write. Maybe a more accurate, healthy way to say that is of the 6,000 thoughts I had in a day, a good 70% of those resulted in people pleasing behaviours. However, for the ease of writing this blog, we’ll stick with people pleaser.
What has led to such an admission you ask? Well, a while back I stumbled across a book called Positive Intelligence by Stanford Lecturer, Shirzad Chamine. The idea being that the higher our mental fitness and positive intelligence, the more we thrive in our careers and our lives. Chamine dedicated a section of the book to the negative typical thoughts and feelings of a people pleaser. Casual personality assessments are a hobby of mine so I decided to read on and measure myself against these typicalities.
” Has a strong need to be liked by people and attempts to earn it by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering them” – Tick
“Needs frequent reassurance by others about acceptance and affection” – Tick
Hmm. Pretty accurate.
“To be a good person I should put the needs of others ahead of my own” – Tick
“It bothers me when people don’t notice or care about what I have done for them” – Tick
“Expressing my own needs feels selfish” – Tick
“Worried that insisting on my own needs may drive others away” – Tick
This was me. I felt seen. I had all these thoughts and feelings…regularly.
I always knew I was a bit of a people pleaser so that wasn’t a surprise, but I had convinced myself it was a good thing! Something that helped me progress in my career and made me easy to work with.
While the above wasn’t untrue exactly, the more sinister side of my people pleasing was that I really wanted people to think that I was great because I had no faith in my own abilities. Constant positive feedback from others was my kryptonite and I would do anything to get it. When I didn’t get it, I was crushed. I harboured resentment along with a conviction that I was useless. I was a martyr for an unnecessary cause – external validation.
What was even more nerve-racking was thinking of how I could part with my people pleasing. I felt my life would fall apart if I didn’t agree to be everything for everyone. How would people ever like me if I let them down? How would I be able to maintain a career?
On the other hand, my life had previously nearly fallen apart because of the people pleasing. My burnout was in part because I never wanted to say no to anything and would work all hours to ensure that I could make it happen. During this time I had no idea what my boundaries were but I knew that I felt awful and was in a constant state of fear.
After much reflection and support, I was satisfied with the fact that I can still be a good person who lives true to my core values while still prioritising my own wellbeing and boundaries. I realised that I’m even more capable of living authentically and being a good person when I prioritise my own wellbeing. It may seem like an obvious realisation but it took work.
And it takes ongoing work. I will always have a bit of people pleaser in me but I’ve made peace with the little scamp. I know it helped me survive in its own weird way.
So what did it take to gradually quieten those people pleasing thoughts and restrict unhelpful behaviours? Read on for some tips below.
Awareness is the first step. Start to take notice of the emotions and feelings that arise during stressful or triggering situations and become aware of the thoughts that are occurring in those moments.
Take a pause
Although awareness is a vital first step, without any follow up action, it really doesn’t make much difference. Once you start to become aware of your tendency to people please and how regularly those thoughts arise, you can start to anticipate certain situations that may trigger you. When you feel triggered, take a moment to ground yourself. Take a few deep breaths to regulate your nervous system. This is how you create space between your emotions and your response.
Exercise self compassion
Use compassionate self talk with yourself in situations where you notice those negative people pleaser thoughts arising. A more kind, compassionate alternative to the thought “To be a good person I should put the needs of others ahead of my own” is “I am enough just as I am. I am a good person no matter what”.
Tune into your own priorities and values
Really take time to reflect on what is truly important to you. Once you become aware of this, it becomes much easier to live a life that reflects your wants and values. Ask yourself the following:
- How do you want to live your life?
- What do you find important in life?
- What does success mean to you?
If you are struggling with this, think of times that you were:
- feeling the happiest
- feeling fulfilled
- feeling proud
Why did these moments stick out for you? What are the recurring themes that occur?
Be honest here because there is no wrong answer.
Understand and define your boundaries
When you start understanding what your priorities are, your boundaries will naturally start to become more clear.
For example, it may be a case that being part of a community is inherently important to you and because of this you know that you would like to volunteer. With this in mind, you want to make sure that you can finish work on time to use some evenings for voluntary work.
Alternatively, it could be that you want to incorporate more rest and recovery into your days to improve your wellbeing.
Say no without saying “no”
For the recovering people pleaser, saying an outright “no” is definitely anxiety inducing. Never fear – a few ways of saying no without saying “no” that I have incorporated into my repertoire are the following:
“I would love to help but unfortunately I’m overcommitted”
“I don’t have time to take this on at the moment.”
“I can’t say yes to this right now”
This is still clear communication without being a big fat “no”. However, avoid vague comments like “I’ll try to get around to this” (I was so guilty of this comment) because you’re really just delaying the no and confusing everyone in the process.
Work with a coach
If all of the above sounds very overwhelming to do alone, a coach can work with you on starting to recognise and manage your people pleasing behaviours with manageable techniques. It can also really help to have someone to hold you accountable in making positive changes.
Quieten that people pleasing inner voice and move from a place of survival to thriving! Get in touch today.