Create a safe space and retreat there whenever you feel uncomfortable. Feeling at peace in your body in a physical space is helpful and effective in returning to you.
In today’s society, the tendency to prioritize others’ needs and expectations over one’s own can lead to significant emotional and psychological challenges. In this series, we would like to explore the complex dynamics of people-pleasing behavior and its impact on individual well-being and relationships. We would like to discuss the root causes of people-pleasing behavior, its effects on personal and professional life, and practical steps for cultivating healthier relationships and self-esteem. We hope that this series can provide insights, strategies, and real-life experiences that can help individuals navigate and overcome the pitfalls of being a people pleaser. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Thorp.
Alicia is a certified mindset mentor & owner of PowHer Up Lifestyle Lounge online, where she connects with women as a Body Image & Confidence Coach. Alicia has a corporate career outside of entrepreneurship and is a mom, wife, and Amazon bestselling co-author. On any given day, you can find her with a cup of Green Tea matcha in her hand, rocking yoga pants, & listening to music.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I used to explain my family like the ones you would see on TV. I was one of four siblings with loving parents. On Sundays, we went to church and spent the rest of the weekends visiting extended family. Despite my lack of a competitive nature, I dipped my toes into the world of sports, not for the thrill of victory but for the joy of running around and getting to play. I was a very ‘busy’ child. I was the loud one, the one who couldn’t sit still, and the one who always had to be doing something.
Outdoor adventures were a constant. I loved the freedom of nature, be it roller skating, riding bikes, or just exploring outdoors.
School was a social time for me. I was an average student but had a few challenges I didn’t know about until I was older. I am deaf in one ear and would overcompensate for not hearing well by being loud and thriving in noisy atmospheres.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
My journey through college, despite my initial reluctance, transformed into a meaningful stepping stone to making a difference in the lives of others. I received a degree in speech pathology and audiology; my childhood audiologist became my guiding light. She not only helped me navigate the complexities of an abnormal situation that I had dealt with growing up by being severely hard of hearing but also inspired me to pursue a path where I could offer that support to others like she was supportive of me. Nurturing others was in my veins.
While my corporate career is dedicated to working with special needs adults, the burning desire I had to uplift others persisted.
In 2009, I dipped my toes into the world of direct sales, unwittingly catching the entrepreneurial bug that would shape my future endeavors. Fast forward to 2016, and I found myself donning the hat of a mindfulness practitioner after having completed my yoga teacher certification. I loved learning and had a very active mind that led me to explore new horizons. Now, as a Body Image Confidence Coach, I’ve seamlessly woven together my passions and hobbies into a tapestry of purpose, turning the thoughts in my mind into action and a force for positive change.
Thank you for all that, that is such great insight into your life. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about People-Pleasing. To make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “People-Pleasing” mean to you?
People-pleasing, for me, has always been a conscious effort to prioritize the comfort and happiness of others, sometimes at the expense of my own thoughts or feelings. Believing in the goodness of everyone, I tended to overlook imperfections, choosing to focus on the positive aspects to ensure that the people around me felt good and happy. Even when faced with disagreements or internal conflicts, the desire to avoid causing discomfort or stirring negative emotions led me to suppress my own perspectives. I did not want to rock the boat or ruffle feathers; instead, I aimed for a peaceful environment where everyone could appreciate and, hopefully, like me.
On the surface, it seems like being a person who wants to please others is a good thing. Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being a people pleaser?
As a dedicated people-pleaser, my reluctance to speak up and assert my own thoughts and emotions became a double-edged sword.
On the surface, I seemed calm and accommodating, but underneath, I was silently swallowing my own feelings, creating a toxic internal environment. I had an eating disorder that manifested through these people-pleasing behaviors from my teenage years into my late 20s.
The constant suppression of my authentic self not only hindered my personal growth but also contributed to me constantly questioning my own thoughts, wants, and needs.
Unbeknownst to me, I started to have anxiety, which I was experiencing as a byproduct of this self-imposed silence, a result of neglecting my own needs and desires to cater to those around me. The weight of unexpressed thoughts and unacknowledged emotions added an extra layer of stress and pressure to my daily life, creating a cycle that I was oblivious to at the time. Recognizing this pattern has been a crucial step in my journey toward authenticity and self-care, learning that true harmony arises not from sacrificing my voice but from embracing and expressing my genuine thoughts and emotions.
Does being a people pleaser give you certain advantages? Can you explain?
I can be comfortable in any situation, earn the trust of others, and am a good listener and empathetic, which makes people feel at ease. Since pleasing people is prioritizing the comfort and happiness of others, I naturally become a source of support and positivity in social situations. I feel like it has helped me be more attuned to the feelings of others, and I can approach any situation knowing my presence is welcomed and appreciated.
Can you describe a moment in your life when you realized that your own people-pleasing behavior was more harmful than helpful?
Acknowledging that not everyone has my best interests in mind was a difficult realization. My first experience with this realization came during high school. While attending a BBQ with both familiar and unfamiliar faces, my boyfriend became upset by something I said and kicked the patio chair I was sitting in, leaving me on the ground. Although I tried to brush it off, the experience was embarrassing and left me unsure of how to feel. I apologized for my words, even though looking back on it, his reaction was the more serious concern.
Even as an adult, I found myself still trying to please those around me. I surrounded myself with dishonest individuals who constantly found themselves in trouble yet never took responsibility for their actions. I fell into the role of being the “good friend” who never voiced their true feelings, just to keep others comfortable. However, when asked to lie about a fight I witnessed, I realized that enough was enough. It was time to shift my priorities and start putting my own interests first.
In your opinion, what are the common root causes of people-pleasing behavior?
Growing up, I was raised in a household that emphasized the importance of politeness, harmony, and prioritizing the needs of others. While these values are not inherently bad, they led to the development of my people-pleasing tendencies. As a child, I was perceived as being too loud, too energetic, and too active, so I tried to tone down these aspects of my personality. Unfortunately, my efforts to be more agreeable and accommodating were ultimately counterproductive and only reinforced my people-pleasing behaviors into adulthood.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact personal relationships?
People-pleasing can create harmony in relationships but can also be exhausting to the people-pleaser and ultimately lead to a lack of authenticity. As a people-pleaser, it is easy to lose your identity to be more adaptable but it can also lead to suppressing true thoughts and feelings. As a people pleaser, I unintentionally created a lack of boundaries, which looked like being accommodating but led to being taken advantage of and ultimately damaging relationships.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact professional relationships?
Professionally, people-pleasing can lead to sacrificing your own productivity and success. This matters because, if you were like me, you would accommodate what others needed you to do and fall behind in your own work. This habit made it difficult for me to establish healthy relationships with my colleagues, as I would often go to great lengths to help them, even if it meant compromising my own job responsibilities. In retrospect, I realize how important it is to set boundaries and prioritize my own needs, which can ultimately lead to a more fulfilling and successful career.
How can long-term people-pleasing behavior impact an individual’s mental health?
When you prioritize others’ needs and desires above your own, you create increased levels of stress, anxiety, and sometimes even depression. Continuously seeking external validation can lead to feelings of low self-worth and can cause you to develop a negative self-image. Eating disorders, headaches, and weight gain could all manifest through this, I have had them all. Panic attacks tend to creep into the picture, too. Over time, people-pleasing drains your energy, leaving you feeling exhausted and burnt out.
In your experience, what is the role of self-awareness in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies, and how can individuals cultivate it?
In my opinion, it is all about noticing healthy relationships that thrive on a level of compromise and flexibility. Relationships of any kind should not come at the cost of your own well-being or sense of self. By prioritizing authenticity and setting boundaries, we can create more fulfilling and sustainable relationships. The key to healthy relationships is finding a balance between social adaptation and personal authenticity and learning to communicate effectively with others.
The essential steps towards fostering genuine connections where individuals can express themselves freely without fear of judgment or rejection would be developing assertiveness, setting clear boundaries, and embracing authenticity.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience or research, what are the “Five Strategies or Techniques that Can Help Individuals Break Free from the Cycle of People-Pleasing”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
Noticing that you have People-Pleasing patterns is huge. I began by recognizing instances where I would tend to prioritize others’ needs over my own. I would be the “Yes” person, even if I should have said no.
To stay in awareness, I began to incorporate mindfulness techniques such as meditation and journaling to be active in my self-awareness. I began to pay attention to my thoughts, emotions, and actions without judgment and learned that being aware of my own wants and needs is not selfish.
It was time for a change. I had to confront the reality that I was altering myself to please others, even when it was doing more harm than good. I naively believed that everyone had good intentions, even when the circumstances proved otherwise. But, I came to realize that my priority should be to take care of myself and focus on building genuine relationships that value authenticity.
Define personal boundaries. I began to articulate my own needs, values, and limits clearly. Establishing healthy boundaries for my own well-being was key. The next step was to bravely step into my power and communicate them assertively to others.
I had to practice saying “no” and being firm. “No” is a complete sentence. Learning to say “no” when necessary, without guilt was also a practice. Setting boundaries is not selfish, it’s a crucial aspect of maintaining healthy relationships.
I began to engage in prayer and other spiritual practices, such as devotionals and self-help readings. I used these moments of reflection to connect with my inner self and reinforce what my values were.
I would use what I learned about myself during the prayer practices to strengthen my spiritual beliefs in order to navigate challenging situations. When I was going through my divorce, I used this a lot. I needed to stand strong in my convictions and fearlessly show up. I began to trust that my spiritual foundation would provide resilience and support as I continued to work on breaking free from the cycle of people-pleasing.
Build a support system. Surround yourself with individuals who understand and support your journey to break free from people-pleasing. Share your goals and challenges with trusted friends, family, or a therapist who can provide encouragement and perspective.
I had found a supportive community that helped me through the cycle of pleasing people. I did a lot of personal development and connected with others in networking groups who shared similar experiences, and together, we provided encouragement to each other.
What steps should people pleasers take to establish healthier boundaries?
Here’s what you can do:
- Seek inspiration from online videos and books on mindset and mindfulness and connect to your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs with confidence.
- Explore the mind-body connection through practices like yoga, meditation, and prayer. Focus on your breath and notice patterns of heightened anxiety when in situations. If you are aware of your feelings, creating boundaries will not be such a scary shift.
- Shift your focus away from others and towards effective strategies that can transform your life.
- Create a safe space and retreat there whenever you feel uncomfortable. Feeling at peace in your body in a physical space is helpful and effective in returning to you.
- Allow your mindset to shift the way you communicate with others by asserting the boundaries you deserve and are entitled to hold.
By following these steps, you can establish healthy boundaries and lead a more fulfilling life.
How can someone who is naturally empathetic maintain their compassion while becoming more assertive?
My life didn’t change until I realized I was trying to be everything for everyone else; this is where awareness came in. Being present in my life was key.
You can break free from old habits and remind yourself that what you think and how you feel is what matters most.
Being empathetic does not mean you should be walked over. You should know how to listen and remember that you are not meant to ‘fix’ anyone.
What are the most common misconceptions about people pleasers, and how do these misconceptions affect their journey toward recovery?
Society often views people pleasers as pushovers, lacking a spine and being weak-minded for always prioritizing harmony. I was told many times that I had no backbone and deserved the bad things that happened because I always wanted to keep the peace. It’s a difficult path to travel and an even tougher one to abandon. Also, when you try to change, you’re constantly bombarded with criticism as you try to assert yourself; it can feel defeating. It’s no surprise that some people feel the need to continue being a people pleaser to avoid that feeling.
What role can therapy or counseling play in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing behavior?
Incorporating a connection with a therapist or counselor can provide you with much-needed peace of mind. By forming a relationship with someone who is not involved in your daily life, you can gain a fresh perspective and recognize the negative impact of people-pleasing behaviors. This allows you to focus on the path to healing, which involves setting boundaries, recognizing when you are engaging in these behaviors, and incorporating your truth into the way you are going to live your life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’s important to remember that healing is not one size fits all. Everyone’s journey is unique. Sometimes, it can be difficult to maintain faith in yourself when faced with setbacks or obstacles. I know that was how I felt for years. I wrote off anything having to do with faith because of the circumstances that negatively impacted my life. I had to do a lot of work to recognize all the good things, and that is when my faith journey shifted.
Having faith in something greater than myself provided a sense of comfort and guidance during challenging times.
In addition to faith, practicing self-love is crucial for healing. This means treating ourselves with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. It also means prioritizing our own needs, setting healthy boundaries, and allowing ourselves to rest and recharge. I am a firm believer in self-care and practice this daily.
While it may feel uncomfortable or even selfish at first, practicing self-love is ultimately an act of self-preservation. By taking care of ourselves, we are better equipped to show up for others and contribute to the world in a positive way.
We need to remember that both faith and self-love have the power to aid positively in our journey.
Trust in yourself and your ability to overcome, and don’t forget to prioritize your own well-being along the way.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me online on instagram @Alicia.Thorp or on facebook, Alicia.Thorp, for more tips and strategies on being your most confident and successful self in business and in life.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Alicia Thorp of PowHer Up Lifestyle Lounge On How to Recover From Being a People Pleaser was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.