I embrace discomfort. I know that taking uncomfortable action is the price of admission to getting everything I want in life. So I don’t argue with it. I don’t avoid it. I identify the particular action I need to take to create the result I want. I identify the particular flavor of discomfort I’ll be forced to feel. I make a deal with myself to feel it on purpose. And then I gag and go through the discomfort, take the action, and make my desired results inevitable because I know if there is no feeling you’re unwilling to feel, there’s no result you cannot create. I also make myself proud in the process.
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 Olivia Vizachero.
Olivia Vizachero, a former BigLaw commercial litigator and criminal defense attorney, runs The Less Stressed Lawyer, a boutique life coaching practice for lawyers. As a Certified Life Coach, she works with lawyers who are over the overwhelm and want to live lives with less stress and far more fulfillment by teaching them how to manage their mindset and make themselves and their well-being their top priority. As a result of coaching with her, Olivia’s clients learn how to manage their time, set boundaries, stop people pleasing, overcome perfectionism, take more action, become more intentional, achieve their goals, develop business consistently, improve their professional and personal relationships, and, most importantly, feel better day in and day out.
Olivia is the host of The Less Stressed Lawyer Podcast. She also co-authored a pandemic anthology titled #Networked with 19 other women lawyers. #Networked, which hit #1 on Amazon’s New Release charts, tells the story of how these 20 women came together in March 2020 and overcame the confines of COVID-19 social distancing to create connections, cultivate community, and build businesses in the midst of a global pandemic.
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 always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. When I was eight, I watched a documentary on the Italian American Mafia and decided that I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney for the Mob. I’m part Italian and had the privilege of growing up with a very proud Italian grandfather. So, when I watched the documentary, I just assumed the Italians were the good guys, and in the program, there was talk about how attorneys helped these “good guys” effectively evade RICO charges and federal law enforcement probes. From what I could tell at the ripe, old age of eight, it sounded like meaningful, admirable work. So, I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I “grew up” and announced my plans to my parents. By this point, they were used to my only child precociousness and assumed I’d grow out of it. But I didn’t.
I received a full scholarship to attend Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, MI. I went to school in the evenings, focusing on the course work needed to specialize in criminal law upon graduation, and worked full-time during the day at a boutique criminal defense law firm known for doing high-stakes felony trial work.
Working at the criminal defense firm felt like playing in the Super Bowl. I loved it. So much so that I assumed I’d spend the next 30 to 40 years working, but I was mistaken. A couple years into working at the firm, my future there became less certain. Payroll was often late. The administrative side of the business was dysfunctional. All of which was terrifying to a single 20-something fully supporting herself. My parents were worried too. They wanted me to find something safe and stable. So, despite my love of the criminal defense work I had been doing, I applied for a job at Michigan’s most prestigious law firm and got a position as a complex commercial litigation associate.
The job looked good on paper. Working in BigLaw is “the dream.” It just wasn’t my dream. But it was more money and more prestige than I could have imagined, and everyone I knew thought I should take it, even though my heart wasn’t in it. And so, because I cared more about other people’s opinions than I did about my dream of being a criminal defense attorney, I quit my job at the boutique firm and went to work in BigLaw. Or to put it more simply, I people pleased the people closest to me, did the “responsible” thing and accepted the job offer.
At the time I didn’t know I had people pleased. Candidly, I lacked self-awareness and quickly slipped into a state of victimhood. I blamed my former boss for not managing his firm properly, my friends would have judged me had I turned down the money and the prestige, and most of all, my parents. I told myself that they forced me to take a job I didn’t want because they didn’t understand me and the work I was passionate about doing. I convinced myself I didn’t have a choice but to take the job, and I resented them for it immensely.
While ridden with resentment, I decided I needed an exit strategy. I wanted to go back to doing criminal defense work at my old firm, but I didn’t want to rely on the firm for a steady paycheck. So, I decided to start my own business to bankroll my lifestyle, which, at least in theory, would allow me to do the work I wanted to do. But I didn’t have any idea about what kind of business I wanted to start, so I began binge listening to any entrepreneurship content I could get my hands on. A few months later, I found coaching, a new career path, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
As a life coach, I help my clients live lives with less stress and far more fulfillment by teaching them how to take ownership over their current results, create awareness as to what problems they’re facing and what’s actually causing them, and then cultivate the mindset they need to have and strategy they need to implement to make achieving their desired results inevitable.
Coaching is different than therapy. Rather than taking a retroactive look at why you are the way you are and why you do the things you do, coaching allows you to rewrite the stories you tell yourself about the past and helps you navigate the present moment and the future with greater intentionality. My clients walk away with actionable tools that allow them to problem solve in real time. They have strategies they can implement to weather whatever life throws at them.
Nothing is off limits. I cover all things professional and personal. One of the things I’ve learned through all of my experience as a coach is that your professional life impacts your personal life and your personal life impacts your professional life, so we cover it all. When it comes to people pleasing for example, if someone does it at work, they do it at home as well. So, we don’t just treat one area of their life, we work through all of it.
In addition to helping my clients stop people pleasing, I also teach them how to manage their time, develop discipline, set boundaries, say no, overcome perfectionism, increase their confidence, take more action, become more intentional, achieve their goals, develop business consistently, delegate effectively, manage others, make decisions, improve their professional and personal relationships, and, most importantly, feel better day in and day out.
As for what brought me to this specific career path, shortly after starting in BigLaw, as I started to learn more about entrepreneurship, I began listening to a podcast called Hack the Entrepreneur. In one of the episodes, the host of the podcast interviewed a business owner with a backstory like mine. She too had gone to work in corporate America for all the wrong reasons — money, prestige, other people’s opinions. But after coming to terms with her career dissatisfaction, she began working with a life coach, learned why she made the choices she had and left her career to build her own business. Within a couple of years, she was thriving, making seven figures a year as an entrepreneur and loving the life she had built for herself. As soon as I listened to her story, I knew I wanted that for myself.
So, I found myself a life coach. And one of the first things I learned from working with my coach was that I was and always had been a people pleaser. The coach taught me that everything we have and don’t have in our lives is the result of the choices we make. It may seem obvious although it was not to me at the time, but I learned that no one forced me to take my job in BigLaw. I chose to take it. And I chose to keep showing up there every single day. And while coming to this realization felt like getting slapped across the face, it was an empowering wake up call. That’s the thing with choices. Once you realize you’re making them, you get access to your reasons why you chose what you chose. Once I saw the truth for what it was, it didn’t take me long to realize that living life as a people-pleaser is a recipe for regret, dissatisfaction and a lack of fulfillment. I vowed to make a change, to unlearn my people pleasing tendencies, to start living a life on my own terms.
Everything in my life started to improve. I felt better. Less stressed, more in control. I was able to make myself a priority and care less about what other people think. I learned to set boundaries and say no. I learned how to follow through and practice discipline. I learned how to be more accepting and understanding. I was no longer playing the victim or blaming others for the parts of my life I didn’t love. I was taking radical ownership over my results and making the necessary changes to create the life I wanted to live.
And as I started to change my own life, I started looking around and seeing that so many of my colleagues, friends and family members struggled with all the same things I had been struggling with — all of the things coaching helped me work through and sort out — and I felt compelled to help them. So, in the winter of 2018, I decided to become a certified life coach with the intention of helping other attorneys struggling with stress, overwhelm and anxiety live lives with less stress and far more fulfillment. In late 2019, I went all in on my dream of owning my own business and becoming a life coach. It is hands down the best decision I’ve ever made.
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?
People pleasing is an action you take that prioritizes another person’s wants and needs at the expense of your own. Your actions are fueled by your desire to avoid the negative emotions you would experience if you took the course of action you prefer to take instead of the people pleasing action. People pleasing is often driven by guilt, worry or fear.
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?
I was actually guilty of this line of thinking myself. Before I learned what people pleasing was, I would have just considered myself to be someone who was very thoughtful and loved going above and beyond for others. However, when I looked closer at what was fueling my behavior, I could see that unlike just being a committed friend, family member or employee, I was seeking other people’s approval and making decisions from a place of guilt, worry and fear.
It can be easy to mistake people pleasing as a good thing, especially because people pleasers are often praised for their choice to sacrifice their own wants and needs in favor of another’s. In addition to checking in with yourself and figuring out what specific one-word emotion is driving you to take whichever action you are choosing to take, a great litmus test to determine whether you are people pleasing is to answer the question “If no one else had an opinion about what I was going to do, would I choose to do something else?” If the answer is yes, you are likely people pleasing.
While a lot of people pleasing behavior appears on the surface to be selfless and admirable, there are significant downsides to people pleasing. First, being selfless is not something to strive for; it literally means to show great concern for other people and little to no concern for yourself. Here’s the thing: it is no one’s job but yours to show concern for and take care of yourself. So, if you are not tending to your own life, your own dreams, your own goals, your own business, who will? No one. Because each person is only responsible for themselves. So, if you are too busy tending to someone else’s garden, so to speak, no one will be tending to yours. Because it isn’t their job to tend to your garden. It’s their job to tend to their own.
Now, what results from a failure to prioritize your own wants and needs?
- You make slower progress on the goals you set out to achieve and accomplish far less than you would if you properly prioritized yourself.
- People pleasers often overwork and take on more than what they have capacity to complete, so they put themselves at risk for burnout.
- They also experience high levels of resentment, frustration and disappointment. While people pleasing enables them to escape the discomfort of the guilt and the worry they would feel if they prioritized themselves instead of others, they do not escape the discomfort all together. The truth is that there is always discomfort both ways — in people pleasing and in not people pleasing. I always recommend that my clients embrace the discomfort that gets them closer to the life they want to live. Usually for them that means embracing the discomfort that comes from doing what you want to do and resisting the urge to people please others.
Does being a people pleaser give you certain advantages? Can you explain?
I wish I could say that there are no advantages to people pleasing that way no one would be incentivized to do it, and everyone would get to live a life on their own terms. But that wouldn’t be accurate. There are some benefits to people pleasing. I just do not believe that the benefits outweigh the negative impact that consistently forsaking your wants and needs has on the quality of your life.
One benefit of people pleasing is that it allows you to avoid certain types of discomfort. There are two types of discomfort you experience when it comes to people pleasing — the discomfort of people pleasing and the discomfort of resisting the urge to people please. People pleasing allows you to avoid the negative emotion you would experience if you were to do what you prefer to do in a given situation. Typically, those emotions include guilt, worry and fear. Let’s say, you’re in the middle of a project at work and a colleague drops by your office and wants to chit chat. You would prefer to not take break. You can permit them to come in and chat or you can tell them you’re in the middle of something and now is not a good time. When you think about permitting them to come in and chat you feel resentful and frustrated that you won’t get your work done and overwhelmed because you have so much other work to complete. When you think about telling them that now is not a good time you feel guilty, rude and worried that they will be upset. When faced with the choice between these two options, people pleasers will choose to embrace the resentment, frustration and overwhelm and avoid feeling guilty, rude and worried. There is still discomfort either way, but the benefit is that they avoid what they perceive to be the more uncomfortable flavor of discomfort.
Another benefit of people pleasing is that others tend to like being on the receiving end of your people pleasing. One of the core concepts I teach my clients is that we do not cause other people’s negative feelings. They cause their own negative feelings with their thoughts. Our actions, in and of themselves, do not have an emotional charge to them. They are not positive or negative. They are neutral. Then, our brains think thoughts about those actions, and it’s those thoughts, which are positive or negative, that cause our feelings. We are not responsible for another person’s emotional experience. That being said, I’d love to tell you that people won’t have a negative emotional experience if you resist the urge to people please them, but they might. You just aren’t the one causing it. They are. With their thoughts.
Let me give you another example. You have a vacation scheduled. You’ve been looking forward to it for months, and a few weeks before you’re scheduled to take the time off, you get assigned a big project at work. Perhaps your supervisor asks you if you can reschedule the trip and says that now really isn’t an ideal time for you to be out of the office. Perhaps your supervisor doesn’t say anything, but you’re afraid that they will not approve of you taking your leave as planned. You’re worried if you go on your vacation they will feel disappointed and frustrated. And the truth is they might or they might not. The other truth? No matter how they feel, you don’t cause their emotional experience. They cause their own emotional experience with their thinking. If they think “They should reschedule their vacation” and you don’t, they’ll likely feel frustrated versus if they thought “We all deserve a break” would cause them to feel compassionate and understanding. What they choose to think is up to them. We don’t get to control another person’s thoughts. But one of the benefits of people pleasing is that sometimes you avoid someone having a negative thought about you.
Can you describe a moment in your life when you realized that your own people-pleasing behavior was more harmful than helpful?
Honestly, there are too many to count. When you people please you do it in big ways and in small ones too. Back in my people pleasing prime I would constantly sacrifice myself and my own needs for the sake of others. Here are some examples.
The biggest by far was my choice to leave the criminal defense firm I worked at and take a job in BigLaw because of what my friends and family members would have thought of my decision to turn down the money and prestige that job offered me. Once I was in that role, I realized that no amount of money or prestige could make up for my genuine lack of passion for that career path, and I knew that the impact of continuing to work in a role I wasn’t passionate about would have far more detrimental effects on my wellbeing and happiness than would being on the receiving end of other peoples’ disapproval.
Another example would be my overworking. I used to take on way more work than I had time to complete and then I would hustle as hard as I could to complete it, failing every time because the math simply did not work. No matter how hard you try, you cannot fit 20 hours worth of work into 10. I would people please my supervisors by agreeing to impossible deadlines or, worse, proposing those deadlines myself in an effort to please and impress them. In the end though, I would neither please nor impress them. I’d miss internal deadlines and turn in less than perfect work because I was biting off more than I could chew. And my reputation suffered because of this overpromising and underdelivering. Over time though, I learned that it is better to be honest about what I can accomplish on the front end and manage expectations rather than give an answer that sounds good to start but leads to unmet expectations on the back end. I also learned about the serious impact overworking and consistent sleep deprivation has on your health, which makes overworking as a result of people pleasing certainly more harmful than helpful.
There’s also all of the small ways we people please. Going to events we don’t want to attend. Spending time with people we don’t want to spend time with. Having conversations we don’t want to have. Not having conversations we would benefit from having. Saying yes when we want to say no. Allowing interruptions and distractions. They may seem small, but when you add them all up, you end up living a life that’s out of alignment with what you want. Not only does this leave you unfulfilled, it also erodes your self-trust and self-worth. If you constantly abandon yourself and disregard your own preferences, what kind of relationship do you expect to have with yourself? As I’ve unlearned and recovered from my own people pleasing, I’ve come to realize the importance of having a strong and secure relationship with myself.
In your opinion, what are the common root causes of people-pleasing behavior?
There are numerous different root causes of people pleasing. Here are the most significant ones:
- Discomfort avoidance. The main reason we people please others is because resisting the urge to people please, setting boundaries and honoring your own preferences is uncomfortable. And as humans, we like to avoid discomfort. When we feel stressed, we grab a snack or a drink to feel better. When we feel bored, we grab our phones to distract ourselves. When we are confused, we stop what we are working on and jump to something else that’s easier to complete. All because we don’t like how those feelings feel. People pleasing is no different. We people please to avoid discomfort — to avoid the guilt that comes when you tell someone no, to avoid the fear you feel when you think you’ve upset someone, to avoid the worry you experience when someone else is disappointed with you, to avoid feeling rude or inconsiderate because you were taught to put others’ needs before your own. This habit of avoiding discomfort used to protect us. Think back to primitive times. To survive you’d need to avoid the discomfort of frigid temperatures or going hungry. Nowadays though, avoiding discomfort doesn’t keep us safe, it keeps us stuck and stagnant. The only way to overcome people pleasing tendencies and to live your life to its fullest potential is to learn how to embrace discomfort, feel it on purpose and take intentional action in spite of it.
- Believing you have to do something or can’t say no. Often people will people please because they believe they do not have another option. They tell themselves they have to, must, can’t or need to take a particular course of action. When you think that way, you will feel as though your hands are tied and the people pleasing behavior will seem as though it’s the only option available to you.
- Should and good thinking. Sometimes people don’t believe they have another option. Other times, people realize they have options, but they don’t like the options available. That’s because they have beliefs about what they “should” do or what a “good” person would do in a particular role. For instance, you should answer the phone when your parents call you or “good” children answer the phone. You should go home for the holidays or “good” family members go home for the holidays. You should pay for your kid’s college education or “good” parents pay for their kid’s college education. You should volunteer to go on your child’s field trip or “good” parents volunteer to go on the child’s field trip.
- Not knowing what you want in the first place. Often times people don’t know what they want. They haven’t taken the time to figure that out for themselves. It’s very hard to prioritize your preferences when you don’t know what they are. People default to people pleasing tendencies because they are familiar and they have not identified another option they prefer more.
- We are taught by others to people please. All throughout our lives, we are taught to people please. As children, we get praised when we suppress our own wants and needs for the sake of others, often times our parents. We get told that it is admirable to put other people before ourselves, and while there is merit in being kind to others, we are taught this concept with little to no parameters. As we grow up and enter the workforce, people pleasing gets mislabeled as being a “team player” and being “dedicated.”
- Other people model people pleasing behavior for us. Give some thought to who else in your life people pleases. Often, we learn people pleasing tendencies from the people who raise us. We watch them ignore their own preferences in an effort to make others happy and avoid upsetting them. Inadvertently, by growing up with role models who people please, we are taught that people pleasing is a “good thing” that you do if you want to be “polite.”
- Lack of trust in other people to handle your no. One reason people choose to people please is because of a lack of trust. They don’t trust the other person to handle being on the receiving end of their no. They assume the person being told no will react badly, and as such, they eliminate the possibility of that happening by choosing to people please.
- Believing you cause other people’s feelings and that negative emotions should be avoided at all costs. No one has the ability to cause another person’s emotional experience. Our thoughts cause our feelings. Their thoughts cause theirs. But we aren’t taught that growing up. We are taught that our actions cause another person’s emotional experience. So we feel responsible for making sure other people have positive emotional experiences. People pleasing is one of the ways we attempt to ensure others have that desirable experience. This mistaken belief is coupled with the other mistaken belief that negative emotions are bad and should be avoided at all costs. If we shift our thinking to “negative emotions are part of the human experience” and “it’s okay if someone feel upset or disappointed” we eliminate the need to people please as a way to save people from a negative experience.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact personal relationships?
People pleasing behavior wreaks havoc on personal relationships as people pleasing is essentially lying. You have a preference and you disregard that preference in an effort to keep other people happy or comfortable. As a result, the people in your life never get to know the real you. They don’t know who you are or what you like. As a result, most people pleasers end up feeling misunderstood, unheard and unseen.
Now, it’s no one else’s job to make you feel understood, heard, and seen. That’s your responsibility. You have to be honest with people. You have to be authentic and operate from a place of integrity. You have to speak up and share what is true for you. You have to be vulnerable and candid about what you want and what you don’t, and for people pleasers that is very uncomfortable. But never feeling understood, heard, or seen? That’s uncomfortable too.
People pleasing leads to a lack of connection and a sense of loneliness and isolation. It also fosters resentment, frustration and disappointment. And negative feelings beget negative actions. Think about it… How do you show up in your personal relationships when you are feeling frustrated, resentful and disappointed? Not well, right? You’re likely withdrawn and combative. You look for people’s faults, not their positive attributes. You’re more likely to engage in arguments and have relationships wrought with conflict. You also feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied because you spend most of your time doing things you don’t actually want to do. Again, think of how you show up with your friends and family members when you are feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied? Not well. This is why resisting the urge to people please and honoring your preferences is one of the best things you can do to improve your personal relationships. When you take care of yourself and what’s important to you, you are able to show up as the best version of yourself for the other people in your life as well.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact professional relationships?
Just like with personal relationships, professional relationships suffer as a result of people pleasing. People pleasers will experience a ton of resentment, frustration and disappointment. They’ll feel like they’re always giving and it’s never appreciated. They often feel undervalued or disrespected in their roles. Over time, these feelings can negatively impact the person’s job statisfaction, mental health, and contribute to burnout.
People pleasing drives people to overpromise and underdeliver, taking on more work than they have capacity to complete which often results unmet expectations and strained working relationships between colleagues and clients.
People pleasing also typically leads to bad team management. People pleasers avoid conflict and don’t have the candid conversations necessary to increase productivity and efficiency and create a culture where people thrive professionally.
Finally, people pleasing often leads to underearning as well. Whether you are avoiding asking for a raise, won’t advocate for a larger bonus, won’t have conversations about accounts receivable, won’t raise your rates or keep agreeing to discounts, you will continuously underearn as a people pleaser.
How can long-term people-pleasing behavior impact an individual’s mental health?
People pleasing has massive consequences on a person’s mental health. It contributes to burnout. I deeply believe that burnout is not the result of overworking. Overworking and prolonged periods of exhaustion contribute to burnout, but burnout is mainly caused by two other issues: consistently abandoning yourself and feeling like you lack control and autonomy over what you do with your life. That’s what people pleasing is — self abandonment.
People pleasing also leads to immense dissatisfaction, a lack of fulfillment, regret, anxiety and depression. Overall, when you are people pleasing, you aren’t living your life for you. Over time, it’s common for people struggling with these issues to lean on addictive coping mechanisms in an effort to self-soothe.
In your experience, what is the role of self-awareness in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies, and how can individuals cultivate it?
Overcoming people pleasing is all about self-awareness. You can’t overcome this habit without it. Because ultimately, people pleasing is a choice you make. To overcome this habit, you need to understand what drives you to make that choice in the first place, so you can choose differently in the future.
How do you create self-awareness? Every time you people please, you want to audit and evaluate the experience. What were your options? What were your thoughts about each of those options? What negative feelings came up for you when you thought about each of those options? What actions would you have needed to take to honor your preferences? What discomfort would you have been forced to feel if you honored those preferences?
Once you create that awareness, you can leverage that learning by figuring out what you would do differently next time. Over time you will learn exactly what thoughts and feelings drive you to people please and you’ll learn how to change your thinking and feel your feelings on purpose which will enable you to show up differently and resist the urge to people please.
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.
1 . Acknowledge You Have Options
So many people pleasers tell themselves “I have to,” “I can’t,” “I need to,” or “I must” even though those statements aren’t true. That line of thinking leads to people pleasing behavior, because people assume they do not have another option other than to take the people pleasing action. The first step to stop people pleasing is to acknowledge that you always have options (even if you may not always like them). You want to acknowledge you have options and then identify all options available to you. Be careful to identify False Third Options — options you want but that aren’t actually available to you.
For example: You get invited to a wedding. You don’t want to attend it, but you’re telling yourself that you have to go. Start by acknowledging that you do have options. Then identify them. You can people please and go to the wedding. You can choose not to attend. Those are the main options. Now here’s the truth about the second option and the False Third Option. Most people pleasers want to control the bride and groom’s feelings about their decision to not attend the wedding. They want to choose to not attend and they want to make sure the bride and groom won’t be upset. But that option isn’t available. That’s the False Third Option. The real second option is to choose to not attend and allow the bride and groom to feel however they choose to feel about it.
2 . Identify Your Preference
Once you’ve identified all of the options available to you, you want to get clear on the reasons that would drive you to choose one option over the other. Think about each option and identify your thoughts about picking each one. If you forced yourself to pick that option, what negative feelings would you be forced to feel? Finding your thoughts and feelings about each option helps you understand your reasons for choosing whichever choice you choose. It allows you to know if you are people pleasing or you are picking the option you prefer. Once you know your reasons, pick your preference.
3 . Act in Accordance with Preference Despite the Discomfort
Once you have chosen the option you prefer most, you must act in accordance with it. To do that, pick a positive thought about honoring your preference that supports you to take that action, like “The world won’t end if I prioritize what I want” or “It’s my job to take care of myself.” And then decide on purpose to feel the discomfort associated with following through on the choice you made. Allow yourself to feel guilty and worried, judged and misunderstood and take the action you want to take regardless.
4 . Act. Audit. Adapt.
It takes practice to overcome people pleasing. You must expect that you are not going to fix this problem overnight. It’s going to take time, and the process will be clunky. Sometimes you will succeed in resisting the urge to people please. Other times you will falter. That’s okay. It’s how you learn. You just want to make sure you leverage that learning by creating awareness about what caused you to people please and what you’ll do differently next time to prevent yourself from people pleasing in the future. You’ll want to understand what thoughts you were thinking and what feelings you were avoiding when you people pleased. Then, you’ll need to replace those thoughts and embrace those negative feelings to show up differently down the road. Evaluating also prepares you to make decisions ahead of time. You can decide once what you do when a particular situation arises and simply honor that decision each time you encounter it in the future. It is easier to resist the urge to people please when you aren’t making decisions in the moment.
5 . Spectrum of People Pleasing
I teach my clients a concept called the spectrum of people pleasing. One thing I have learned in my experience as a coach is that people pleasing and perfectionism are often linked. People will resolve to overcome people pleasing, and then they will try to make a drastic change overnight. It ends up being too much change all at once, so they don’t follow through and ultimately fail. Instead of going from being a devout people pleaser to being someone who always puts themselves and their preferences first with little to no explanation, I teach my clients to take baby steps along the people pleasing spectrum. We want to start small, create evidence that it is safe to honor your own preferences and work your way up to clean, strong, solid, honest, unapologetic nos.
Here are the stops along the people pleasing spectrum.
- People please.
- Say no, but then cave.
- Say no, but attempt to compensate some other way.
- Say no, but apology vomit.
- Clean, strong, solid, honest, unapologetic no.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you hate going to children’s birthday parties, but a lot of your friends have kids and you get invited to them all the time. If you are used to people pleasing all of your friends and always saying yes, it’s going to be a big jump to go from people pleasing to communicating a clean, strong, solid, honest, unapologetic no.
So let’s say you get invited to a kid’s birthday party in January. You tell yourself you aren’t going to go, you know the invite is coming, but when your friend invites you, you say yes. You people please out of fear and guilt.
Next month comes around, and you get invited to another one. This time, you manage to say no, but then they ask you again and you cave and RSVP yes and you begrudgingly attend. People might not think this is something to be celebrated, but it is. It’s progress.
March rolls around and you get invited to another one. This time, you don’t trust yourself to stand on your no, so you just avoid the text message all together. You don’t attend the party. Now, you might not feel great about not responding to the message. Maybe you apologize after the party because you feel badly about not messaging back. This may not seem like a win, but it is. You honored your preference. You’re working your way along the spectrum. Do you want to be someone who doesn’t respond? No. Probably not. But it’s a fine place to stop for a second as you work your way to the other end of the line.
Next month you get invited to another party. This time you answer, but you don’t have it in you to be honest. So you lie. You make up a story about a conflict that doesn’t really exist and you don’t attend the party. Again, this is progress. Do you want to be untruthful? No, but if being untruthful is what it takes for you to create evidence that you cannot attend the party and the world won’t stop spinning on its axis, then so be it.
The next month, you get invited to another kid’s birthday party and this time you don’t lie. You say no, but then you negotiate against yourself and offer to do something else to make up for your absence, like come over a different time or host them at your house even though you would really prefer to not do either of those things.
The following month, you get invited to get another party and this time instead of lying or offering some sort of consolation, you apology vomit. You say how sorry you are and how you have so much going on and now isn’t a good time, etc. etc. etc. You do this because you want the person to understand why you aren’t going to be there. You’re trying to prevent the other person from forming a negative opinion about your decision to not attend the party. Again, it’s not where you want to end up, but this is progress.
And finally, the last step on your journey to overcoming people pleasing is to learn how to feel judged and misunderstood. When you allow people to have whatever opinion they choose to have about you, you will no longer feel the need to explain yourself. You will be able to receive an invite and you will be able to communicate your no, calmly and unapologetically. You’ll have your own back. You’ll know and like your reasons for making the choice you made. And you’ll absolve yourself of the need to control the other person’s reaction. This is the other end of the people pleasing spectrum. This is where you’ll find the freedom to truly live your life on your own terms.
Here’s one more bonus tip that merits mention. If you want to stop people pleasing, you can’t expect others to people please you. People pleasers usually want and even expect other people to people please them. It’s what they would do in a given situation, and they expect themselves from others. If you want to change your own people pleasing behavior, you must learn to be more accepting of someone else’s decision to not people please you.
What steps should people pleasers take to establish healthier boundaries?
The first step to establishing healthier boundaries is to learn the proper way to set them. A proper boundary is not about controlling another person’s behavior. It does not involve telling another person what to do. A proper boundary is always about the action you will take if a particular situation arises. Boundaries follow an “if, then” format. If you do X, I will do Y. Versus telling someone they cannot do X. Boundaries always take into account that other people have free will.
Once you understand the format of a proper boundary, you have to practice setting and honoring them. The honoring part will be uncomfortable. You simply have to #GAGandGO through the discomfort and honor the boundary anyway. For example, an improper boundary would be “You can’t email me after 6 PM.” A proper boundary would be “If you email me after 6 PM, I will not read and respond to it until the following business day.” Now, people will invariably email you after 6 PM because they get to. They have free will. It’s not their job to honor your boundary. It’s your job to honor it. So, a people pleaser might get an email after 6 PM, get upset about having received it outside of working hours and then begrudgingly respond to the email at 8 PM to avoid feeling guilty or worried about a perceived lack of responsiveness. To practice honoring the boundary, you would want to identify your options: respond now or wait till tomorrow. Identify you reasons for choosing each one. Pick your preference. Honor your preference and embrace the discomfort that comes from honoring it.
How can someone who is naturally empathetic maintain their compassion while becoming more assertive?
Compassion and assertiveness are not mutually exclusive. The trick to allowing the two characteristics to coexist is to make sure you communicate your preferences from a “clean” place. That means you operate from a positive emotion instead of a negative one. When resisting the urge to people please, telling someone no and honoring a boundary, check in with yourself. How are you feeling in that moment? Are you feeling resentful or frustrated? How are you likely to act in that moment when you are fueled by those feelings? Instead of asserting your preferences while in that emotional state, get yourself to a calm, grounded state. What would you need to think about the situation to feel calm? To feel understanding? To feel accepting? How might you communicate differently from that emotional state instead?
In addition to managing your emotional state before you assert your preferences, you can also be compassionate of the other person’s emotional experience. Don’t make their reaction to your assertion wrong. Allow them to experience the emotions that come up for them. Be curious and understanding, not judgmental. Here’s an example of what I mean: when I left the practice of law to pursue coaching, my parents weren’t supportive. They wanted me to continue practicing law, mostly out of fear that coaching wouldn’t provide me with a safe and stable future. They were disappointed and frustrated with my decision. I didn’t make them wrong. I didn’t judge their reaction. I understood it and accepted it. I didn’t make it my responsibility to fix their feelings. I stuck to my decision to switch careers and acknowledged that they were feeling those emotions and that it was okay for them to do so.
Here are a few other suggestions for being assertive when it comes to communicating and honoring your preferences. In each instance where you feel the urge to people please get very clear on what that would like in practice. Be as specific as possible. Another trick is to make decisions ahead of time. When we make decisions in real time, we are typically operating from a desire to avoid the most immediate discomfort, which people pleasing generally allows us to do. If you make decisions ahead of time, your decisions are more logical and aligned with your long-term goals and desires. Then, when a particular situation arises you just remind yourself that you’ve already decided this and honor the original decision. Here’s an example of making decisions ahead of time.
Let’s say you hate driving to events with other people. You don’t like being a passenger in someone else’s car. You don’t like being stuck somewhere. You want to be able to leave when you choose. Your preference is to drive yourself and to come alone. Your friend invites you to drive with them in their car. You feel the urge to people please. Now, if you hadn’t already made up your mind that you don’t carpool to events with others, it would be very tempting to people please your friend here. But, you’ve already decided ahead of time that you always drive yourself and you always come alone. So instead of people pleasing, you just convey the decision you previously made and say “Thanks for asking, but I’m going to drive separately and meet you there.”
What are the most common misconceptions about people pleasers, and how do these misconceptions affect their journey toward recovery?
One of the most common misconceptions people have about people pleasers is that you cannot change this habit; it just is the way you are. That isn’t true. People pleasing is a learned behavior, which is great news. If it can be learned, it can be unlearned. Unlearning this habit simply requires practice.
What role can therapy or counseling play in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing behavior?
Therapy and counseling are helpful, because they help create awareness as to what contributed to your people pleasing habit. That being said, there are other personal development modalities that are more effective at addressing and remedying people pleasing than therapy or counseling, specifically coaching and hypnotherapy, Rapid Transformational Therapy to be exact. Coaching makes you aware of exactly what’s going on inside of your brain the moment you are confronted with an opportunity to people please. It also gives you the tools you need to cultivate the mindset you need to resist the urge to people please and the strategy you’ll want to implement to prioritize what you want instead and act in accordance with that preference. Coaching also helps people address underlying issues like a lack of self-worth, low self-confidence and imposter syndrome, all of which contribute to people pleasing. Hypnotherapy addresses those deep-seated issues as well, breaking up the limiting beliefs one might have about themselves that make them more likely to people please others to receive praise and approval.
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. 🙂
Part of life involves feeling negative emotions sometimes. That’s just the way the world works. But a significant portion of our emotional suffering? It’s completely optional. And we can reduce it substantially by following a five-step framework I teach. These five steps? They’re the 50,000 foot view on how to feel better. They are the movement I would want to start. If people follow them, they’ll change their lives and change the world. Here they are:
1) I know my thoughts cause my feelings. So I choose thoughts that serve me. Positive thoughts. Thoughts that make me feel good. When I’m in a low-value thought cycle, I notice it. And I get myself out of it. Intentionally. By choosing to think something better.
2) I never argue with reality. With what’s already happened. Or with what is happening in the moment. Because when we argue with reality we lose. 100 percent of the time. And we cause our own frustration. So I never do that.
3) I don’t think “should” thoughts. I don’t should on myself. I don’t tell myself I *should* be different. Or that I shouldn’t have done something I did. Or that I should have done something else. When we should on ourselves we feel guilty and ashamed. Instead, I get curious. I work to understand why I did or didn’t do something. And if I want to make a change, I figure out the change I want to make without the self-loathing and judgment. I don’t think should thoughts about other people or what happens in the world. Which saves me so much frustration, resentment, and disappointment.
4) I’m skilled at discerning between what I can control and what I can’t. And I spend no time focusing on the latter. I devote my time and attention to focusing on what I can control. On what I can change. On what I can improve. So, I don’t feel out of control. I feel grounded and purposeful.
5) I embrace discomfort. I know that taking uncomfortable action is the price of admission to getting everything I want in life. So I don’t argue with it. I don’t avoid it. I identify the particular action I need to take to create the result I want. I identify the particular flavor of discomfort I’ll be forced to feel. I make a deal with myself to feel it on purpose. And then I gag and go through the discomfort, take the action, and make my desired results inevitable because I know if there is no feeling you’re unwilling to feel, there’s no result you cannot create. I also make myself proud in the process.
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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Olivia Vizachero of The Less Stressed Lawyer 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.