5 Tips to Stop People-Pleasing (From a Serial People-Pleaser)

by | Jun 5, 2016 | Self Help

5 Tips to Stop People-Pleasing (From a Serial People-Pleaser)

by | Jun 5, 2016 | Self Help

Anxiety once consumed my life. If I was forced into a social situation, I’d be looking for an exit. I feared that if I ate breakfast at a time other than 9:00 am that my day would be a disaster. On the rare time I visited a shopping centre, my heart started pounding in response to the piercing thought that everyone was openly repulsed by my appearance. My principle fear was humiliation, and I was convinced that humiliation was inevitable because I was a fundamentally flawed human. As a result, I became a serial people-pleaser. “If being myself means that other people openly reject me, then I need to be someone else”, the logic went.

I stopped telling people about my loves: learning, reading, and playing music. I stopped telling people my ideas in conversations, afraid that my words would only reflect how stupid and uncultured I was. I stopped involving people in my life altogether, figuring that it was really just better for all of us if I stayed in my world and you stayed in yours.

After years of living like this, I sought specific therapy for my anxiety (and the people-pleasing). I wanted this tiny seed of hope that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t flawed, to grow. After I didn’t make any significant gains through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, my therapist suggested we try Acceptance Commitment Therapy, a form of cognitive behavioural therapy whose core principle is that, by stopping the struggle with “difficult” emotions like sadness and grief, people are able to experience all emotions with acceptance and without judgement. By not judging an emotion as ‘bad’ or ‘good’, Acceptance Commitment Therapy suggests that we become less attached to emotions. As a result, people express themselves more in-line with their values and become less inwardly critical. For me, this was a revelation.

My mind lit up: I could stop berating myself for feeling embarrassed and humiliated. Instead, I could tell myself that these emotions were OK. By doing this, I began to believe that ‘hey – maybe I am OK too’. Over around six months, the seed that had been planted – that I was not a dysfunctional human – began to grow. I began to not see myself as ‘flawed’, which meant that I began to trust my decisions, the words I spoke, and how I interacted with other people. I began to resemble less of a twitchy human with debilitating nervousness at life, and more of a happy-go-lucky person who acted as though they were worthwhile. Most of all, I began to accept that my beliefs and actions were not going to please everyone I met, and it wasn’t because I was a flawed person, but because it’s pretty impossible to please all 7 billion or so people on this planet. The best thing I can do is live in-line with my values to guide my day-to-day life.

Unfortunately, this is the stage that I’m stuck at: I know that not being liked is not the end of the world but I still try my darn hardest to people-please. I try so hard to manage how I appear to other people for fear they will think poorly of me. The outcome of this people-pleasing is that I self-censor, which means that I don’t say what I want to say or do. Rather, I do what I think other people would like me to say or do, which brings me back to square one of debilitating anxiety. I’ve realised that this self-censorship has to stop. If I want to proclaim at the top of my lungs that I think dogs are better than cats, or more seriously that I care passionately for our environment and the human rights of people who seek asylum, then I need to say it.

Over the past month, I’ve tried every day to do or say something that deliberately pushes me outside my comfort zone – something that my brain yells ‘STOP! You’re going to embarrass yourself!’ at.

To stop self-censoring, I have consistently remind myself of 5 guiding principles:

 

  1. Being true to yourself is more important than the opinions of others. Is what I’m thinking a true reflection of myself in the present moment? If yes, then proceed.
  2. At times, people won’t like what I say or do. The only thing I can do is to live in-line with my values, learn from any resulting unhelpful experience, and consider doing it differently next time while still checking-in whether I’m being true to myself.
  3. Only by being true to myself will I find contentment. Pleasing other people may fulfill them, temporarily, but if I have to constantly hold myself to a standard that is not truly myself, then this will ultimately leave both of us miserable – everyone loses.
  4. Comparison is useless – everyone is on their unique path in life. What fosters connection between us is the fact that we all face challenges, hurt, and frustration. By being courageous and embarking on my own path, I am better able to feel connected to those around me.
  5. Every decision I make is the ‘right’ decision, because I am a worthwhile human. Everything I say or do contributes in my own unique way to the world around us, because I am a worthwhile human. Therefore, I need to act before my mind has the chance to butt-in with self-doubting thoughts. It’s up to other people to take or leave what I bring to the table.

How’s stopping the self-censoring going so far? Not going to lie, it’s really, really scary. But – I feel more free and more courageous with each step I take, which usually means that I’m on to a good thing. I’m looking forward to the next part of this path.