Q: What is the best way to break the cycle of being a “people pleaser”? I get specific joy out of “helping others” but sometimes I get lost in that and end up a little drained. Is there any way around that?
A: That’s a phenomenal question. Breaking the pattern of people-pleasing has become one of my favorite topics to explore with people lately, alongside similar concepts like fawning (one of the four major trauma responses alongside fight, flight, or freeze), self-abandonment, codependency, or playing the role of the martyr in our relationships. These different terms are kind of like the different shades of a core issue: a false belief that other people’s happiness is our responsibility and that the best way to ensure their happiness is to endlessly give until we are empty.
If you wanted to take a look at your own capacity for people-pleasing and start living from a different, healthier pattern of honoring yourself.. here’s a few things you could explore.
First, you could take a look at where this behavior of people-pleasing originates for you. Where does it have its roots in your life? Were there situations in your childhood, for example, where you took on the belief that you were responsible for someone’s happiness, like the members of your family? Did you for, instance, take on the role of caretaker for certain family members and felt obligated to put your own needs last in order to take care of everyone else first?
If any of these scenarios ring true, you can recognize that this was actually way too big of a responsibility to place on a child. You could give your inner child a big dose of love for the heavy weight she had to carry and tell her it’s okay to set down that burden of keeping everyone happy.
Next, you could commit yourself to a new pattern, a new belief about yourself… “Instead of being a people-pleaser, I am someone who honors myself, my needs, and my own happiness. From that place of self-love, I help other people the best I can.. but I’m not personally responsible for them being happy. It’s not my personal failure if someone I love is unhappy.”
From there, you can ask yourself… What would this new pattern actually look like in my every day life?
Take a scenario where you’re currently doing a lot of people-pleasing and over-giving. Could you take a step back, honor yourself & your needs first, and then re-approach this situation in a new light? What would that look like for you?
What would it feel like to offer love to someone, but from a place of self-love first? And what would be your limit? When do you know you need to step back, because you’re taking on too much? How could you communicate that to someone? “I love you and I care about you, but I’m not willing to run myself into the ground to help you in this moment. Let me take care of myself first, then I’ll see how I can help you.”
And when you set a boundary like that, be prepared to stick to it. When you’ve been a chronic people-pleaser your whole life, there’s a strong possibility that people have come to depend on you for that behavior.. and may be initially upset that you’re now acting in a different way. They may actually call you “selfish” for your new choices. But you need to remind yourself that honoring yourself isn’t selfish.. it’s taking care of yourself first before you try to take care of another. That’s the only way for it to work in a healthy way.
Good luck with your recovery from being a FORMER people-pleaser!
- Matthew Robertson