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The anatomy of people-pleasing - and how to stop it!

You might not like to hear this, but I believe that we, women have been raised to be people pleasers. From a young age, we are socialised to be good girls, always being nice and supportive, taking into consideration others' feelings and not causing trouble. However, this often sends the message that putting yourself first is selfish and that you won't be loved or accepted unless you prioritise others' needs, even if it takes a toll on your well-being. This becomes even more challenging when you have kids, you need to take care of a household and a professional career, and you may end up getting burnt out if you don't set healthy boundaries.

Although the theory is straightforward, why is it so hard to set boundaries? Why can't we just say no and do what we want?

What is people-pleasing?

I heard this in a fantastic podcast episode of Mel Robbins (I'll leave the link below in the comments), and I love the metaphor.

''Being a yes person means that we almost lose an anchor inside of ourselves, we become driftwood in the ocean and we are going in whatever direction the wind is blowing us and the streams are taking us. We don't feel centred, we don't feel grounded and we don't know how we make decisions, we are rather just drifting whichever way the world is going and pulling and pushing us.''

Instead, we want to be like a sailboat, influenced by the waves but charting our own course. You are not anchoring yourself so that you are unable to move, but you are not drifted by the waves and streams either. You have an input, an influence on the direction in which you are moving.

  • As a working mum, you probably find yourself caught up in household chores and taking care of your kids, often on autopilot, without having time for yourself to rest and hear your own thoughts.

  • You may be juggling school-related projects, household tasks, and your children's needs, all while trying to ensure that everyone around you is okay.

  • You probably don't want to express your disappointment to your husband about the number of chores you have to do, and you don't want to miss any school tasks because you feel that you would let your kids down.

  • You may often leave work early to pick up your children and cancel important calls because your children are sick, so you don't want to be the one who says no to any tasks at work or express disagreement with the last super important project, even if it doesn't make sense and you know that it will never be finished.

  • Even though you may want to stay home on the weekend and binge-watch some series, you can't because you need to attend the family dinner at your in-laws' house on Sunday. You worry about what they would think if you didn't show up.

People-pleasing is the moment that you give up what matters to you in order to please somebody else so that you can belong and you don't have to confront. The moment when you decide to avoid a conflict so that you can keep that relationship intact.

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you may be diagnosed with chronic people-pleasing!

What is the anatomy of people-pleasing?

The best way to fight against people-pleasing and learn how to set boundaries is to be conscious about what is happening so that you can not only recognise it but next time have a different outcome of the situation, where you stand up for your need.

To fight against people-pleasing and learn how to set healthy boundaries, it's important to recognise the patterns and be conscious of them, so that next time you can have a different outcome of the situation.

Step 1 - The trigger
First of all, it all starts with a situation or request that makes you feel uncomfortable. Even though you may try to ignore it, deep down you know that accepting it would mean letting yourself down, you will feel it in your guts, there will be some negative emotions around it.

You may feel overwhelmed by the task or feel that it's unfair that you were asked instead of a coworker with less workload. Alternatively, you may be frustrated that you're the only one responsible for remembering your family's medical appointments. No matter what, but there is a trigger and you will feel that something is not right. The challenge is that we are often disconnected from our true desires, making it challenging to hear our inner voice. However, ignoring it can take a toll on your well-being.

Step 2 - The decision

Sometimes we come across a crossroads in our lives where we have to choose between drifting aimlessly or taking charge and becoming the captain of our own ship. While we may feel like we don't have a choice, more often than not, we do. We can choose to say no, ask for more support or resources to help us do our job better, or even look for a job that's a better fit for us. We can also choose to not take on tasks that we can't complete within work hours or refuse to clean up after others if it's not our responsibility.

However, most of us don't even consider these options and just go along with what we've always done to keep those around us happy. Why? Because we're afraid of causing a situation where the other person might feel discomfort, of disappointing them or making them angry. We don't want to let them down or feel like we've done something wrong.

The key to setting healthy boundaries lies in learning to sit in the discomfort that comes with them.

We need to learn how to deal with other people's negative reactions and emotions and not feel responsible for fixing them. It's important to understand that it's okay to make decisions that benefit ourselves, even if they might make others unhappy.

Step 3 - Saying no
The harsh truth is that conflicts are an inevitable part of life, and you can't just avoid them. If you choose, whether consciously or unconsciously, to avoid a conflict, it will eat away at you inside, leaving you feeling resentful, likely towards yourself and the other person as well.

You'll become irritated, impatient, and tired because unresolved conflicts demand a lot of energy. You'll keep revisiting the situation, playing out different scenarios and dialogues in your head. You'll wake up at 3 am, mentally battling with that person in countless ways. And it will take a toll on your health, causing stress and anxiety, which might lead to stress-related health issues like high blood pressure, insulin resistance, fatigue, or being overweight.

That's the slow-motion moment when you need to sit in the uncomfortable silence and resist the urge to fix it and make others happy. When you need to deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. And to be honest, often it's not the end of the world, even though that's what we expected and imagined. In fact, people often react better than we anticipate.

Step 4 - Make it a habit
Difficult conversations, easy life, easy conversations, difficult life

Taking your first steps into becoming a sailboat can be challenging. You may have noticed that there are areas of life where it's easier, almost second nature, but there are other situations or people where it's incredibly difficult. For instance, you might find it easy to say no at work but struggle to say no to your mum. Even though you've told her many times that you're not eating meat anymore, she surprises you with a Wellington, and it feels rude not to even try it.

The key is to start practicing and you'll find that you'll become more accustomed to it. You'll discover that, yes, people might initially be upset or angry with you, but ultimately, they need to accept your decisions and allow you to lead your life as you wish.

They don't have to be okay with it or agree; they might even have their opinions about you. But the important thing is for you to learn to be okay with that.

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This is the podcast I mentioned in the article, I can just recommend listening to it!

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