I always thought being kind, gentle, and agreeable was guaranteed to win me love and acceptance from the world. I’d tiptoe around destructive people’s behavior and situations. Believing to my core that if only I could be nice to them all, they would lead a better life. Somehow I constantly tried avoiding anything that would make me seem like bad, imperfect or an unlikable person. The most common advice I received was to stop seeking validation for everything. Now I am not sure if you can relate to this, but every people-pleaser reading this knows, being disliked or disapproved of feels worse than ignoring your own feelings—at least at first.
A few people were easy to please. Getting their approval was effortless, and it made me as happy as lark. But with other people, it seemed the harder I tried to please them, the more likely they were to treat me like trash. No matter how unhappy I was, I still wanted to make people feel better, sometimes even at my own expense. And the more this happened, the less I liked myself.
In due course, my efforts to please others left me feeling violated, and disrespected which was definitely not how I wanted myself feel. When the image I happened to create outside and the image I had in mind about myself, was not in sync, I realized something was fundamentally wrong in the way I carried myself around. My whole idea of living selflessly to get love, respect and appreciation, slapped me on my face. When I took some time away to retrospect, I asked myself “What will become of me and my self-worth if I keep basing it on unhappy people’s perceptions?”
The art of saying ‘NO’
I learnt it the hard way that pleasing others isn’t the way to win hearts and respect. Being people’s emotional dumpster, personal life fixer, and convenient source of blame for their misfortunes, wasn’t how you win people over. I realized it wasn’t even necessary to be a people-pleaser to be loved.
I eventually began to learn the art of saying NO, by understanding that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. Prioritizing one’s needs over others is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just a profound act of self-care and highlights the importance of saying no. I am no expert yet, but I’ve sure gotten better. In my attempts to live a life for myself and not for others, I began to develop a habit of writing a journal, to make my thoughts clear on my priorities.
How not to be a people-pleaser
Here I’m sharing a few notes I used to repeat to myself regularly, so that I have a sense of what exactly I am up to.
- Self-acceptance: This ever-evolving process is completely dependent on our perception. Accepting ourselves, including our flaws, is the best way we give ourselves an opportunity to evolve.
- It’s ok to say NO: For a person who is always in seek of validation, it could be hard to go cold turkey on pleasing people. So let’s take teeny tiny steps. Starting with small no, could help. It helped me. I’m sure it could help you too. Or maybe we can try offering alternatives instead of an outright no. There are chances that it could be a win-win for both of you then.
- Know your goals: Saying no is a lot easier when we have a lot of great things to say yes to. Once in a while you might want to sit down and re-evaluate your long and short-term goals. When this is clear in our mind, it gets much easier to say no to a request, because your priorities are sorted.
- Set boundaries: On knowing the goals, it’s easy to set boundaries. These boundaries can also help to focus better on what matters the most to you.
- Evaluate your relationships: Examine the relationships you have with those you have trouble saying “no” to. When you understand the dynamic and your role, you won’t feel as worried about the consequences of saying no. You’ll realize that your relationships can withstand your saying no.
Bringing the change
The journey begins with you realizing that being a people pleaser does more harm than good. If you thought you could maintain a good image by people pleaser, you were wrong. The syndrome damages your self-esteem and has only short-term benefits. The sooner you get out of it, the lesser stressed you will be, the more time you will have and the more respect you will gain.
However, knowing the changes to make isn’t the hardest part of change. It’s actually doing it, and sustaining those changes over time, in spite of the resistance and backlash that may come.