Are you exhausted and stressed with looking after everyone else except yourself?
This was the crunch point for a client of mine who told me: “ I just can’t cope at work anymore, it’s too stressful. Everyone expects you to do everything all at once. I’ve got so many different people to keep happy and no-one wants to help me. It’s just too much. I love my job but I just can’t keep going like this.”
Does any of this sound familiar? If so you may be struggling to tame your people pleasing behaviour.
In my work with stressed, burnt out professionals I come across people who care passionately about what they do. They give everything to their work and the people they work with but what they fail to give is time and attention to their own needs. They are so busy saying yes to every request, fire fighting other people’s problems and reacting to any call for help their to do list grows ever longer and time for themselves ever shorter. Ultimately their resentment and stress levels build as they feel overwhelmed, underappreciated and overworked. Those who are prone to people pleasing are often also prone to being manipulated because of their inability to assert themselves. They bounce between feeling needed, victimised and ultimately exhausted with the effort of trying to keep everyone happy.
Usually clients like Suzanne arrive for coaching because things have just got too much. They find themselves struggling because of a lack of focus on their own needs; whether that is a project at work, a relationship or their health. They have begun to recognise that so much time is spent doing things for others they have become stressed, fed up and frustrated. They don’t even know anymore what it is they want for themselves, let alone feeling able to ask for it.
What is it all about?
There are many reasons why we may be driven to behave like this. A fear of rejection or abandonment, a loss of our own identity through past relationships and experiences or a lack of awareness about our own worth and value are often at play. For many, people pleasing is a trap that we fall into because of the messages we have received from being small. Parents, teachers and other significant care givers have taught us that we will receive love and approval if we do things for others. In doing so we feel intrinsically valuable, important and needed which contributes to feelings of being accepted and loved. People pleasers struggle to identify that who we are is as valuable as the things we do.
Now I’m not saying it is not worthwhile to help, show kindness and generosity and contribute to others success and achievement. Anyone with any interest in wellbeing and positive psychology will know how important these things are when it comes to a sense of fulfillment in life. Indeed society relies on community and kindness. But like all things, it requires balance. If this is your natural instinct it will be something that will require constant monitoring and self awareness. Without this you may lose sight of yourself in your desire to help and serve others.
Find balance and self awareness
With self awareness though comes the first step to change. If these behaviours are out of balance and are stopping you achieving your dreams and ambitions, or are making you ill with stress then it might be time to do the following:
Have look at what beliefs and assumptions are driving your behaviour. Be objective and ask yourself how you know what you believe to be true. This is where the listening and challenging ear of a coach can be useful.
Reflect on where they come from and whether that is useful to you now. Keep the parts that are useful and reframe the bits that aren't into more helpful statements.
Examine what relationships in your life might be perpetuating your behaviour. You have a choice: ditch, bitch or stitch. Either ditch the relationship, carry on bitching about it and feeling resentful towards that person or stitch it up which requires some effort on your part to shut up, accept who they are but choose not to respond in the way you always have.
Put some simple strategies in place to regain some control: Practise weighing up your options before agreeing to requests for your time and energy, there is no harm in responding to another's request with saying " Let me get back to you on that". Practise saying no to small things, whether that is a work lunch you don't want to attend or that doughnut that other people seem so intent on you eating but will spoil your diet. Experiment and see how it feels to ask for help for a change or if someone offers help, gladly accept. Stop apologising for things that aren’t your fault and find your voice when it comes to asking for what you want. Once you start doing this it will begin to get easier to live your life on your terms.
By starting to understand your own values and sense of identity, by working out what lights you up and knowing and celebrating your strengths you can begin to build confidence in who you are.
Once you are fuelled with a better sense of yourself it becomes easier to dial down the worry about what other people might think about you as you test out some new strategies for setting some boundaries, saying no and working out what you want your life to look like with time for you in it.
So if this resonates with you just take some time in your day to stop, breathe and remove yourself from distraction. Just take a moment to focus on yourself and reflect on the following questions:
“What do I gain from this behaviour and what does it cost me?”
“If I dialled down this behaviour by 10% what impact would this have on my life?”
“How can I show myself the same kindness I show others?”
Now write a list of 20 things you would like to do. This can be anything from taking a walk in the park to taking a new course or going to your favourite restaurant. Just start to think about what you would like to do from a position of positive choice and not from a sense of guilt, fear or duty.
Celebrate your success.
After coaching Suzanne on her people pleasing habits I was thrilled to receive a message from her thanking me for helping her realise she can say no and the world won’t fall apart and that she is enjoying being a less stressful person who knows that she deserves a life for herself and not just for all the things she does for others. I would like to be able to take the credit but the credit is all hers for being brave enough to make the change. I encourage you to give yourself a big pat on the back for any changes you may have made, no matter how small they may seem. Rewarding yourself is a positive motivator to keep up with the changes you are trying to make so look at that list of yours, choose something off it and just do it.
If you would like help to gain control over your people pleasing habits then please get in touch.