I hope you’re up for a personal story. I’m sharing it to convey an important lesson about the female compulsion to please others.
I recently spent a Sunday attending a private event hosted by some people I hardly knew. I attended, not because I wanted to, but because it was explained, “it would mean so much” to the guest of honor if I could be there. Instead of trusting what my instincts suggested — taking a day of rest with my family – I spent the day essentially alone in a stranger’s home, conversing with folks I’d never met (neither the guest of honor nor the host talked to me at all), miserably waiting for the cake-cutting so I could make a quick exit.
While I enjoy social gatherings for the most part, this particular invitation was neither welcome nor well-timed. You see, the week leading up to the party had been particularly difficult for our family. A distant relative was terribly sick, and I had spent much of the week on the telephone receiving updates. Our neighbor had had surgery, and I was delivering meals and lending support. My children had fallen ill to some sickness, leaving them in need of doctor visits and antibiotics. And, to top things off, I was in the midst of a major web site renovation and trying to launch a new product, and was furiously trying to communicate with my staff during the transition.
As I write this, I can hardly believe my behavior. Why on Earth did I go to that party!?
Is this a familiar story for you, as well? Are you sometimes prone to dismissing your inner voice, ignoring your intuition, sacrificing yourself, and doing the opposite, too?
Women, in particular, can be chronic people-pleasers. We frequently find ourselves choosing between what’s right for ourselves or those we love, and what we think we should be doing instead. People-pleasing isn’t just a backwards way of thinking, it actually robs us of so much more — time, control, and well-being. For whatever reasons, we over-tax ourselves to the point of exhaustion, doing it anyway to maintain appearances.
How strange we continue people-pleasing even after understanding the harms of doing so.
Why continue destructive behavior, even after realizing its effects?
The root of people-pleasing frequently lies in a desire to be included, to be liked, or wanting to feel needed. These roots often stem from patterns in our pasts, creating feelings of invisibility, inadequacy, unworthiness, feeling unloved, and a variety of other causes. Pleasers receive a false and temporary high from doing things for others, obscuring their ability to focus instead on their own well-being instead. Whatever the reasons, people-pleasing becomes a kind of strange habit — akin to an addiction – growing worse over time, unstoppable except to the most conscious and courageous, stealing more health and more happiness as time goes on.
Think for a minute of the last time you worried what someone else thought of you. Was it this morning? Yesterday? Last week? Chances are, you care a great deal what others think, how you appear to others, and about maintaining the illusion you’re constantly in control. What I’m describing is not unique to you, but is the plague of modern women. It is not likely to go away unless we each begin to eliminate it in our own lives.
To combat chronic people-pleasing, I suggest the following practices. Share these with friends you care about, so that they may combat chronic people-pleasing in their lives, too:
Realize you have a choice. Many women don’t realize the choice is theirs to make. Participating in activities or continually doing for others isn’t a rule of life, just a decision you make on a conscious level. When you practice this, try considering the effects of not doing the task or the activity. Is the outcome really as bad as you thought? Do you even care?
Learn to recognize manipulation when you see it. In my earlier story, the manipulation was clear, yet I failed to take the proper action. Building discernment skills take practice, but eventually help us examine situations to decide which are true, and which are unnecessary demands on our time. With practice, we can learn the actions necessary to protect ourselves. Keep it up. I’m practicing, too.
Practice saying no. As difficult as this may seem at first, the benefits that come from saying ‘no’ are too valuable not to give it a try. Saying ‘no’ also gets easier over time, therefore it’s important to practice daily and often.
Come up with a phrase if you need one. In my case, I’ve adopted the statement, “It’s not gonna happen”. When I feel pressured into doing something, or if I have difficulty saying ‘no’ outright, I find this phrase rolls off my tongue with less effort. Coming up with a more assertive ‘No’ or a helpful phrase can help you transition into the habit of declining every offer that comes your way, too.
Stop defending your no. It’s important to remember that “No” is actually a sentence all by itself. There is no need to qualify or explain your reasons for making a different choice. Practice breathing after saying the word ‘no’, or practice inserting another phrase instead of your usual apology (examples: “But, it was great seeing you anyway” or “Thanks for asking though”). Inserting new language over your usual apology removes the level of guilt you previously may have felt about saying no.
With much love,
As a coach, writer, recovered over-doer and busyness addict, I understand the challenges of creating a balanced, healthy lifestyle while the mind tries to sabotage your success. In my journey to vibrant health, I created a personalized health system of nutrition and supplementation, lifestyle changes, and I retrained my mind and the energy of my body. I view my success as the formula to my happy, healthy life. I now empower other women to create their own personalized formulas, including the tools and strategies just right for them! Amazing life shifts come from our relationships. I look forward to helping you, too!