We human beings have an innate need to belong. To be accepted. To be seen and heard and acknowledged. When we are denied these, we become desperate for love and approval. People-pleasing becomes a coping mechanism of survival.
I was a short and fat kid miles away from the fitting into the beauty standards which got girls noticed. Being the middle child, I was perennially neglected. My academic performance didn’t set me apart. Most days it felt like if I disappeared no one would miss me. I wasn’t contributing anything of value to the world.
How did I cope with these excruciating thoughts of self-loathing? I lived to please others. To be of service to those around me. To agree with everything they said and go along with whatever plans they made. To like what they liked and hate what they didn’t.
My personality changed depending on the set of people I was with. The only thing that didn’t change – my desire to please. It was the only time I felt my life had value. It was the only time my ego felt validated. It was the only time life got easier.
If you, like me, felt you had to make your true self disappear in order to be acknowledged, then forgive yourself. Finding ways to getting our needs fulfilled is a survival instinct. You did what you had to do to get by. To not be crushed by the overwhelm of an apathetic world.
Now you recognize that such behaviour doesn’t serve you anymore. Now you are ready to leave destructive coping mechanisms behind.
Here’s how I could break free from the paralyzing habit of people-pleasing, which was pushing me deeper into a vicious cycle of self-loathing and ruining any chances of forming authentic connections and friendships.
Firstly, the same desperate need to belong which had made me get started with people-pleasing also helped me break free of it. In my desperation to form authentic connections, I finally opened up to a teacher I looked up to. Only when I had the courage to be vulnerable was I able to allow someone else in and help me heal. This was a time I realized that people-pleasing is an act of lying and cowardice. And I am no liar. I wasn’t going to let it make me one.
Secondly, a big side-effect of people-pleasing is loneliness. I had hours to kill with nothing to do. As a child and then young adult, TV wasn’t an option then. I did what many other lonely people do – dove deep into the world of books. Gradually I began picking up only self-help books. The more knowledge I gained, the more empowered I became. Awareness helped me make the right choices for myself. This inadvertently gained knowledge saved my life even though in the beginning I had no idea that’s what I was doing.
Thirdly, loneliness did me another big favour. It gave me the time and opportunity to introspect. Again, it was not something I consciously chose. Loneliness forces self-reflection like nothing else. The deeper I fell into the meditative process the more answers I started to find within.
Lastly, I actively made the best decision of my life – to go to therapy. I was so broken that it could only have been my survival instincts, my soul, to fight for life once more. Under expert guidance, bit by bit, I picked up the broken pieces of my life and put them back together until healing made me stronger and brighter than I’d ever been before.
And today I am a therapist here to help you heal. Life has come a full circle indeed.
If you need a checklist to identify whether you too are (were) turning into a people pleaser, here's what I've enlisted for you:
5 SIGNS THAT YOU ARE TURNING TO BE A PEOPLE PLEASER!
1.You pretend to agree with everyone.
Listening politely to other people's opinions even when you disagree is a good social skill but pretending to agree just because you want to be liked can cause you to engage in behaviour that goes against your values.
2.You apologize often.
Whether you excessively blame yourself, or you fear other people are always blaming you, frequent apologies can be a sign of a bigger problem. You don't have to be sorry for being you.
3. You feel burdened by the things you have to do.
You are in charge of how you spend your time. But if you are a people pleaser , there's a good chance your schedule is filled with activities that you think other people want you to do.
4.You can't say no.
Whether you say yes and then actually follow through, or you later fake an illness to get out your commitments, you will never reach your goals if you can't speak up for yourself.
5.You feel uncomfortable when some is angry at you.
Just because someone is mad doesn't necessarily mean you did anything wrong. But if you can't stand the thought of someone being angry with you , you will be more likely to compromise your values.
HOW CAN YOU STOP BEING A PEOPLE PLEASER?
Most people pleasers are desperate for validation and appreciation. They want to feel needed, so they become over the top helpful and say 'yes' to everyone. This makes their confidence purely based on all external forces. The approval of others and not internal forces. It is best for you to rely on internal validation, not external.
2.Start with Small No's:
It's hard to go cold turkey on pleasing people so start with small no's. For example, if you really don't want to go to a party, but you feel guilty, say you will go but you will be a little late. Start with small no's to practice foe the bigger ones.
3.Don't apologize to prioritize.
Learn to prioritize yourself by knowing your goals. You don't have to feel guilty for standing up for yourself. You should know your worth and should not apologize if it's not your fault.
4.Get Rid of Toxic People.
You might have a toxic person in your life who is constantly asking you for things that you are sucked into. If you have someone toxic, please get them out!
5.If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't.
It's much easier to say NO to other people's lives when you know what you are saying YES to in your life. Knowing your goals is very important.
We've known how poetry was the first form of written and verbal communication and education. How about we use the very tool to unlearn this negative coping mechanism of 'people pleasing' and re-learn self-care, self-love and become the BEST version of ourselves by learning how to draw boundaries?
Are you with me? Then keep humming:
The world would like to change you,
And would like to frame you to be someone else too.
The world would like to blame you,
And fill you with someone else's mistake.
How far can you go fulfilling their demands,
How far can you come home with an unhappy face.
They don't know who you are,
And how have you actually come so far.
You would like to do anything for them,
You would want them to like you back.
You would want to change for them.
Even though it costs you everything,
And leaves you with nothing behind.
You wouldn't have to change a thing,
The world would change itself.
- A poem by, Ruchika Saraf
It’s never too late to live a free life — one that’s finally on your own terms. For me, breaking out of the people-pleasing trap didn’t happen because I prayed that other people would change; I went down that road many times, and it never worked. Instead, I decided to find ways to change my own responses to people, realizing how unhelpful my pleasing behaviors were to myself and those around me.
About the author:
Ruchi Bakhai, is a Psychologist and Founder of EduPsych.