As an executive coach, I teach individuals how to build their inner resilience to become unstoppable. As a coach, I often encounter a recurring theme, especially in women. Due to our society, women fall into the trap of people pleasing. In the short term, over accommodating sometimes feels easier to keep the peace and not ruffle feathers. But, if we continue to do this in a habitual way, we can end up in trouble. In severe cases, a people pleaser becomes disconnected with her own wants and needs. Soon, she stops differentiating between what she wants and what others want of her. This style of excessive people pleasing comes at a high cost and can take years to unlearn.
I found myself in this trap early in my career when I climbed the corporate ladder. I did everything I thought I should do to be successful. I checked the boxes for more responsibility, money and power. I hit a certain level of success. I attended board meetings and ran a growing marketing team. Despite all this, I felt unsatisfied with my career. I felt I left the best of my talents at home every day. Living out someone else’s version of success is an especially sticky trap for Type A overachievers like myself and many of the clients I work with. People like us reach external goals we set, yet still feel lost about what we want to do. Despite the external nods of approval, we can’t quite get over the nagging feeling that something is off.
We receive so many messages about what we “should” do in life. No wonder we lose track of what we want and need! In our effort to be good at everything we do, we can become disconnected from what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We can overcome the tendency. There are many ways you can avoid the trap now that you see it for what it is—a trap.
To let go of your people pleasing habit, start by doing this simple Mini Clarity Course. The course will help you connect with your values and define success on your terms. Once you dig into the five items below, you’ll see people pleasing habits hold you back from the life you want to lead. You will learn how to let them go.
When we focus on pleasing others, we miss the opportunity to voice our true emotions. We lose productive conflict because we’re worried about others viewing us as “aggressive” or “not a team player.” But if you are unable to voice your needs, others can’t meet them. Productive, honest conflict is vital in business relationships and personal relationships alike. This engagement helps you get to know your friends, coworkers, and loved ones better. This constructive confrontation ensures you get your needs met. Win/win.
When we’re stuck giving, giving and giving without establishing or respecting boundaries, we grow prone to burnout. Continuous, unanalyzed burnout can turn into resentment over time. Burnout, when chronic and fueled by growing stressors, is debilitating, draining and a leading cause of sick days in work settings.
When we get stuck in a habit of people pleasing, we start to lose faith in our ability to know what’s right for us. When this is a habit, we do not even know our own preferences and desires. Examples of habitual people pleasing monopolizing manifests in simple ways. For example, you may not know what restaurants you’d like to go to for dinner because you’re used to deferring to others. It’s important to understand our own thoughts and feelings and how to share them.
If you can’t express how you’re feeling and what you want, you’re never going to reach your goal. If expressing your needs to others is tough for you right now, try journaling your needs. Once you understand your needs, expressing them to others who can help you meet them will become easier. You may even find you can meet some of your needs on your own by taking different steps forward. Either way, becoming clear on your needs will help ensure that you get want you want.
Personal conflict, especially unspoken and unresolved issues, can rob us of restful sleep. If you find yourself awake at night stewing, this could be a sign something is off. When we’re on the precipice of big change, our inner critic often heats up. Our critical mental voice tries to stop us from taking steps forward. She tells us lies like “it’s best to play it safe” or “this will never work.” If ending your people pleasing habits and reconnecting with your intuition motivates you, start a daily five minute meditation practice. There are plenty of free meditation apps, like Insight Timer. Or, you can join my free 30 Day Meditation Challenge. A self-compassion meditation like this one here can be helpful before bed. This mediation can soothe the emotional discomfort of being too demanding on oneself. With a regular self-compassion practice, you can begin to take your side and learn to react less. You can start to talk to yourself like you would a dear friend.
Breaking your people pleasing habit won’t happen overnight, but by taking intentional, proactive steps, you can start to become a more honest, authentic version of yourself.