Several years ago, I crossed over the golden milestone of adulthood. At that time, I was a major people pleaser. I said yes to almost anything, even to the extent of experiencing panic attacks, extreme exhaustion, and high-functioning alcohol abuse. I struggled as I tried to follow what my family members thought would be perfect for me to pursue and where my friends thought would be a “fun” spot to spend our checks. At the end of the day, I was miserable with myself for not refusing to please others at the expense of my finances, energy, and time.
For so many years, I believed lies about the nature of who I was—so much so that the targets of deception haunted the very core of who I became. Fear of abandonment by friends, rejection by close loved ones, and self-hate from society as a tall and curvy, milk-chocolate woman whispered perfectionism in the eyes of others to be deemed worthy of love or friendship. Having been fooled by manipulation, control, and other influences, I finally took a long look in the mirror, talked to my reflection, and edified who I wanted to be. To some degree, I felt humiliated, but I took the following 3 steps to overcome my people-pleasing tendencies.
Be attuned to how people treat others behind the scenes in an effort to discern hidden truths of their intents. I view private conversations and/or environments as indicators of how I could be treated by another. For example, you hear that a new friend in your circle is demanding and monopolizes everyone’s resources, time, and effort for her gain. You and the new friend may hit it off initially, but over the course of a few months, the friend’s requests for favors begin to roll in. Your “yeses” seem to invite more favors that are either similar or grander than the last. Eventually, you end up depleted or consumed with your new friend’s responsibilities and unable to focus on your own. Look for red flags that can lead to future burnout from people-pleasing.
- SET BOUNDARIES EARLY
Setting boundaries can be perplexing and rather difficult for introverts or those who have had relationships as an innocent child. There are solutions for you in step three to protecting your peace in those cases. If you desire to redefine your circle of influence, take inventory of your own expectations and what you will tolerate from others. Perhaps identify the non-negotiable terms of your time, energy, network, and resources. Also, include your top five deal breakers for your relational exchanges. Lastly, if you are offended, wronged, or used, bring it to the attention of the opposing party. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to allow egocentric individuals to pile up from your service of kindness for weakness to please their desires they do not wish to accomplish. Setting firm boundaries means safeguarding your well-being in an effort to overcome people-pleasing.
- PROTECT YOUR PEACE
One of the most challenging aspects of overcoming people-pleasing is protecting your peace. Once boundaries are clarified, protecting the space of peace to ensure that boundaries are upheld is very important. Sometimes people do not recognize that they are displaying acts that are disruptive to your life to appeal to their opinions and thoughts of you.
Pastor Dr. Matthew Stevenson shares a vital piece of wisdom in his sermon “6 Ministries of the Family”: “Sometimes you have to divorce yourself from your mama’s dreams for you.” People pleasers often want significant persons in their life or notable people in their environment to deem them worthy—worthy of recognition, worthy of praise, worthy to be seen, and worthy to be honored. In cases such as these, a satisfaction of self is found in others’ standards. While there does exist a healthy pleasing of people—for instance, satisfying customers, welcoming parishioners, and loving family members and friends—extreme efforts to please others can lead to a place of despair. Protecting your peace can be standing up for yourself, not tolerating mistreatment to be accepted, loved, or included. Protecting your peace can be adhering to your convictions for yourself and your children even when others disagree. Even letting go of that major in college that your parents wanted you to pursue to chase your love of figure skating and your dream to audition for the Olympics is an example of protecting your peace. Peace brings relief in a world of demands, requests, and distractions.
I want to leave you with these words of the late Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Each one of us carries the longing to be accepted in some form or fashion, whether it is romantic, familial, friendship, professional, or another arena. Becoming who we are not in order to be liked is unhealthy. Nor do we owe people the pleasure of seeking it.
Nikkia J. Glover
Photo Credit: Adam Warden