People-pleasing may seem harmless at first, but over time it can have devastating consequences for our relationships. Let’s explore how to overcome the habit of people-pleasing and step into greater authenticity!
When I use the term people-pleasing, I’m referring to any time we say or do what we think someone else wants us to. The intention behind people-pleasing is almost always positive: to create harmony and connection with others, or to feel a sense of belonging and approval.
In the short-term, people-pleasing appears to create more ease, but over time it has the power to undermine our most important relationships! When we make choices based on what we think others want from us rather than our true inner experience, we lose touch with our authenticity—and when it comes to building and keeping genuine connections, authenticity is the absolute bedrock. Despite what our habits might lead us to believe, trying to create harmony and connection without being authentic will never be genuine or satisfying.
If we want healthy, thriving relationships, it’s time to stop people-pleasing and practice tuning in with our authenticity. Let’s walk through a few steps that have been really helpful to me in overcoming people-pleasing!
The first step is to do a gut check. I also like the term self-connection. This is the process of going inward to check in with your true experience. Many of us are so accustomed to placing our attention on how the otherperson is doing in our interactions that we forget to check in with our own experience. If you have the space and privacy to close your eyes when you tune in with yourself, this often helps me to connect quickly and deeply with my inner experience. If not, you can absolutely do a gut-check while you’re simultaneously interacting with someone. All it takes is placing your attention on your inner experience—and specifically, gauging where you land on your inner “yes-to-no” spectrum. If you focus on what others want or how they will perceive you, you’ll likely lose touch with your genuine truth, however if you put your focus on your own experience and look for where you personally stand on the yes-to-no spectrum, this will help you step out of people-pleasing mode.
The second step is to slow things down. It can be easy to fall into the illusion that everything is urgent. Our society moves at a very fast pace, and we can internalize that and feel pressure around every decision we make. But in my experience, the vast majority of our interactions are not actually urgent! In most cases, I could take five second, five minutes, five days, or in some cases even five months to come to a decision. Because it’s not natural for most of us (and in some situations very counter-cultural) to slow our conversations down, it’s helpful to have some go-to phrases ready to use. I like the phrases: “Let me sit with that,” “I’d like to take some time to think about this,” “There are a few things I’d like to consider. When do you need a decision by?” What are some phrases you could use in crucial moments to buy yourself a little time to do a deeper check-in?
The third step is to put your needs on the table. Because so many of us are habituated to focus on how others are doing, we often lose sight of our own experience. Once you’ve done a gut check and slowed things down, this is a moment to take stock of your needs in the situation. If you don’t already have my Feelings & Needs list, you can download it here. This list will offer some vocabulary to help you familiarize yourself with what needs might be coming up for you in any given situation. It’s important to note that vulnerability is key when communicating your needs! Simply rattling off your needs robotically isn’t likely to be connecting, but speaking from the heart about why your needs matter to you can create a profound shift.
The fourth step is to build your tolerance for other people’s discomfort.This is not a fun or easy step, but it’s vital if you’re committed to overcoming people-pleasing. Choosing to be authentic means that you are bound to find yourself in situations from time to time where your choices and truths will stimulate difficult feelings for others. This is not bad or wrong, it’s natural! You can’t sidestep or avoid pain, and trying to artificially protect others from experiencing pain is futile: you not only rob them of their own growth and learning opportunities, but you also sacrifice your own authenticity (which, as we’ve covered, is one of the foundations of healthy relationships). Practice noticing your discomfort with others’ discomfort! When someone experiences emotional distress, what happens for you? Can you slow down, breathe, and remind yourself that you’re okay even though this other person is in distress? The more you strengthen this muscle of staying grounded despite other’s discomfort, the more ability you will have to be authentic and honest in the moments when it matters the most. Remember that your honesty is the foundation of real trust and respect in your relationships.
Lastly, I want to leave you with this message:
Your self-worth does not come from how other people perceive you, how much they approve of you, or whether they like you. It comes from within you.
This message has been so transformational in my journey of overcoming people-pleasing! I used to operate from the belief that my self-worth was dependent on how other people viewed me, and that therefore I had to keep them happy and make sure they liked me. As you can imagine, this only led to resentment, inauthenticity, and a sense of loneliness in my connections. Claiming my own self-worth has been a true gift to me, and to everyone I touch.
My hope for all of us is that we shed our old habits of people-pleasing. May we stand in our authenticity, and trust our inherent self-worth regardless of others’ perceptions of us. May we stay grounded in our truth and keep an open heart even when it does not align with what someone else would want. May we build strong, resilient, authentic relationships that allow us to grow, thrive, and live joyfully together!