Mental Health Matters: No More People Pleasing!

My mother used to tell a story of when I was in pre-k. When she picked me up, the children played on the lawn, pretending to cross a bridge. I was the bridge. I lay flat on the grass, while my friends walked on me.

Even at four years old, I demonstrated the lengths I’d go through to be liked. My desire only increased as I aged.

By the time Dwight and I met, it was easy to switch out a short, honey-blonde hairstyle for longer, brown tresses he’d once commented he preferred. I traded my red lipstick for a natural brown color and stopped wearing bright green shorts for plain, denim ones. I faded into the background of life to ensure he’d always like me, ignoring the fact that he liked me when we met.

I’d mastered people pleasing beyond marriage.

In 2016, my director invited me to a party seventy-two miles away in the city where I work. I didn’t want to go for a few reasons:

  1. The party was Saturday and I received an invitation Wednesday.
  2. It was seventy-two miles away.
  3. I only knew the host.

I discussed it with a friend of mine, who insisted I should attend because of work politics, and…well, because I was invited.

To be clear, I had a good time. In fact, I wrote about it here. But why did I go? Although attending had nothing to do with work, I wanted to be seen as a good employee and a well-liked person. I also didn’t want to disappoint the host.

People pleasing ruled again.

That year, I also published The Unhappy Wife. The number of friends, family, and bloggers who read and wrote unsolicited reviews surprised me. Everyone engaged, except…my husband*.

By self-admission, Dwight reads one book a year. Additionally, he’s not fond of creative nonfiction. But I didn’t care. I obsessed over the idea of him reading and reviewing my book. I needed his opinion. I wouldn’t let it go until I knew what he thought.

I’d argue most of us would want our significant other to read our work. However, something more was happening here. I sought external validation in the form of praise, which is another form of people pleasing.

That was four years ago.

Developing self-worth and establishing boundaries have compelled me to stop living to please others. These three ideas work together.

Because I value myself, I no longer seek external validation. Though I’d like for my husband to read my words, I don’t ask anymore. If he reads this blog or latest publication, I’m excited when he mentions it, but I don’t need him to perform an act to make me feel good about myself.

Because I’d created time and personal boundaries, I knew when my director invited me to another party, I didn’t have to go. I didn’t need to spend three hours on the road and another few hours socializing with strangers to prove I was a good co-worker, associate, or friend. Another strategy I’ve mastered is not explaining my decision. As Oprah once emphasized, “No is a complete sentence.”

Because I’d worked on knowing myself and developing a sense of identity, I’ve returned to wearing red lipstick for no other reason than I like it. Bright colors have crept back into my wardrobe because I like them. And I wear my natural hair in a unique short precision cut because I like it. Each decision is a manifestation of my personality, which is now clear to me.

Here are other actions that have been helpful:

  • I take my time to answer when someone asks me to do something. Let me sleep on it is a useful phrase.
  • I prioritize my own needs over others’ feelings. If staying at a hotel is more relaxing than someone’s house, then I do that.
  • I make more decisions based on emotional, professional, or personal effects and fewer on how I will be perceived.

Finally, I now know the most important person who needs to like me is…me. Others’ affection is a bonus. Releasing people-pleasing behaviors is a third practice that’s helped me to be less codependent.

Finally, I now know the most important person who needs to like me is…me.

kegarland

Let me know if you’d add anything else that’s been helpful for you.

*Dwight read The Unhappy Wife about five months after publication and it taught me an invaluable lesson about external validation.

3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

How to Establish 4 Types of Boundaries

86 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: No More People Pleasing!

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I find that saying no can piss people off. I think of the time when I was very pregnant and for the first time in my life decided to stay home on Christmas instead of driving all over visiting different sides of the family. My maternal grandmother was pissed and let me know it. She even hung up on me! While people pleasing has not been too much of a problem for me, pissing people off seems to be, and also not being able to feel comfortable being my true self around others has been and remains a problem that I can’t seem to work out. I’m glad you have been able to work on this with success.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As my own issues with mental health develop I read your post with interest. So far I’m lucky as Parkinsens seems to not want my brain. But I’m not giving an inch.I have an army if its needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeeeeeeeeeeeez, is that book already created and published FOUR years ago?!?!
    In some areas we are growing at the same pace, dear Katherin. Sometimes, I need to remind myself, that I indeed DID grow, haha. Sending a hug over the big pond. XxX

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have dealt with a lot of the same issues and I’m sure its the same for most of us. No one wants to be seen as the “bad guy,” but our perception of what we think the “bad guy” is becomes a misrepresentation of how people receive our actions. Once I found out (like it seems you have) that being open and honest with people is more preferable than catering to them it changed a lot in my life. My work dynamics improved. My self image improved. My health even improved. Still, its a process that is ever changing.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s most definitely a process, depending on the time, space, and people involved. I’ve learned that in some situations, I have to constantly talk to myself as a reminder to do what I want to do, not what someone else desires.

      Thank YOU for commenting and reading.

      Like

  5. Our work together on situational anxiety underscores how much you respect other people’s boundaries. I am also working on my people pleasing “reflexive reaction” and when I shared that I needed extra time before committing to a time for our interview — your response was so full of grace and understanding.

    This ^ Dr. G created immense healing for me, underscoring the importance of speaking up and asking for what I need. It may sound trite to the logical personalities reading this. But for intuitive feeling types (I am an ENFJ) tuning in to others is often a survival mechanism. And….. the reason a lot of relationships fail.

    SURVIVE does not lead to sustainable relationships. Understanding others archetypes & perspectives (and one’s own) from an impersonal perspective (Caroline Myss writes often about this) — helps relationships THRIVE.

    Thank for listening and for intertwining your personal stories with your words if wisdom. COVID has given me the courage to step more fully into my power. Health > People Pleasing is my motto. 💗💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so welcome!

      I’m glad you mentioned that you offered that as an example Dr. D because I think part of “doing the work,” so to speak, is to actually live what you believe, right? So, that moment was an opportunity for me to react the way I’d wished so many had responded to me, with “grace and understanding.”

      I’m going to have to look into Myss’s work…making a note to check it out. Like you, COVID has shown me that I don’t have time to waste on other things. I hate to put it like that, but our physical time here is finite and that has been made even more clearly this year ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I was younger I tried to get people to acknowledge me in similar ways . I eventually got older and just said screw it I’ll do what I want . Also bright colors are the best and they look great on you 💕Red pants are so badass , I just bought some crimson red velvet pants too ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a helpful post! I’m a huge people pleaser and sometimes it can get very overwhelming. I love your advice about waiting before answering when someone asks you to do something. I’m definitely keeping that in mind!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. And how much I appreciate you writing this! I wouldn’t have written this clearly about myself. You clearly speak to me. As much as I like to believe I have evolved and grown, I deal with similar conditioning of co-dependency and need for external approval, on a good side of the curve for drawing boundaries and honoring my own needs. Lack of self worth and unconditional love leaves such deep grooves to be filled. No is a complete sentence – hope to learn this very well!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, KE. I think a person must have a strong sense of self, know what they like and dislike, in order to put the brakes on people-pleasing. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Once you go down that rabbit hole, you lose yourself. When that happens, it’s easier to paint by number than stare at a big blank canvas with no idea what to put on it. When I started seeing a therapist a few years ago, he asked what I thought, felt, valued, and wanted to get out of our sessions. I sat there, stumped. I honestly didn’t know. He realized a break had occurred and to get a sense of when, he asked when I’d last “felt like myself.” I heard myself say, “when I was five.” That answer came out of nowhere, but it was remarkably accurate. That was when I had started people-pleasing, when my parents’ attention shifted to my two younger siblings, when my constant questions went from curiosity to pestering, when I started school and wanted to have friends and please my teacher. The therapist said to put myself in the body of that five year old and tell him who I was and what I liked to do or play. As it turns out, many of the things that gave me joy at five still do–drawing (especially with crayons), building things, making up silly rhymes, telling jokes and funny stories, dawdling over a pretty leaf or flower, getting a card or letter in the mail, eating creamy peanut butter, thinking outside the box (for example, playing 45 records on 78 to make them sound like the Chipmunks). There is lots more to discover. I’m excited to be doing that work and not caring so much whether other people approve. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joan, thank you for this comment. By the end of it, I was laughing out loud. Some of what you wrote sounds like what you do right now (e.g., making up silly rhymes, telling jokes and funny stories). I do believe, if we’re lucky, we always return to whoever we were intended to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. If I may add a thought to your excellent post, dear Dr Kathy, often people who don’t know how to say “no” in a non-offensive manner develop a habit of passive resistance. They don’t say “no,” and is pressed for an answer, they might even say “yes,” but they will still not do it, and you are left flabbergasted. These same people-pleasers expect their actions to be appreciated, even praised, as a form of validation, and might even become passive aggressive in search of approval.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dolly! How have you been? I know someone who operates just like this. They’ll say yes, when they really mean no, and then make up a reason not to do whatever they said yes to to begin with :-/ So, yes. Thank you for adding this. It’s definitely a thing that happens.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi KE,
    This is such a valuable post! So many people don’t know how to say no. I have been learning but still struggles with having to explain why I am saying no.
    I prefer that no one close to me read my blog. I feel I don’t need to censor myself (not wanting to hurt or anger anyone).
    Looking great there, as always 🙂
    Blessings! ♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It does take a bit of practice to say no and mean it. I literally have spent the last few years saying no in small ways first, like at my job and with my family. Eventually, your voice gets a little stronger ❤

      Like

  12. I love this post so much. There’s so much I want to say but I don’t want to break the internet! I will leave with this: it’s so important to care how you think of yourself, not what others think. It’s a lifelong journey but definitely worth it. Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL Please break the internet, girl! You’re welcome. I agree. I think, in general, women are taught a lot to care about what others think and less about what they personally think, but I think this decade or so has taught many of us to think the opposite, luckily ❤

      Like

  13. Such a meaningful post, Katherin. I could feel myself relating to so much of what you wrote. Sometimes people pleasing is such a habit that I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I’ve learned over this past decade how important it is to please myself first. What a lesson! It’s one I continue to work on and your post reminds me that I have permission to say “no” whenever I choose to!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Just today I put into practice this – your post gave me the mindfulness. A good friend wanted to celebrate my birthday in the morning of my actual day – it was a day that I preferred to be less hectic. I was afraid to tell her I wanted to reschedule, but I went ahead. It was fine. And now I will enjoy her visit with me on a day that works out better for me!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Love your red lipstick as it looks great on your and your al natural dew Kathy. I also love Covid for the built in excuse of “oh thanks but you know it’s Covid” It’s actually a gift. I am NOT ok with ny husband and fam not reading my blog but what the hell can I really do about it so let it go as the antage goes. Great post and always good to see your smile! Stay true and strong in you.❤️🤗

    Liked by 1 person

      1. IMO, People pleasing isn’t inherently bad.
        People pleasing at the EXPENSE of pleasing yourself is the problem. For example, I started creating beautiful, healthy salads during the spring and summer. I enjoy cooking and realized what I missed about eating out was the beautiful presentation. I try to eat healthy anyway but with Covid, I knew keeping myself healthy with fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein combined with daily exercise gives my immune system a better chance of fighting off whatever comes my way. So the creativity of interesting combinations and arranging my plate so it was perfect became important. That’s pleasing myself.
        When I share photos, many people 💜 and comment which is great. What’s not great is:
        * people asking me “have you lost weight?” Not the point.
        * people who don’t understand that this is my creativity and I’m not following a program or recipes
        * people who tell me, “I can cut vegetables too.”
        I like that I’ve inspired some people and I’ve had several people reach out to let me know, but for those who took it a different way, I’m not changing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Laura, what you’ve described is exactly the point, I think. Doing something to help create happiness for others is fine. Doing something against what you want to do to make someone happy is no bueno. Likewise, I really like your example of doing what you want but not for praise…seeking external validation is a tough one to drop, especially if that’s how you were raised (like me) lol

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you! I definitely do it to make myself happy. I was eating all my meals alone and I’ve always felt I’m worth the extra time and effort so when they were plated nicely I began taking pictures. The challenge of social media is people feel free to make negative comments. I am a positive happy person in real life and I think that’s my social media persona as well but it’s the real me and I’m not going to change. I’d like to think my sharing was more to inspire others than for praise but I also noticed the criticism or jokes were impacting me more than they should.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Uggh. The politics of company parties. That’s a big ask to have someone drive that much for a party. I also agree with you on the people pleasing dynamic and how it relates to perception. We do go out of our way for that perception.

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s