Have you been noticing lately that you’re someone who enjoys making other people happy? There’s something so satisfying in doing something good and getting acknowledgement for it. But sometimes we can go overboard and begin a habit of going out of our way to make others happy. This habit of people-pleasing and saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’ disconnects you from yourself and living authentically. So why are some of us so hard-wired to people-please?
The Root of People-Pleasing
There’s a few factors at play here. For some, doing things for others gives them a hit of dopamine, releasing a sense of euphoria for a moment’s time. Like any other addiction, people-pleasing can for some be a form of addiction– the impulsive “yes” to others’ invitations and requests. In the realm of people-pleasing is also approval seeking. Both are symptoms of the cause: low self-esteem and self-worth.
I remember when I was about 5 years old and I would get dropped off at my classmate’s house where her mom babysat me. No matter how much of a “good girl” I tried to be, I remember always feeling like her mom was mad or disapproving of me, like I was just “wrong” for being there. To this day I don’t understand why that was, and for all I know it wasn’t even true. When you’re young it’s very easy to create a story and meaning from your experiences. Without the full data of what actually happened, those stories you create about your experiences and about yourself can run your life at a subconscious level.
For those who have always struggled with the “I’m not good enough” complex, moving through life with this internal (and often subconscious) dialogue can keep you from truly going after anything you want in life. Instead, there will be an underlying need to prove to yourself and the world that you are worthy; attemping to gain a sense of self worthiness from the outside as your only means to build confidence. The root of all this came about in a particularly impactful event that occured during your childhood when you made the decision about who you were to be in this world in order to get the love, acceptance and validation that you most wanted. Let’s take a look.
The 3 Big Decisions
There were 3 big decisions you made in your early life that set the stage for how you would show up in your relationships, your career and pretty much any other area of your life. The first decision you made was about who you needed to be in order to avoid problems/ be accepted. The second decision was around how to cope with shortcomings, and the third was about who you needed to be like in order to be successful and make it on your own in life. For the purpose of this article, we will be looking at the first decision.
For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on the First Decision. This decision you made as a young child happened when you were in a situation where you felt there was something terribly wrong with being your complete and real self. For example, it could have been a moment when you were being loud and rambunctious and your mom or dad snapped at you rather harshly to “stop being childish and grow up”. Whatever that moment was for you, you decided a way of being; that in order to be loved and accepted you needed to act in a way that was not your whole and authentic self, but more in how others wanted you to be. When I began to believe at five years old “there must be something wrong with me” and “I’m not good enough”, the decision I made in that moment was in order to be loved and accepted I had to be perfect. Yes, perfectionism is a branch of people-pleasing and approval-seeking. It’s all in the family of being something for others rather than being your true and authentic self.
It’s important to recognize the difference between performing an act of kindness out of the goodness of your heart (altruism), and doing something in order to gain something from someone (dependency). People-pleasing and seeking approval from others leaves you with a bottomless bucket that can never be filled. This is toxic, as you’ll find that whatever you do is never enough. The void continues to be a void.
Finding Happiness from Within
So what does it mean to find happiness from within? What does that look like?
1. Living Authentically: Being and acting in a way that is real to you, sharing what you think tastefully, finding work that gets you excited, being intentional with who you spend your time with, saying “No” on a regular basis to things and people who are not a priority to you, standing your ground and for what you believe in, even if that means being the only one.
2. Abstinence: this will take patience with yourself. Hold yourself back from taking on roles or tasks that you truthfully know you are doing to please or get the approval from someone else (someone you hold on a pedestal). Hold yourself back from seeking out advice, acknowledgement and validation from others. Instead, what you must practise in it’s place is a trust within yourself. Trusting your thoughts, your own judgement, your opinions and your ideas, and just go with it! This is all a part of connecting to yourself through your intuition.
3. Practise Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion: These are two of the pillars to deep self-love. What it looks like is becoming your own best friend, and the best way to do that is through loving self-conversation. You can practise this in a back and forth journaling exercise with you and your inner child. In real life, you can practise this anytime you feel a sense of failure or loss by speaking to yourself with loving words: “You really put all your effort into this”, “It’s okay that you didn’t get the results you wanted today, it doesn’t mean anything less of you. I love you.”
4. Have clear boundaries in place: especially with those who have an emotional or psychological control over you. You are your own person and have the right to say no. You are not responsible for someone else’s reactions to you putting your foot down. This can be very challenging because the boundaries we most need to set in place are with family members and close friends that have often crossed over our invisible boundaries in the past. In some cases where it is unsafe to speak up— if you are in an emotionally or psychically abusive relationship, please reach for help from someone you can trust: family, police, Women Protection Services in your area.
5. Having a bigger WHY than yourself (a Mission): taking the time to find something that you’re passionate about is the most powerful way to create happiness and deep fulfillment in your life. Whether that’s volunteering in an organization that helps women get out of the sex-trafficking and into careers and a safe home, or helping wildlife and Ocean Clean up, or inspiring the masses to trust in themself and create a life they love. Whatever your mission, make sure it’s BIG and begin finding ways you can stretch and grow yourself in the direction of this mission.
I’ve created a worksheet that guides you through these questions. Download that worksheet here
One of the greatest journeys that you can step on is the journey from being dependent on others to give you happiness to independent by creating that fulfillment from within.
A powerful exercise that I do to experience stepping out of my dependency tendencies and toward independence is through this walking exercise. I often walk over a bridge that takes me into downtown. I imagine that where I’m starting from at one side of the bridge is me living a life as a dependent person (people-pleasing, approval seeking, external validation, etc), and with each step I take as I walk across the bridge I move more into the characteristics and mental state of a person with complete freedom to be my true self, to express my opinions and thoughts without worrying about what others think, to living a life that I design. It’s quite magical!
It takes some focus as you really must imagine how your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and actions would differ from someone who is dependent on others to someone who is getting fulfillment from within. By the time you reach the other side of the bridge you’ve stepped into living and being WHOLE! Try it out next time you’re walking to your destination. Create a start point and an endpoint with the unwanted behavior on one end and the desired behavior on the other end.
As always, I love hearing your thoughts, insights and takeaways from this post! Add your comments below!