Jen Taylor On How to Recover From Being a People Pleaser

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Keep learning about yourself. Do this in ways that are user-friendly for YOU. We are all different. I love to write, read, and research, but you may be more of a visual person, or you may learn by doing. Hint: go in the direction of what your soul hungers for. This is your soul telling you what it desires. If you can get quiet and listen, you can learn from yourself.

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 Jen Taylor.

Jen Taylor is a New York-based spiritual psychotherapist with 22+ years of experience. Jen specializes in women’s empowerment, domestic violence, teens, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Jen incorporates spirituality and astrology into her sessions to create a truly unique blend of guidance.

Jen was born and raised in New York City and lived there from preschool through high school. Instead of attending her prom, Jen went to boot camp in the Navy and received accreditation as a U.S. Naval photographer. Jen then received her Bachelor’s in Philosophy from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and studied abroad in Florence, Italy.

Jen spent her early 20s working in the advertising office of Italian Vogue located in New York City before enrolling in Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. In 1999, Jen received her Master’s degree in social work while pregnant with her first child, Giancarlo. Jen then worked in various outpatient mental health clinics in New York City. In 2007, she had her second child, Elisabetta.

Jen loves traveling, photography, writing, having coffee with friends, languages, problem-solving, and being a mom. She has private psychotherapy and Reiki healing practices, both of which she practices remotely and in person. Jen is a best-selling author; her first published collaboration was in October 2021 with Goddess Rising. Dare to Dream is her second collaborative publication. The first volume of Jen’s solo book series, Letters to Myself: Self-harm & Suicide, was released in 2023 as an international best-seller on Amazon (Elite Publishing House).

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 grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the mid-sixties. Those of you who know the neighborhood may not have known it back then. We were not allowed to walk our dog on Amsterdam Avenue, as it was deemed “not safe.” Now, it is very bougie and comparable in rent to the Upper East Side. I am the youngest of four children and the only girl. My parents were teachers, and I grew up in a well-educated, middle-class family. My birthday is New Year’s Eve, and although my parents were not wealthy, they both tutored kids privately to save money to take us on vacation. Because my birthday falls during the holiday break, we would often celebrate in interesting foreign locales like The Canary Islands, Romania, Cuba, and Jamaica or on a cruise. My mother was fiercely independent in many ways and much ahead of her time. Although my parents were both very liberal in many ways and I was allowed from a young age to have my friends (male and female) over to stay, have my first cigarette and alcoholic drink at home, and have my first intimate adventures (including sixteen high school friends sleeping in my living room after the Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park in 1981), my father was a gentle alcoholic and I became well-versed in “people-pleasing” at a young age. The root of living in an addictive household is codependency, which would teach me some difficult lessons and forge challenging trails to get to where I am today.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?

I am trained as a clinical social worker and have rediscovered my love of writing recently. I was also told in the last ten years that I am a healer and have learned Reiki, the Japanese art of hands-on healing. Being an empath, I was always able to “read” people, even as a young child. I often felt what they were going through and what they needed before even they were aware. I followed my love of people and attentive listening and caring into my profession as a trained listener and therapist. In my twenties, while studying abroad in Italy, I came to a crescendo of “people-pleasing,” which led to a nervous breakdown. I had met a young Italian man who would become my husband and father of my two children. I was young and did not know myself as I do now, in my late fifties. I tried so hard to fit into what I imagined to be the roles of “perfect Italian girlfriend” and “daughter-in-law.” I was bending over backward so hard that I lost myself in the process. I began to get quiet and ultimately stopped speaking. It was as if I was watching my life like a movie unfolding before me. My Italian family was concerned. The pinnacle of my depression, which I later understood to be a dissociative episode, occurred when my mother-in-law put holy water on me in the sign of the cross and prayed for my healing. This shocked me, and I knew that if Raffaella was so concerned, maybe I should be too. I decided to come home to NYC for a while and be with my parents and family. I worked hard to understand what I really needed and what had gone wrong. The irony was that no one else had these expectations of me but myself. My husband’s family could not have been lovelier or more accepting of me. Despite our different nationalities, religions, and upbringings, they had opened their homes and hearts to me, just as I was. I did not need to be anyone else.

Thank you for all that. 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 Pleaser” mean to you?

From my own experience, people-pleasing is the safe and easy way out. It was an allowance for me to exist in a family that felt, at times, unsafe emotionally. There is a fine line between pleasing others while acknowledging our own wants and needs and pleasing others to the exclusion of what we want or need for ourselves. The latter is what people-pleasing is to me and what I was learning. If I could say or do the “right thing,” then I would be okay. But under the facade of “being okay” was seething anger and hurt. I felt misunderstood and often unloved. These feelings are major hallmarks of people-pleasing.

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?

While people-pleasing would appear to be the easier route both personally and professionally, it can lead–as it did in my life–to the most profound of ruptures within ourselves. Putting others’ needs ahead of our own is a negation of our own needs, which often clash with the needs of others.

Does being a people pleaser give you certain advantages? Can you explain?

I believe initially it would seem that people pleasers have certain advantages, but this is, in fact, untrue.

It may seem that they have more friends or are preferred amongst the office staff, when in fact, this behavior of codependence takes a toll on the individual’s well-being.

Can you describe a moment in your life when you realized that your own people-pleasing behavior was more harmful than helpful?

As I wrote about in my personal story, when I was living abroad in Italy, I was trying so hard to fit in and be the “perfect Italian woman, girlfriend, and daughter-in-law, that I lost myself along the way and sank into a deep dissociative depression.

In your opinion, what are the common root causes of people-pleasing behavior?

From my personal and professional experience, I believe most people-pleasing behavior is heavily rooted in codependency, which often exists in family systems with addiction.

How does people-pleasing behavior impact personal relationships?

People pleasing does not allow us to be our true and honest selves. As a result, we are projecting a false image onto the other and not allowing others to see us as we truly are. This creates a false narrative.

How does people-pleasing behavior impact professional relationships?

The dynamic is similar to that of personal relationships. It’s a dishonest representation of the individual. This dynamic can also create conflict amongst coworkers as the people pleaser may get recognized more than their coworkers.

How can long-term people-pleasing behavior impact an individual’s mental health?

Constantly putting others’ needs before our own erodes our sense of self and what we truly need and want to thrive. An individual may become so focused on pleasing others that they have lost the true sense of their own individuality/soul.

In your experience, what is the role of self-awareness in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies, and how can individuals cultivate it?

I feel, both personally and clinically, that the best way to begin to overcome the habit of people-pleasing is to get to know yourself. Who are you? What do you really want for yourself? What are some things that are necessities for your happiness and well-being? I have been happily surprised in my fifth decade that these can coexist with taking the needs of others into consideration. Once I was able to learn to set a boundary, I was able to honor myself and roll up my doormat of people-pleasing behavior. I have done many years of psychotherapy and spiritual training in an effort to know myself truly. I have studied astrology and alternative healing practices. For much of my life, I have lived as the salmon does, traveling against the current. It has been difficult, but it is the only way my soul knows. And this is what my soul needs. Do you know what your soul needs?

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”?

Five strategies I would recommend to help you break free from the cycle of people-pleasing are:

  1. Get to know who you really are. This can be done in many ways: therapy, spiritual work, meditation, journaling, retreat, time alone, etc.
  2. Be aware of your interactions with others and how you people-please. You may not even be aware you are doing it. Perhaps, after an interaction, jot down or do a voice clip of how the exchange went. Did you honor what you were feeling or needing in that moment? What would you like to do differently next time? Try to make one small change in the future to honor your own needs.
  3. Practice voicing what you need. This can be hard at first–it has taken me many years. At first, our needs may come off harshly, like a toddler or teen demanding what we want. That is okay. With practice and time, your delivery will soften. Be patient with yourself, you are changing years of learned behavior.
  4. Keep learning about yourself. Do this in ways that are user-friendly for YOU. We are all different. I love to write, read, and research, but you may be more of a visual person, or you may learn by doing. Hint: go in the direction of what your soul hungers for. This is your soul telling you what it desires. If you can get quiet and listen, you can learn from yourself.
  5. Learn to be alone with yourself. I learned this in my twenties. It is a good skill to know how to eat in a restaurant alone, travel alone, and learn to be comfortable with yourself. It is also helpful to not NEED anyone else to make us happy. This does not mean we cannot be in a relationship with family, friends, or lovers, but learning to be with ourselves is a great place to start.

What steps should people pleasers take to establish healthier boundaries?

I know this may sound silly, but practice breathing. Here’s how: get comfortable, close your eyes, breathe in for four counts, hold it for four, breathe out for four, and then hold it at the bottom for four before starting another set. Learn to be quiet, whether in a seated position or a walking meditation. Being truly present with all of our senses is the most authentic way to live. What do you smell? Hear? Taste? Touch? See (in your mind’s eye)?

How can someone who is naturally empathetic maintain their compassion while becoming more assertive?

The main concept here is setting strong boundaries and limitations. We can be compassionate and caring toward others while maintaining our own limits with regard to what we need to nurture ourselves. One method I have found helpful is to do somewhat less than I am drawn to doing.

What are the most common misconceptions about people pleasers, and how do these misconceptions affect their journey toward recovery?

The greatest misconception, I believe, is that people-pleasers have it “easy.” The reality is probably more that they are bending over backward to “help” and “please” others rather than being true to their own needs and wants. This “negation” of self is truly soul-killing.

What role can therapy or counseling play in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing behavior?

Therapy can best be used to help idealize, form, and create boundaries. It takes time and practice, but I have seen in my own life how setting firm boundaries with others can allow us to thrive.

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. 🙂

If everyone had the means to follow their soul’s mission and not worry about making ends meet, I believe our world would be stronger as a result of the energetic resonance of each empowered soul. This might be translated into a set income for each individual regardless of work or merit.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I wish you the best in learning to know and love yourself! If you would like further coaching, you can connect with Jen here:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure.

Jen Taylor 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.