Why People-Pleasing Makes Us Sick
(*This article originally written for and published with Simply Woman Magazine.)
Hey, my name is Danielle. And I’m a recovering “Pleaseaholic.”
People-pleasing is a term that gets thrown around prolifically in personal growth and transformation work. But what does it really mean? How does it really affect us?
A general definition of people-pleasing is this: sacrificing yourself to accommodate others or a societal belief.
Sacrifice can sound a bit strong, but it’s accurate. Because over time, people-pleasing can make us very, very sick.
For most of my life, I didn’t even know I was exhibiting behaviors of a classic people-pleaser. Things such as:
- Saying “Yes” when I really meant “No” or wasn’t really interested
- Guilt-tripping myself when I invested in myself, gave myself space, increased my self-care, or just did what I wanted to do
- Taking jobs for less money or later on discounting my services because I thought that’s all I could get
- Staying in relationships or friendships that felt disempowering because I was afraid to be alone
- Worrying about what other people thought
- Wanting to “save” everyone and fix their problems
- Overcommitting to too many projects, activities, events, and other people
- Doing things purely because they “made sense,” “made money,” or “made people think I was cool.” (P.S. That has always backfired on me and done the opposite of what I thought it would)
The idea of the illness I was experiencing being connected to this behavior was even further from my concept of the world.
But as I grew, learned, experimented, and evolved, I found more and more that sacrificing myself was at the crux of my autoimmune symptoms. When I started working with others around this, they admitted that people-pleasing – or their term for it - tied in directly to their deeper root story of the disease.
It seems so innocuous… being “nice” is killing you? But I can guarantee if you are reading this, that when you think of a time when you did something you didn’t want to do, just to please other people or follow someone else’s construct of what was right, didn’t you just want to… punch something? Scream? Bite something with the fake smile you plastered on your face?
That’s how I feel when I people-please anyway. Self-sacrifice and people-pleasing make me feel constricted in my body, warped in a way that feels trapped and squished. The longer and more often we put ourselves in this situation, the more our body stays that way.
So how do you get out of people-pleasing mode and into full-on healing mode?
The first step in any change is always awareness.
If you don’t even know that you are running the pattern, you can’t change it. Similarly, if you know you have the pattern but don’t realize when you run it, you can’t change it. Awareness of this behavior is a practice, but one that pays dividends immediately and indefinitely.
The second step is to understand what you get by people-pleasing.
What do you get when you tell your boss you’ll do that weekend event for no pay, even though it makes you cringe with dread? How do you benefit when you tell your spouse, “It’s OK, you choose the movie,” when you are tired of watching kung-fo joe? What do you get to avoid by not telling your friend that you just can’t listen to her talk about her dead-beat boyfriend anymore?
It’s not easy to face how we benefit from our problems, because we realize that we are contributing to creating them. But it’s also the primary way to take ownership of the pattern and reprogram it.
The third step is simple: do what you want to do.
I said simple, not easy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients, friends, hell even myself, knowingly work themselves up into a tizzy trying to decide what to do, when all we need to do is this: just do what you want to do! What feels freer? What feels juicier? What feels more relaxing or exciting? What brings you more joy? Do THAT. And when you question yourself (because that’s another people-pleaser tendency) just repeat the mantra: “It’s OK for me to do what makes me feel ALIVE.”
As long as you are living within your own values, and doing what feels true and good for you, it will also benefit the highest good.
The fourth step, if you choose to embark on it, is to pull other pleasers out of the goddamn pleasing-matrix.
Hold your friends accountable. If you smell self-sacrifice, obligating, and guilt-tripping – call it out! It can be as simple as, “I could be wrong, but I get the feeling you may not want to do this/listen to this/help with this/hang out with that person, etc.”
Practice all this and see how it changes not only how you feel mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. Now your body has so much more energy to do what it needs to do to help you heal. Now you have so much more time for self-exploration so you can find the deeper story of your life. Now you have so much more space for self-care.
Sounds selfish? It is.
But this kind of self-ish is the most selfless thing you can do.
You can’t heal the world if you are falling apart. Healing yourself allows you to show up more authentically, more clear-headedly, and more whole-heartedly. Then, we get all of you, not just the half, or the third, or the tenth of you that isn’t pushed down into the black bag.
We are in an age, where now, more than ever, we need more whole-hearted, brave, authentic leaders in our workplaces, schools, homes, and communities. We need more of the kind-hearted, love-to-give folk leading the way, not getting mired in self-sacrifice. We need you to be completely true to you, be unapologetic about what you stand for, and teach us by example. Give up the pleasing. Get well. Heal deeply.