Perhaps we have someone in our lives that we would consider a “bulldozer.” They seem to always get what they want and have a very hard time accepting “no” for an answer. They are extremely convincing or downright dishonest and/or they only call us when they want something. These are the characteristics that we generally think of as manipulation.
Many of us consider ourselves to be the opposite of that. We consider other people, sometimes at the expense of ourselves. We have a hard time saying “no” or setting boundaries with others. We like to make other people “feel good,” Or we tend to be overly responsible for other peoples’ uncomfortable feelings.
Well- I hate to tell you “do-gooders” of the world. All of these are also forms of manipulation.
If you are saying yes to something and it is really, in your heart, a no- that is manipulation. Why? Because you are avoiding your own uncomfortable feelings and, essentially lying to make yourself feel more comfortable. If you have resentment because you said that you were okay with something and you really were not, THAT IS ON YOU. If there is fall out in a relationship because the person thought you were good with something and you were not, THAT IS ON YOU. If you’re making yourself sick and tired because you can never say no to anything THAT IS ON YOU.
People pleasing, especially for women, is seen as a virtue.
And- of course- this behavior is reinforced at every turn. PEOPLE LOVE US for our people pleasing ways. It’s a great way to make “friends.”
But we are often left feeling that no one ever sees us or our needs. Perhaps people assume that we are okay since we are always there for others.
I invite you to be curious if people pleasing- saying yes when you don’t want to, not setting important boundaries or always putting others needs in front of your own- is somehow a way for you to stay out of your pain?
Perhaps there is a painful belief that if you didn’t do those things, you would be rejected or unlovable. Like if you’re not useful, then you are useless.
This is not to say that we don’t need to attend to our relationships. We can and need to practice empathy, compassion, kindness and caring. We can support the people in our lives that we love without absorbing or rescuing them out of their pain. And we can and should do things for others without expecting anything in return.
AND.. in general, we want relationships to have reciprocity and for both parties to be giving and receiving love, support and help freely.
If you have people in your life, that you feel you absolutely cannot say “no” to, then they are likely an energy vampire. I am willing to bet that generosity only flows in one direction.
Another common trait for folks that struggle with people pleasing is they are deeply avoidant of uncomfortable emotions- both our own and in other people. Feelings like sadness, shame, fear, anger feel scary and we will sacrifice ourselves and our health to avoid feeling them.
But guess what? The very thing you are doing to maintain connections with people (as well as a little sense of power over these uncomfortable emotions) makes us feel disconnected, lonely and powerless.
I get it- rejection is scary. However, if people are only “loving” you for what you can offer them, that’s not love- that’s using.
Brene Brown frames this as “fitting in”- changing who we are in order to please others, whereas true belonging is “being who were truly are (THIS TAKES BRAVERY) and having people LOVE us for that. And fitting in is a shitty substitute for belonging, in fact, it’s almost the exact opposite.
I know that people pleasing and saying yes FEELS easier. And it is- in the short-term. It is a great strategy for avoiding discomfort and conflict. But ultimately, it will wreak havoc on your spirit, your mental well-being and your health.
My colleague who specializes in chronic pain has a saying “the jerks of the world don’t have chronic pain.” Many people who struggle with chronic pain that can’t be explained by a medical doctor, may have its roots in emotional pain and is highly correlated with people pleasing, feeling powerless and being overly responsible for people.
This is not to BLAME you for your chronic pain. It is not your fault, nor it is a conscious choice. I am also not saying that “it is all in your head.” Only that our bodies and minds are connected and sometimes our brain interprets unprocessed emotional pain and turns it into physical pain.
Remember that people pleasing and saying a “yes” that isn’t a real “yes” is lying and it is a form of manipulation. That likely is not in line with your values.
It’s also important to practice some self-compassion in this regard, because you likely learned to please people and be really good at knowing what people want as a result of deep pain. Likely, you needed someone to be there for you and they weren’t so you learned to manage other people and make them feel comfortable. This is a great way at giving you a sense of control and a sense of connection with others.
It feels deeply scary to set boundaries because it really was a SURVIVAL SKILL so to stop doing it FEELS like life or death.
AND it is likely the thing keeping you from really processing through your pain and allowing you to put your needs into the equation.
I know it’s hard, but you can do it! If you can look into what the pain is and really find a way to process through it, then you will feel like you have more of a CHOICE. The more authentic and brave you can be, the more you will start to surround yourself with people that actually celebrate you for who you are and not what you can do for them.
You will start to have more energy and start to really operate from the truth and here it is:
Your worth, your lovability, your belonging and your divinity are not negotiated with anyone or anything outside of yourself. They are your birthright and you don’t need to hustle for them. They are inherently yours.