Why People Pleasing Is A Toxic Habit
Is Saying Please Killing You?
It might seem like a bit of a dramatic headline, but let’s cut to the chase... people pleasing is toxic! Toxic for our authentic selves and toxic for any chance of building healthy, strong relationships in our lives. So, stop being nice!
I myself am a chronic people pleaser. I’ve spent the last thirty plus years of my life in a false sense of security, putting the needs of others ahead of my own and in the process, I’ve numbed my inner instincts and intuition. People pleasing isn’t inherently bad, let's get that out of the way first. There is nothing wrong with being an empathetic, loving and kind person. The world can be a messed up, scary place and we need truly good people in it, now more than ever. But if you are consistently putting the wants and needs of others ahead of your own, and avoiding difficult conversations for fear of being disliked, you are doing yourself a disservice. And most importantly, you’re hurting yourself.
People pleasing can be a learned behaviour, a response to trauma or simply a way to disassociate from our authentic selves. You may have been taught from a young age that putting others ahead of yourself is the done thing. Women especially are taught that in order to fit the role society has given us, we must shrink ourselves, be polite, be quiet and not be “too much”. This kind of societal expectation and belief plays perfectly into creating people pleasing personalities. People pleasing is also part of the now recognized fourth response to trauma; fawn. To fawn is to appease the perceived threat. This might look like a lack of boundaries, abandonment of our own needs in favour of others and co-dependency. For myself, I’ve found a false sense of safety in keeping others around me happy. A form of controlling the uncontrollable that took me years to see and will take me many more years to unlearn.
It’s hard to see these things as negatives when they’ve become so ingrained in who you are. I’ve prided myself on being an inherently ‘good’ person. I’ve seen it referred to as ‘good girl’ conditioning and that phrase really hit home in the most uncomfortable way for me. Who am I if one of the most intrinsic parts of my ‘self’ is in fact, a toxic and detrimental survival response? It’s a tough realisation to make. But it’s also incredibly empowering. And once you’ve unshackled yourself from the people pleasing patterns you’ve enmeshed yourself in, you’ll begin to make choices that align with your truest self.
HOW TO STOP PEOPLE PLEASING
- The first step is learning to say ‘no’. People pleasers tend to rid that word from their vocabulary, but for such a small word it carries so much weight. So, stop saying yes if what you really want to say is no. Start treating your time and energy as the precious commodity it is and that two-letter word will start flowing much more regularly.
- Stop being so damn polite. Don’t agree with something that doesn’t align with your values or morals just to keep the peace. Say what you mean and mean what you say. This also means you should stop over explaining yourself, it’s unnecessary and you’re only doing it to lessen the impact of what you’re saying on someone else.
- Stop apologizing if you have nothing to apologize for. If you say sorry all the time, especially when it’s not called for or you don’t mean it, all you’re doing is making that word meaningless. Stop taking responsibility for everyone else’s feelings. That is not your burden to carry. And you’re only disempowering and enabling others when you do it.
- Stop moving the lines of your boundaries to accommodate for someone else. Recognize your boundaries, embrace them and make them clear as day. Put yourself first. If you want respect, love and personal autonomy, lead by example. Show up for yourself, prioritise your wants, needs and dreams and only allow people into your life who will step up to that level and stand beside you on that journey.
This is not an easy journey, it’s uncomfortable, confronting and painful at times. It’s taken me the better part of a week to write these words. Because I am in these trenches, learning to unlearn and advocating for myself. Practising that self-prioritising, apologizing less and explaining less. I’m learning to step back when all I want to do is run forward and try to mend things. It’s been heartbreakingly hard at times, but I can already see the changes. I can feel the growth and feel a lightness I’ve not felt in decades. So unshackle yourselves, let go of that need to please and join me on this journey. I promise it’ll be worth it.