As a former people pleaser, I know all too well the sheer energy expended pre-empting and delivering on the needs and wants of others. My self-worth was tangled with my usefulness. My needs and wants were always sidelined. My sense of self was constantly getting lost. I had that feeling that I was trapped and I was the trapper. Does this sound familiar to you?
What typically happens is that we slowly descend to rock bottom when we enter these cycles because all that giving requires some taking, and if we're not doing the taking then we're definitely going to run out of resources to give. It leads us to the "hit rock bottom" highway—often repeatedly until we learn about this thing called boundaries.
When we people please, we sell out our own boundaries and bend over backwards to please all else, relinquishing our responsibilities to ourselves to take control of our own health and happiness. When we people please, we're also stepping all over the boundaries of others too—taking on some of their responsibilities and ownership for their own health and happiness.
It's a lose-lose situation too because the very people we people-please ain't at all pleased. Why? Because when we create and try to hold boundaries for the sake of our health and happiness it means they need to take back the self-responsibility baton and that's not the easiest short-term thing to do. However, long-term it's the only way we grow in confidence, in knowledge, and gather the tools we need to learn how to be happy and healthy.
So, how do you know if you’re a people pleaser and self-sacrifice your own needs? Here are 10 NOT so obvious signs:
You often talk yourself out of the things you want
You wait on other people’s permission to claim your desires
You often fear your decisions might disappoint someone, like your parents (even if you are not a child anymore)
You avoid asking yourself the tough-love question — “What If justify my fear because I am afraid of making a mistake and being judged for it”
You often act as your friends’ parent; trying to take care of them even when they haven’t asked for it
You find it difficult to share openly how you feel and, instead, you shut down
You expect others to “guess” your needs and feel hurt when they don’t
You secretly resent your environment and judge yourself for wanting more things in life than being a ‘mum’ or being a "wife" or whatever
You have lost a sense of your identity (very common for people who have spent their entire life in long-term relationships without taking the time to transition between relationships); can’t be alone; need others to complete you
You are afraid that if you change, someone would get hurt; or you would lose belonging to your family or friends; you will stand out and be vulnerable
If you asked me these questions five years ago, I would have answered with a resounding yes to all of them!
I would always do what my partner wanted to do, even when I didn’t want to do it. I was afraid to disappoint or upset him if I said no. I lost my sense of self in my relationships as a result. Who I was, what I wanted and enjoyed. As a result, I never felt good on my own. I was terrified to really get to know me for me.
I used to constantly worry about what other people would think of me if I made a mistake. I stopped communicating my needs and desires because I was always shut down when I did and reminded that they were invalid.
I remember when I dated my ex-husband, my father told me I would never do better so I married him. How could I let down my parents that constantly reminded me that I wasn’t good enough. I believed them and believed that I didn’t deserve better.
If you can feel that slow-but-sure slide to rock bottom and you're a people-pleaser, I have some advice on how you can avoid hitting that rock bottom over and over and over again.
Tell all and any who typically come to you for something that you're not doing so well and that you're going to take some space for yourself.
2. Create emergency boundaries
Emergency boundaries are for times where there are easily identifiable stressors that have been particularly difficult to cope with. You’ll know what they are by the feelings they provoke within you!
3. Ask for help
Ask others to help you hold that respite or boundary. For example, if you live with someone who can answer the door, allow them to turn away people who have turned up unexpectedly. Or, delete any apps from your phone which are the medium people use to ask you to give, whatever you need to do to create room to breathe and recover, do it. I want you to do YOU.
4. Do not revert back
Once you're feeling a lot stronger, do not revert back to how it was before. Take time to reflect on the why's, what's, who's, where's and what's that led you here now, and probably many times before and ask yourself, “What boundaries and limits and self-care practices do you need to introduce?”
5. Have a plan of action
Before you put those into action—and this is the very important bit—consider what you're going to say to those who loved the people-pleasing side of you when they try to remove the boundary you've freshly laid into place. They will not at all love that there are limits and boundaries and less-accessibility to you when you do. The hardest bit about this boundary malarkey is not setting the intention to have one, it's not the communicating of it, it's the backlash.
As a people-pleaser the backlash you experience will throw you and possibly be quite painful so you need scripts, reasoning and answers prepared. You need to be really honest about how you've been neglecting your needs, haven't been feeling well or happy, and that you need to change some of your habits and behaviors and that's what you're going to do.
6. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Finally, communicate your boundaries repeatedly until they stick. It does get easier, I promise. And quite honestly, you may lose people in your life. I did. When I created boundaries around my mother’s abuse at the age of 39, I walked away from her and lost my entire family as a result. But the peace of no longer having that toxicity in my life is soooooo worth it!
As a final note, I want you to know that you are as worthy of help and support as anyone else. Your health and happiness is precious and it's not selfish to make sure your needs are met. You weren't born to burn out keeping everyone else trucking along. You are of value even when you're not doing what others have become to hold valuable about you. You do get to choose what you take responsibility for, so make sure you do so mindful of the shift in ownership and of the consequences. You are allowed to change your mind and make changes that meet your needs and desires. You can self-care like a ninja and still be a kind, thoughtful, generous and supportive person without having to compromise the very self of you.
Give this advice a try and feel free to connect with me and let me know of any challenges you face or how it goes! If you're struggling with your self-love journey and setting healthy and loving boundaries, join my 12-Week Path to Self-Love program waitlist.