How to Finally Stop Being a People-Pleaser

If I believed in “guilty pleasures,” it would be RHONY/BH. In the intro to NYC, Ramona says “I’m an acquired taste. If you don’t like me acquire some taste.”

I’ve always loved this statement.

While “acquired taste” maybe have a bad connotation, often used when referring to food and drink (i.e. coffee and beer), with our quirks, idiosyncrasies, and downright flaws, aren’t we all an acquired taste?

For most of my adult life, I have feared being an acquired taste; I would prefer to be liked by everyone. I know this is an unrealistic and impossible expectation, but the thought of people not liking me gives me a pit in my stomach. Somewhere along the line, I’ve trained myself to believe that people disliking me is a sign that something is wrong with me. Like I am “bad” or unworthy.

It’s funny because when I was younger, I was who I was and was generally well-liked. Or, I think I was! I had no qualms about saying what I felt, feeling free, and indulging in my daydreams, sense of wonder, and curiosity. While I’ve always been highly sensitive, nurturing and caring, as time went on, with each new year came more life experiences. I found myself with more hurt feelings, experiencing and receiving judgmental thoughts, and gaining new perspectives from the general turbulence that comes with life.

As a result, I became more protected and guarded, relying on affirmations and validation in order to recognize my own self-worth and found myself giving so much more in order to assure I was well liked.

A big turning point for me was moving 3,000 miles from British Columbia, Canada to Colton, New York in sixth grade. At a pivotal growth period, I left everything I knew behind. While today, I am so happy and grateful for this experience, there are elements of it that were hard. I was different. I wore different clothes, I had an accent, and we lived in a nice house.

One day when I was on the playground, in my newest, hottest, back-to-school outfit, a girl said, “at least I don’t wear pants like the Brady Bunch.” I wanted to cry. In this moment, it was confirmed that my clothes weren’t cool enough and neither was I. I sent my mom out to buy me a pair of baggy jeans since apparently that was the “in” thing. There were many other instances like this that happened throughout my middle school and high school experience that shaped my deep need to be well-liked. As my friend once told me, this is my gremlin.

Since then, I developed a fear of: 

  • Disappointing people
  • Confrontation
  • Hurting someone’s feelings
  • Saying no when I feel like someone is counting on me or it would make them really happy
  • Not going above and beyond
  • People thinking I did or said something wrong
  • People thinking I made a bad choice

In many ways, I became a people-pleaser. I don’t really like this phrase because it kind of sounds like the passive-aggressive self-compliment along the lines of “what’s your worst quality.” But being a “people-pleaser” can not only affect you negatively, but also those around you. 

 

 

Some of the signs you’re a people-pleaser include: 

  • Doing something purely because you thought it was what others wanted you to do
  • Taking on more than you can handle at work when there were others who could have done the job, leaving you feeling completely depleted and resentful
  • Participating in activities that you don’t enjoy (not including family commitments and things that make you a good human)
  • Putting unrealistic expectations on yourself
  • Not saying what you feel to avoid conflict at all costs
  • Repressing your own feelings about something to save the feelings of others

 

For a long time, I kind of liked the idea of being a “people-pleaser.” It meant I was thoughtful, caring, kind, and compassionate, and those are all things I hope and strive to be. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be and pursue these qualities — in fact, I hope we all embody them in some way — there’s a difference between having them and letting them dictate who you are.

They can lead to feelings of depletion, resentment, and a lack of sense of self, self-respect, and self-love and can sometimes hold me back from: 

  • Saying what I really feel
  • Doing things that are important to me and what I really love
  • Feeling confident in my actions and choices
  • True intimacy in relationships
  • Standing up for what I believe in
  • Putting my happiness, wants, and needs first
  • True self-compassion and self-love
  • Sharing my idiosyncrasies, quirks, and flaws authentically
  • Engaging in more activities that are important to me and my values

They leave me feeling guilty, ashamed, unloved, or disappointed in myself.

When I think about the people I love and admire most in this world, they embody all of those qualities and characteristics. But they also speak their mind, set clear boundaries, share their opinions, and are unapologetically themselves. In turn they are valued, confident, happy, and respected by others. Oh yeah, they’re also really well-liked.

As life gets busier and my dreams and passions become more clear, being a “people-pleaser” no longer serves me. I’ve realized that I don’t need to be liked by everyone or try so hard to have the qualities that I want. 

 

The first step is understanding a few of the reasons why we people-please.

These may not resonate with you at first glance, but once you start digging deeper into your feelings, thoughts, and emotions — which I know can feel really scary — you may find yourself recognizing some of these patterns.

  • Fear of rejection
  • Seeking validation and acceptance
  • Uncertain of our purpose in the world
  • Avoiding our own issues
  • Lack of self-love and self-compassion

In some way or another, I experience all of these feelings. While my Cancer soul will always be highly-sensitive, nurturing, loving and, yes, moody, I am learning to find ways to use my “people-pleasing” qualities to my advantage to support myself and the people that I love in a more meaningful way. This means taking a step back and getting real with myself.

 

 

Here’s how I’m learning to become an “acquired taste,” unapologetically me, and happier.

 

I practice mindfulness

Being clear on what I want and what is important to me has become a priority over the past couple of years. In a world filled with noise, stress, and self-inflicted busyness, taking 10 minutes out of the day to connect with how my body feels without feeling like I need to be motivated, creating a to-do list, or driving for success helps me understand what I should spend my time and energy focusing on and what can be left aside. 

Journaling and freeform writing what I want and what I feel has also been very helpful in gaining insights. This book is a great starting point. 

With this clarity, I become more confident that it’s OK to want what I want, feel what I feel, and do what I do as long as I do so respectfully, without hurting others and with integrity.

 

I set respectful boundaries

My friend gave me a beautiful book called Boundaries and Protection by Pixie Lighthorse, which has given me great insight into what it means to create meaningful and respectful boundaries. There is a quote in the introduction that says that contradicts what I may have thought of as true before: “boundaries make room for deeper connections and intimacy we actually want to have.”  

So contrary to what I may have believed, boundaries aren’t meant to block, but meant to open by creating new space. 

My boundaries include blocking out more time to get things done and more time that is just for me, disconnecting from my phone, saying no to plans or activities when I know they won’t make me feel good, and not always conforming to the plans of others while remaining flexible and thoughtful.

While my boundaries are protective, I still think it’s important to push myself outside my comfort zone. This is where I find new opportunity, creativity, and experiences which are essential for my growth and happiness. You’ll find a happy medium that works for you.

 

I work to cultivate self-love and confidence

As Tracy Litt, a certified mindset coach, transformational therapist, and the founder of The Litt Factor, told The Zoe Report, “Through the work of loving yourself and cultivating a phenomenal relationship with yourself, you start to see that you are your own approval.”

This really resonated with me I am always second-guessing myself from the little things like new shoe choices, to what I should have for dinner, to bigger things like where I should live, if I should go deeper into an intimate relationship, or what job I should take next, this quote really hit home.

Cultivating this self-love is not easy. It is hard work and an ongoing struggle for me, but I try to remind myself of all of the awesome things I have done instead of how I could have made those awesome things better. Is there always room for improvement? Sure, but let’s celebrate the little wins before we focus on the improvements. 

 

I realized that comparison is the thief of joy

Whenever I hear a podcast that I think is amazing or hear someone being praised for something I wish I could be praised for, I immediately start comparing myself to that person or want that person to know me, to see me, and to praise me. 

I believe that self-growth is an important mechanism to living well, but doing it because someone else has it is not a sustainable way to get there. I’ve found the best way to actually compare less is to understand my values and goals and recognize where I’m at. By knowing what’s important to me and my starting point, I can prioritize in a way that fits in with my life.

 

I stopped apologizing (well, almost)

Yes. If I am an a$$, I should apologize. But apologizing for being who I am or for doing what’s aligned with my values not only perpetuates low confidence, but also signals to other people that you don’t believe in what you’re doing and that you can be walked all over.

The more you believe in what you’re doing, the more others will believe in and respect you.

While this is going to be ongoing work for me, slowly but surely, I have started to do things because I want to do them — not because of the recognition I will receive or because it will make someone else happy. Of course, I do things to make others happy because that’s who I am, I think it’s who we all are deep down, but what I’ve realized is that the best recognition is that which we derive from ourselves.

As I learn to fill my own cup or put on my own air mask first, I am able to give more authentically and meaningfully to the people I love the most, and to all those who don’t like it, you can acquire some taste.