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Are You Still Pleasing People? Break the Habit Already!

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Have you ever caught yourself putting everyone else’s needs before your own? It turns out, you’re not alone. A YouGov survey from 2022 revealed that almost half of us identify as ‘people-pleasers’. As our world becomes more and more interconnected, the desire to be liked and please others seems to intensify. 

A book that has provided a great deal of insight for me on this topic is “Beyond Happiness: The 6 Secrets of Life Satisfaction”. The author delves into the people-pleasing habit, examining its impacts and offering practical exercises to help tackle it. This tendency to constantly want to satisfy others is also discussed by well-known family therapist Virginia Satir, who labels these individuals as ‘placaters’. These are people who equate their self-worth to their ability to do things for others. 

From my reading, I’ve understood that people-pleasing arises from various conscious and unconscious motivations like avoiding conflict, craving indispensability, or coping with abandonment issues. Fear of anger or confrontations often drives people-pleasers to be excessively agreeable as a means of self-preservation. 

This pattern of people-pleasing behavior can lead to an array of mental and physical health complications including rejection fears, resentment, frustration, anger, addictive tendencies, headaches, stomach issues, hypertension, and more. It can also cause difficulties in setting personal boundaries, decision-making, low self-esteem, dependency, and feelings of incompetence. Recognizing and combating your people-pleasing tendencies is therefore crucial. 

Through the book, I’ve learned six practical exercises to kick-start the journey towards overcoming people-pleasing: 

  • Relishing Solitude: Get comfortable with your own company. Realize that the people who truly care for you will stick around even if you’re not constantly bending over backwards for them. Experiment with this by doing things alone like watching a movie or dining out.
  • Prioritizing Self-Commitments: Treat plans made with yourself as seriously as you would ones made with others. Cancelling your own plans sends a signal to your brain that they aren’t as important. Make sure to stick to your self-made plans, whether it’s a gym session or a study hour.

  • Making Independent Decisions: Many people-pleasers rely on collective decision-making. Try making small decisions on your own and gradually take on bigger ones. Remember, your choices should primarily please you and not others. Begin with minor decisions like choosing a restaurant and gradually take on bigger ones.

  • Learning to Say “No”: Saying “no” might seem challenging as you might fear appearing indifferent or unkind. But respectful and assertive communication is important. Practice using “I” statements like, “I would love to help, but I have other commitments,” or “That sounds fun, but it’s not my thing. Let’s plan for another time.”

  • Hesitating Before Offering Help: Don’t always rush to offer help or advice unless asked. If someone shares a problem with you, validate their feelings instead of immediately trying to fix things. Use the “resentment check-in” technique: when asked for a favor, gauge your feelings. If you’d feel resentful if the favor went unacknowledged or unreturned, it’s better to delegate, modify, or reject the task.

In the end, the book “Beyond Happiness: The 6 Secrets of Life Satisfaction” provides invaluable insights into how we can break free from the cycle of people-pleasing and cultivate healthier, interdependent relationships. I highly recommend it to anyone struggling with people-pleasing tendencies. 

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