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  • Writer's pictureRachel Swanick

People Pleasing: The Ultimate Contradiction

We all know someone who we can describe as a people pleaser. You know, they are always there to lend a hand, always say yes - you may even say they are easy going. This person might even be you. I know I am certainly a people pleaser at times. I often say yes to too many things or I sit on the fence in decision making because it feels more important to others. But there are always two sides to every coin. The other side of pleasing people is saying yes when we want to say no, being afraid to take up space in case we are rejected and also the deep anxiety of being overwhelmed by taking on more than we can carry. When this happens, we shy away from responsibilities. We feel the heaviness in our bodies, resentment builds and because we are so used to masking our feelings, depression and anxiety kick in. This is all topped with a nice lump of guilt and failure as we perceive that we are letting others down. So we start the cycle again - saying yes to please others and then feeling overwhelmed and resentful. It all adds up to a recipe that sticks on our throats, making us unwell psychological and physically. We need to break the cycle - but how?

Understanding the root cause of our needs always brings light on to our behaviours and feelings. People pleasers are often those who have had difficult childhood - be that trauma or divorce - or someone who has had tricky attachment relationships with a parent, peer or romantic partner. People pleasing is also a feminist issue (and I am back in the room!). Women are brought up to not say what they feel, to be ‘good girls’ and to care for others. Angry women are not deemed ‘attractive’ by mainstream society. And what are women here for if not to be pretty and good?!?

George Kelly, a psychologist from the 60’s, wrote a theory about how we store memories and information in our minds that make us act in certain ways. He proposed that when we feel or experience something, we have to have felt or experienced the opposite thing in order to understand it. So, for us to understand darkness, we also have to have known lightness otherwise darkness is the only thing we know and therefore not up for questioning. When thinking about pleasing people, the only thing we have known is to make others feel better by our actions and perhaps we have never known what it would be like to make ourselves better. Therefore, we don’t question another way to live. I mean, the paradigm of people pleasing is that no one is ever pleased. The pleaser keeps giving and giving until burn out and the un-pleased person keeps taking and taking, never satisfied. No one wins. No one is pleased. Therefore to break the cycle, we need to get out of it. We need to question what we are doing and find a new way of being.

So what do we do? Firstly, we admit that it will not be easy. Not only are we trying to change ourselves, we are affecting all of our relationships and ways of interacting AND we need society to catch up. Then, in no particular order, we put boundaries in and surround ourselves with inspiration to begin being true to ourselves. We start saying no, choosing wise battles to join or hills to die on. We take up space. Repeat after me - WE TAKE UP SPACE. I can’t stress this enough. Women! We are worthy of space, of having a voice and being bigger and bolder than others! We look at the goodness we already have inside of us and cultivate it. We read books about people we like (main character energy!) or those we want to be, research, sort our social media, start now. We put boundaries in place - not working after hours, giving yourself time each day to look after yourself, spending time with friends and not only children and family, whatever it is you need. We become accountable to ourselves and maybe find other strong friends who support us. We keep building. We share our opinions with others and we believe in our worthiness.

And then we remind ourselves that this isn’t just about us. This is society and the world and we can make a difference. By being true to ourselves we give everyone a gift - whether that be the gift of a boundary or really showing them who we are. And this contentment will be pleasing for us: we will know who we are, what we need and that we are enough.

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