How Do I Stop Being a People Pleaser?
At some point in our individual journey, we may well end up saying to ourselves that “I need to stop being a people pleaser!”
Many /a-midlife-transition clients confront this issue in one form or another.
A lot of us get the message at a very early age that what we’re supposed to do, is to meet the needs of others, and, often, to put those needs before our own.
This can occur in a range of different circumstances. Sometimes an individual experiences a parent who models the pattern of putting others’ needs before his or her own. Sometimes in difficult family situations where there is abuse or addiction, an individual learns that he or she must step in, forget their own needs and look after siblings, or even a parent. Sometimes, in dealing with unreasonable parental demands, the message is clearly communicated that there is no room for the individual’s own needs.
As I know from my own experience, it doesn’t help things that distorted versions of major religious traditions reinforce the message that we should ignore our own needs, and always place the needs of others first. (Paraphrasing the poet Walt Whitman, we need to carefully examine our religious traditions, and discard any parts that insult our souls!)
But, we may say, isn’t it a good thing to make other people happy? Well, that depends…
When I Can’t Stop Being a People Pleaser — and It’s Really Hurting Me
Being a people pleaser can really hurt you. People suffer greatly when forced into roles that require them to ignore their own needs. This can be true in romantic relationships, where one partner consciously or unconsciously ends up sabotaging basic needs, to meet the needs of another — who may consciously or unconsciously be reinforcing this behaviour. Also, many parents continually end up giving in to the demands of children, and putting their own fundamental needs on the back burner. In our intensely workaholic age, it can be true with bells on for the employee or worker in a pressurized workplace, whose inner voice keeps giving the message that it’s never enough.
People pleasing behaviour can also have powerful links to health issues and self-harming behaviours. Case Western’s Prof. Julie Exline and colleagues have shown that there’s often a linkage between people pleasing and over-eating.
People Pleasing: Obstacle to Being True to Myself
From a Jungian perspective, there’s a whole other dimension of this. Put simply, people pleasing gets in the way of our being who we’re really meant to be. Long ago, Jung used the analogy of an acorn and an oak to illustrate the potential latent within us that we’re meant to live out, realize or express. This is the manifestation of our particular uniqueness, which we gradually realize through the process of individuation.
If I’m obsessed with pleasing others, it gets harder and harder to feel the beckoning of my own true nature and my own vocation, the call of what Jung referred to as the Self. To travel my life journey, and then realize that I’m not actually expressing and being who I really most truly am — would be a grievous loss. Missing this connection to who I fundamentally am, as a result of people pleasing, or other factors, results in a great deal of anxiety and depression.
S – Pleasing My Self
The path to stop being a people pleaser will lead us into a place of listening carefully to ourselves, to the voice of ourselves that may be trying to get through. This voice may show up in shadowy ways — anger, or maybe even depression. Yet listening may be crucial, even if it has things to say that are hard to hear.
There may be a great value in working with a /a-midlife-transition to help us hear this voice of the Self, and to act on it, so that we’re honouring ourselves and our fundamental nature — not just seeking others’ approval. This is often a key element n the journey to wholeness.
We can begin this work of self-acceptance which is tied to self-forgiveness, on our own. However, it’s often of tremendous support to work with a compassionate, supportive case studies. A good therapist can help us find the way to make real peace with our vulnerable, fallible but preciously unique selves on the journey towards wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst