Have you ever said yes to something in order to avoid an argument or a possible conflict? And deep down you knew you were going against what you actually wanted?
Maybe you do this quite often? Just so you can “keep the peace”… You ignore that heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach, that resentment bubbling up as you utter the words. And as soon as they have left your lips you feel stressed out?
Is this you? Or do you know someone who is?
Then this is a guide for you.
You are not alone
People-pleasing is a very common behaviour in any type of relationship, professional or personal. It can occur in all areas of our lives. At home with our partners and kids, with family and friends, at work, or during social engagements. Virtually nobody is immune to it.
My name is Sophie and I am a vitality coach. People and happiness is my business. In my personal and professional life, I rarely come across someone who does not struggle to say no when they feel like they should say yes to keep others happy.
For many years I was a people pleaser myself. I would bend over backwards, to do things for others. Things I actually didn’t want to do. Things I thought I had to do.
I remember thinking so often, “I don’t wanna do this” and then hear myself say “Yea, of course I can do that for you”. Not only did people-pleasing rob me of my joy and fun in everyday life, but it also caused me a lot of stress in my personal and professional life. I harboured resentment and frustration towards others the more I succumbed to my people-pleasing ways.
I didn’t know why I was doing this at the time. It was an automatic behaviour.
But thankfully, one day the glorious time came when the penny finally dropped and I realized that me trying to please others didn’t actually serve others or my relationships with them. Least of all the relationship with myself.
In fact, I had created a minefield of negative thoughts and toxic behaviours that made my life a lot harder than it actually needed to be. So I am writing this article for you, in the hope that this may be the day where the penny drops for you too.
The reason we people please
The root of people-pleasing lies in the depths of our self-worth and self-confidence. Somewhere deep down someone who people pleases believes that if they don’t do what the other person wants, the other person will think of them less, like them less and respect them less. Essentially people pleasers subconsciously believe that saying no means the loss of love and connection with another person.
This belief is likely to be based on a childhood experience in response to a specific scenario. So let me put this into perspective for you.
Imagine you had a friend at primary school you were playing with during break time. Your friend asked you to play a different game with her. You said, “No, I don’t want to play this game. I want to just keep playing here”.
In response, your friend shrugs her shoulders, says, “Okay” and goes and plays with another kid.
Now, this scenario isn’t the problem, it’s what occurs after this.
At break time the next day, you see your friend playing with that same kid again, playing the game you didn’t want to play the day before.
At this point, you may start thinking things like, “Oh, she has a new friend. What if she doesn’t like me anymore?” or “Maybe she is not my friend anymore because I didn’t play the game with her yesterday”.
And in response to those thoughts, you decide that maybe you should have just said yes and next time you will just play whatever your friend wants to play. Maybe then your friend will keep playing with you too. Now, your confidence in asking for what you want or need going forward is negatively affected and your sense of self-worth has been lowered simply because of how you perceived your friend’s actions.
It’s important to understand that as a small child, we are the centre of our world, meaning we make other people’s actions and decisions mean something about us. When in fact, other people’s actions and decisions are a reflection of them.
This dynamic isn’t just the root cause of people-pleasing but many other subconscious behaviours we form throughout our childhood are then acted out as adults.
Why people-pleasing is toxic for your relationships
Unhealthy patterns and boundaries
Healthy boundaries are a key component to any functioning relationship, personally and professionally. They give us a guide to how we and the other person want to be treated and communicated with, meaning everybody gets to feel safe and secure. This is necessary for both people in order to have a thriving relationship. Thriving cannot occur without a deep sense of safety.
When we people please we overextend ourselves and cross our own boundaries for others. This is rooted in a belief that we must put others’ needs before our own in order to feel safe in the relationship.
Over time, we start to feel unheard and unseen, misunderstood, taken advantage of, blindsided and underappreciated which undermines that very sense of safety and security we were aiming for.
Erosion of confidence & self-worth: The road to resentment
Confidence within ourselves and a feeling of worthiness is a critical part of healthy relationships. It allows us to be vulnerable, open up to others, communicate effectively, and help us distinguish and make sense of our own feelings. Lack of confidence and self-worth fosters insecurity, leading to the rise of jealousy and impacting our ability to receive love in all forms, even if it is freely given.
People-pleasing particularly erodes your own confidence and self-worth because desires stay unmet and unvocalized. All of this can lead to resentment over time which is toxic and can be fatal for any relationship. It destroys the connection and love for the other person, leaving you feeling bitter and angry.
At this point, the unmet needs are often vocalised and can come as a shock and surprise to the other person who in many cases was unaware of the unmet needs. This often causes friction within a relationship and requires a whole new process to resolve the situation.
Loss of genuine connection with self and others
To speak our truth without fear of judgment or rejection, asking for what we want or saying no to what we don’t want, and honouring what is really important to us, are all crucial aspects in a healthy and functioning relationship. That way we can form a genuine relationship or friendship that is based on mutual attraction. Not speaking our authentic truth keeps us disconnected from ourselves and from others and has an impact on our ability to choose compatible friends, partners and work colleagues.
Simply put, we end up connecting with people who might not really be our tribe.
People-pleasing doesn’t allow us to genuinely learn about each other’s and our own strengths and weaknesses, what we like and don’t like. It doesn’t allow us to connect on a deeper level and truly get to know one another. People-pleasing sabotages our relationship with ourself and others and stops us from what most of us genuinely desire – to be seen, heard, understood, respected, loved, and feel important.
How to make saying no your superpower and feel good about it
So now that you know why we people please and the negative impact this behaviour has on you and your relationships, let’s talk about how to progress from here. No matter where you are in your people-pleasing journey these following points can help you as a guide to start honouring your own needs, communicate and uphold those and feel good about it at the same time.
Think of it as becoming an advocate for yourself and what helps you feel content in life. As a recovering people pleaser myself, I know that unlearning a lifelong pattern of people-pleasing and becoming an advocate or the voice for our own needs is a process. It’s not about getting it right and perfect the first time or even the 10th or 100th time.
It’s about becoming aware of how our people-pleasing patterns play out, doing the best we can in the moment, reflecting on what worked well and what didn’t work so well and trying again the next day. It’s simply about putting what we have learnt into practice. Because practice makes competent.
Your guide to becoming an advocate for yourself
1. Dial in with your intuition: When you are making decisions, check in with yourself and always ask yourself what you actually want. Have a conversation with yourself. Whether you decide to journal it out or ponder over a cup of coffee, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do and that you listen to yourself.
Ask yourself: Do you feel empowered, or excited when thinking about this decision or possibility? Does it bring you joy or some kind of benefit? How does it feel in your heart, how does it feel in your gut? Does it meet your needs?
2. Take your time: Decisions made in haste can often be decisions we regret or wish we made differently later on. Sometimes we need time to consider all our bases before moving ahead and that is okay. Running through scenarios and visualising yourself in that scenario can help us feel whether this is right for us.
It’s like trying on clothes in a clothing shop and deciding if you like wearing it or not. If the answer is no, there is no harm done in putting the item back and trying something else. Allow yourself to enjoy the process, making decisions can be fun.
3. Uphold your boundaries: Your boundaries are based on what is important to you and your beliefs and values in life. Get really clear on those so you can uphold your boundaries firmly and solidly even when it feels uncomfortable at first. In life there is no right or wrong as such, there is only a right or wrong for you. When you start letting go of your people-pleasing ways, start small. Say yes to your friend buying you coffee, so no to a free pamphlet you actually don’t want and work your way up from there.
4. Communicate your decisions and boundaries with love and kindness: Communication is a cornerstone for a healthy relationship with yourself and with others. It helps us find understanding and compassion for different points of view. When we communicate our decisions, thoughts and feelings we allow others to find understanding for what is important to us too. Be mindful of how you communicate to others and infuse your speaking with as much love and kindness as possible. And remember communication is a two-way street. Listening to others is just as important as speaking your truth.
5. Remind yourself it’s okay to say no: When you discover how you became a people pleaser and why, it is much easier to remind yourself that love and connection is not all about saying yes all the time. Love and connection is about letting ourselves and others be as we are without fear of judgment and rejection and saying no to things that don’t serve us is part of that. Remember, whenever you say no to something that doesn’t serve you, you say yes to something that does.
6. Heal your past wounds: The key to progress in our lives is to heal our past experiences that have caused us pain and worry. If we heal these past experiences for ourselves we spend less energy on those going forward and have more energy for growth, moving forward and for the things that actually bring us joy in life. It is a very personal process and however you choose to go about this is up to you. Just start anywhere and remember it’s okay to seek support and guidance on your journey.
Three things that happen when you stop people-pleasing
When we stop pleasing people and start advocating for ourselves there will be three key shifts you will notice in your relationships.
1. You attract better quality relationships. You start to attract people that actually love you for who you are, not for what they get. Letting go of people-pleasing also means that sometimes we outgrow a friendship or relationship. Some people are in our lives for a season not for a lifetime.
2. Your current relationships become more balanced and joyful. The people that love us want the best for us and so often they want for us to speak up and ask for what we need. Letting go of people-pleasing creates more symbiotic and complementary relationships.
3. Your confidence and self-worth grows: When we can show our true self and advocate for ourselves in a balanced and healthy way our confidence in life and sense of self-worth increases. This increases our resilience in life, has a direct impact on our ability to experience joy and opens up opportunities that previously would pass us by.
I am so excited for you! I remember the huge shift implementing these strategies into my own life created for me and I am beyond excited that this possibility is available to you too. As mentioned, just keep trying and give it your best. Trust the process. Because if I can do this, so can you.
If you want to find out more about how I can support you on your journey from surviving to thriving get in touch for a complimentary session.
And because life is an art form, not a science, I want to leave you with this:
“Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Article written by Sophie K for Kidspot
About Sophie K
Sophie is a coach and creator of The Thrive Guide, a mother of two, a joy seeker and a lover of adventure. She helps her fellow humans to find more time, confidence and ultimately joy in their everyday lives through empowering them at their core.
She knows what it feels like to be stressed and overwhelmed; almost constantly. Feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. Between her professional and personal life in the past there just wasn’t enough time or energy left for joy. The result? Life often seemed hard and complicated. Her mental and physical health suffered. The people she loved the most ended up getting the worst of her. Including herself.
It took a major life event for her to realize that she needed more. She wanted to feel at ease, be the best version of herself for her kids, make time for what was important to her and follow what brought her joy and happiness deep down. Life is just too short to spend it feeling unfulfilled.
She loves to laugh and see the funny side of life and has a deep interest in people, their stories and what makes them tick. She has been running her business since 2020 and is excited to help make this world a better place for all our generations to come.