Check all that apply:
___You have trouble admiting when your feelings are hurt.
___You over analyze (conversations, situations, tones of voice, texts, etc.).
___You feel the need to be overly nice.
___You find yourself agreeing with the majority, even when you genuinely disagree.
___You feel responsible for how other people feel.
___You are an emotional care-taker for others.
___You find yourself frequently saying "I'm sorry".
___ You feel burdened by the things you have to do.
___You say yes to things when you really want to say no.
___You feel uncomfortable if someone is mad at you.
___Your personality sometimes changes to act like the people around you.
___You long for praise.
___ You hyper-focus on criticism, even if it's constructive and you've done 99 things right.
___ You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
___ You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.
___ You have perfectionistic tendencies.
___ You frequently think about "how you come off" to others.
___ You put more value on your external value than your internal (titles, salary, cars,
I could continue this list, but for the sake of brevity, I won't. If you are a people pleaser, my guess is that you already know it.
Pictured above: that time I got a degree in chemistry (that I never used) because I wanted other people to know I was smart.
For many of us, people-pleasing is so ingrained that we don't even realize we are doing it.
People pleasing really boils down to one thing: control.
We try to control the perceptions of others. By presenting ourselves in a certain way, we somehow believe that we have the power to do this. Unfortunately, when we deal with control issues, we also deal with a five letter word that none of us like to acknowledge; shame.
As uncomfortable as it can be to talk about, "shame" has been a hot topic in social science research over the last few years. One reason for this is because shame is a universal experience. Shame’s a difficult emotion to admit to because it implies that we have something dark or nefarious that we are trying to cover up. We stereotype shame and assume only people who have experienced trauma, addiction, etc. experience shame, which could not be further from the truth. The truth is that if you are a human being, there is a 99% chance you have experienced shame at some point in your life. We all deal with it on some level, though I'm sure it looks different for all of us.
Not only is shame universal, but it can be debilitating. Here's a quick example of how shame shows up in a small way:
Let’s say a friend wants to pop over to watch a movie. I’m not talking about your best friend, who’s seen you ugly cry, picked up after you, and the like. I’m talking about a new friend, someone you don’t know that well. Let’s say they “drop by” and you’ve got dishes in the sink, haven’t vacuumed in months, the place just isn’t perfect.
What’s your feeling? Do you let them in? Do you say you aren’t feeling well and re-schedule? Do you let them in and make countless excuses for why your place looks a little shabby?
If you’re like me, you’d try to reschedule. You’d make up an excuse. Your place isn’t perfect, and you’re embarrassed by it (That's a picture of my sink this morning, by the way).
The shame comes in the thought process that goes with this experience. The thought that your place is a reflection of you as a person, and that if it's not perfect then someone will see that you're not perfect, that you will be judged, that you will be though less of.
This is a pretty innocuous example, but it goes to show that a little bit of shame can keep us from doing things we enjoy or keep us from forming new relationships.
Back to people-pleasing.
I bring up shame because people-pleasing is driven by shame. We try to please people, not because we are nice, but because we are looking for validation. We want everyone to like us, to think highly of us, to sing our praises.
I’ve been a people-pleaser for a looooooong time (much to my mother's chagrin). I recently listened woman who shifted my thinking on this tendency in myself. Her name is Brooke Castillo, and she was being interviewed by Andrea Owens. For the full listen you can find it here.
If you don’t have time to listen, the over-arching message Brooke Castillo gives is this:
We never really know what other people are thinking of us.
Even if we did know what they are thinking, we couldn’t control it.
Everyone is going to have a different opinion of you. Their opinion of you is based more on them than it is on you- what’s going on in their lives, who you remind them of, etc. If they have a negative opinion of you based on what’s going on in their lives, it’s unpleasant for them, not you.
I always thought of people pleasing as something of a noble attribute, that by aiming to please others, I was somehow being considerate and self-sacrificing. "That martyr makes me feel good about myself," said no-one ever. My sense of people-pleasing martyrism is just a lie that I told myself to make it okay. The truth is (much like my mother has always told me) that people pleasing is more about my own issues than trying to be kind to others.
Here is what Brooke said that really turned the notion of people-pleasing on its head for me:
"People pleasing is bullshit, and people-pleasers are liars."
Whomp. My nobility felt like it got hit by a 2 x 4.
She goes on to explain why people pleasers are liars, and my sense of conviction was all sorts of lit up. Here are the reasons she gives:
They do things that aren’t true. They don't want to do something, but they say “yes” because they think it’s kind. It’s not kind, it’s lying.
People pleasing is not authentic, and it’s not virtuous. It’s not because you care about the person you are trying to please, it’s because you’re trying to control their opinion of you.
You end up resenting them, which creates more trouble in the relationship.
People respect you when you say no, particularly when you explain your rationale.
And Boom goes the dynamite!
Perfectionism and people-pleasing serve to protect us from the things we fear underneath the masks we wear. But what would happen if we let go of that control? What would happen if someone came over and saw how messy your house was or how ill-prepared you were for a presentation?
Brene Brown to find shame as, "that intensely painful fear or feeling of not being worthy of love and belonging."
She goes onto state that any time we are trying to act a certain way, to fit in, we are basically saying that we are ashamed of who we really are. We are afraid that we are too boring, or too talkative, or too quiet...
Perfectionism and people-pleasing do nothing but fuel our sense of shame and fuel our rigidities and addictions. If one thing is out of place, if we don't get a good night sleep, etc. we freak out and try to exercise the things we have control over.
Striving to do your best is different then perfectionism because when you’re trying to do your best you can tolerate an off day (or week, or month). You can say, "Ok, today wasn’t my best, I had a headache and I ate too much junk food, but that's okay. I'll feel better tomorrow. I'm human."
As someone who once lived and died by people pleasing, I challenge you to flex that muscle of mediocrity. Say no. Half-ass something.
Yes, it might feel uncomfortable at first, but I'm telling you from personal experience, it is such a liberating way to be. I haven't perfected it (pun-intended), and I guess that's the point.
Your people, and you know who they are, love you. They will love you if you say no to something, if you show up looking a hot mess. Everyone else's opinions, do they really matter? Do they actually impact you? No, they don't. Practice a little mediocrity and bravery today.