Why People Pleasing Behavior Slowly Robs Us of Our True Self

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Sometimes the prince, sometimes the frog waiting to be kissed (photo by Bradford Chase)

Sitting in a dark room surrounded by silence, your thoughts focus on a feeling of loneliness. You feel trapped by the demands of the people who surround you daily. Everyone wants something from you. Your time is not your own.

You want to say something, to speak up about the pressure you feel, but you believe it falls on deaf ears and so you remain in your bubble of inner turmoil.

No one else will ever change, you think to yourself. You have to try harder to make them happy so your personal conflict will fade. If they like you more, they will slowly change their expectations and your life will improve.

Does this thinking strike a chord with you? If so, it’s likely your personality is locked in people-pleaser mode, and your future won’t get any brighter until something changes.

But expecting others to change is futile. Thinking this way is a hollow promise, reinforced through our social media feeds and the imaginary world we build believing everything we see happening in the lives of others.

They all seem happy, so if we keep them happy, our own inner peace will grow, right?


It’s hard trying to fit in (photo by Bradford Chase)

Instead, this instinctive behavior is ruining our life. It strips us of personal control.

As a person focused on people pleasing, without conscious thought, we behave to remove discomfort in ourselves and others.

We don’t do what we want; we do what we think other’s want us to do.

Our lives concentrate on the Facebook feed, the Instagram pictures, and the tweets of others to create an intuitive response to the behavior of those who interact with us throughout the day.

Our life is controlled by trying to please others and we give up our real self in the process.

So how do we change our unconscious response to improve our feeling of depression and despair and live the life we really want?

How much should we live to please other people?

The answer starts within us. We will never find it waiting for others to change.

In her book, When It’s Never About You: The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Reclaiming Your Health, Happiness, and Personal Freedom, Ilene Straus Cohen, PhD, discusses the steps we can take to retrain ourselves to remove the impulsive people pleasing behaviors and lean to find “self; ” our true voice that lets us think independently.

We can learn to live what she calls, “our preferred life story.”

A few of the key steps she outlines are important for us to use getting the process started, and here they are exactly as she explains them:

1. Become aware of yourself. The greatest changes begin when we look at ourselves with interest and respect, instead of judgment and denial. When we invite our thoughts and feelings into awareness, we learn from them, instead of unconsciously reacting to them, and we increase our awareness of reality by being willing to encounter our personal truths. This gives us more of a handle on natural impulses we have that aren’t helpful. It also gives us the choice to make a different move.

2. Realize that doing too much is hurting your relationships. The health of your relationships depends on you taking care of your share — and being true to yourself. When you do too much for others, you over-function in your relationships, which inevitably leads others to under-function. The intentions behind the over-functioning may be good, but they ultimately hinder the effectiveness of your relationships.

3. Understand the importance of being yourself. We’re all unique individuals. We should be able to act authentically and connect with who we are and what we value.

4. Learn to let go. If you’re stuck in the past and can’t let go of things that happened to you, chances are you’re accepting what your abusers, bullies, or other negative people in your life believe about you. You’ll remain imprisoned by them, unable to access your full potential, if you don’t learn to let go.

5. Realize that avoiding problems doesn’t help you grow. When problems arise, we react by immediately trying to get rid of them and the feelings they bring. We try everything to avoid experiencing the slightest discomfort or pain, which fuels our natural urges. When we avoid our problems and try to get rid of them immediately, we only make things worse for ourselves in the future.

6. Decide whether you want to be free to love, or a prisoner of love. Take responsibility for the role you play in your relationships and use your voice to make those relationships balanced and mutually satisfying. Step out of your comfort zone: It takes courage to make changes and set boundaries.

7. Navigate through anxiety. When we make anxiety-based decisions, we aren’t being true to what we really want. We act impulsively, based on instinct, inevitably causing us to experience more anxiety in our lives. When you learn to better manage your instinctual urge to please, you’ll find yourself on more solid ground in your relationships with your family, your friends, and yourself.

8. Find acceptance of self. Accepting yourself is an ever-evolving process. But it starts now. This is the time to know your worth and take on the project of becoming your best self.

People-pleasers suppress a lot of emotion throughout their day. This suppression typically leads to other self-induced stress that can end up reappearing as the source for poor job performance, struggling with interpersonal relationships, and ultimately creating an environment that perpetuates the people pleasing behaviors in a futile attempt to find a path to happiness.

Admitting the challenge starts with us is the first step to stopping our own self-destructive actions and thoughts.

It’s hard. It takes active conscious attention to our behavior and response.

We learn to say no to others. We stop letting others use us. We stop trying to keep up appearances with a façade of how we believe others want to see us.

But the result is real living. I think it’s worth the effort, don’t you?

About Bradford Chase

All who wander are not lost; but some of us like to get lost by design. It helps us to find ourselves a little at a time. I like adventure and to wander off whenever possible, always with camera in hand. I typically must be stirred by something in the viewfinder in order to snap the waiting picture, and always build a story on what I see. I share them here. Please feel free to share as well.

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