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When someone’s boundaries are ignored then the habit of people pleasing often develops. Here are some ways you can stop being a people pleaser.

When I was growing up, most of the time I felt as though I wasn’t good enough. As a result, I adopted the habit of people-pleasing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying so hard to please everyone else that I am the one that suffers. Okay, so…. maybe my therapist helped me with realizing that 😉. While it’s something that you can work on training your brain to do, it’s just that, hard work. Not to mention, it’s so much easier said than done. Thankfully though, you don’t have to be stuck with being a people please forever.

It’s taken me years, but I’m slowly moving out of the mindset that everyone else should be prioritized over myself. It’s hard to show up for everyone else as your best self when your own needs are neglected. I often struggle with feeling as though I’m being selfish if I don’t drop everything I’m doing when someone comes calling. Have you ever heard the phrase “fill your bucket first”? Basically, you need to take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else.

When someone is raised in a home where their boundaries were either nonexistent or ignored and their emotional needs are neglected, it’s natural to internalize the belief that they aren’t worthy of anything good and are a burden to everyone else around them. When I was a child, I never felt like I could show any emotion besides happiness. It seemed like when I was anything else, the man who abused me would become angry, say I was ungrateful, and emphasize that his stress/feelings were more important. If I showed what I was really feeling, I was met with phrases like “What’s your problem?” “Well, you don’t think I’m tired?” “You think I don’t feel good?” or something similar.

I learned to shut down; to put on a face that reflected everything except what I was feeling inside. I’d save any “negative” emotion for when I was in bed alone at night because my tears couldn’t be heard and weren’t answered with “I’ll give you something to cry about!” as so many kids in my generation were threatened. I became a master at masking. That’s when someone hides (or masks) their natural personality, feelings, or overall state of mind so they conform to pressure from peers/family, harassment or abuse. It’s typically influenced by environmental situations like rejection and unhealthy/abusive relationships. It became so engrained in me from such a young age that a lot of times I don’t realize I’m doing it.

By the time adulthood rolls around, the habit of trying to prove your worth by showing up for everyone else while neglecting yourself and your own needs becomes second nature. When and if you ever do try to put yourself first, the feelings of guilt and selfishness seem overwhelming. This can lead to significant resentment in some cases because, in an attempt to please everyone else, we’ve betrayed ourselves.

People pleasing can manifest in a variety of ways

  • Being so afraid of conflict that you become unable to express yourself and uphold your boundaries because you don’t know how to do it effectively. You end up just “going with the flow” no matter how uncomfortable the situation is.

  • Overcommitting yourself either at work, helping friends, and ignoring the feeling of burnout because you feel like you don’t deserve a day of rest or that a day taken to yourself is selfish. 
  • Saying yes out of fear when you really want to say no.

  • Habitually over-explaining or apologizing when you can’t “show up” for whatever you are needed for.

  • Being passive-aggressive, not expressing what you need, or expecting someone to pick up on the “hints” you are dropping instead of communicating exactly what you need.

  • Adopting the opinions of others as your own because you don’t trust yourself to formulate your own that you can defend if need be.

  • Being full of anxiety or just unable to handle someone being upset or disappointed with you for any reason.

You can move past being a people pleaser and develop the skills you need to stand up for yourself; to set and enforce boundaries. Upsetting or disappointing others is a part of life. There is no way to please everyone no matter how hard you try. That doesn’t mean you are wrong or that you need to change your mind, boundaries, or views. You have no control over how someone else feels and negative responses to you enforcing your boundaries are not your fault. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s emotional state.

All healthy relationships have limits that need to be respected. If your limits aren’t honored, you might consider whether or not the relationship is a toxic one and then decide whether it’s one you want to continue trying to maintain or one you need to let go of. Most times, people who don’t respect the boundaries of others typically don’t have any of their own or just aren’t familiar with the concept. That or they only care about you continuing to be a people pleaser so they aren’t inconvenienced.

Your worth is not determined by the opinions of others; remember that. In all honesty, what other people think about you is really none of your business. Once you figure that out and start holding on to it, it becomes easier to recognize that most people are too focused on themselves to really care about passing as much judgment on everyone around them as you might think. Your needs are essential and the more you meet them, the happier you’ll feel. Not to mention you’ll be less drained or resentful when you are showing up for someone else.

So how do you stop being a people pleaser? 

First things first, you need to be aware that a problem exists. Becoming a people pleaser in a learned behavior which means you can unlearn it too. People pleasing is a trauma response. It’s a pattern developed as a way to keep yourself safe. It was developed because you had to consider the emotions of the adult(s) in your life when you were a child instead of them helping you learn how to regulate your own.

Practice meeting your own needs before you focus on anyone else’s. Again, more often than not, when you are trying to please everyone, your own needs are neglected. There is so much focus on making sure those around you like you, that you lose yourself in the process. You ctart by doing small self-care activities every day. 

Set boundaries and stick to them. This one is tough because the first things felt are usually guilt, fear, and, if you’re like me at all, an overwhelming feeling of selfishness. When someone responds negatively to your newly established boundaries, remind yourself that it’s NOT your responsibility to help them feel any type of way. You’ll soon start to recognize toxic relationships and patterns in your life and maintaining them takes all the energy you have away. 

Work on emotional regulation. This is huge for helping overcome your people-pleasing habit. It comes with the inability to sit with uncomfortable emotions. Learning to sit and feel your feelings can be tremendously overwhelming but it won’t last forever. One of my therapist’s favorite lines is “You don’t tell your emotions, your emotions tell you.” If you ignore your emotions long enough then they will start showing up in all the ways you don’t want them to. If it’s not something you can “deal with” right then, at least acknowledge what you’re feeling and come back to it later.

I learned shortly after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia that your emotions don’t all stay in your head. I shoved down and tried to ignore the trauma I experienced at a young age for over a decade. Those emotions started resurfacing with physical symptoms that can become so debilitating that it’s difficult to walk, move, or even hug my kids at times. While ending the habit of people pleasing is, like I mentioned before, much easier said than done, it’s definitely worth it in the long run. I notice a significant difference in my overall emotional and physical state when I put myself first. Believe it or not, no one else around me has suffered because of it and it’s allowed me to be more present and available for my family. 

Talk soon,

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