I’m a lifelong people pleaser who is trying to reverse the damaging effects it has had on my life.
I will jump at any chance to change. Give me a book, I’ll buy it. Offer me a course, I’ll take it. Provide a solution and I’m in.
People pleasing, putting others first, making everyone else comfortable before myself is not what I want for myself. It is, however, who I am. While I haven’t loved these qualities, it’s ironic that others may have really enjoyed it as I’ve made their life much easier.
The whole “no” movement is inspiring. I swoon at people who speak their mind without consequence, and I adore rebels. I get so riled up that I’m ready to blast off rejections like the left swipe on Tinder. I can start believing I may actually be Madonna. But it’s always short-lived. I just can’t stand the thought of someone else feeling rejected, sad, or uncomfortable.
To not jump in and do something to fix it is the ultimate challenge. I want to keep the peace. I’ll go to parties or dinners, have empty conversations, laugh at bad jokes, and even keep friendships I’ve outgrown because I don’t want to be rude or hurt someone. My intentions are good, but ultimately, it’s not genuine.
The thing I don’t think people understand when they say, “just set some boundaries,” or “just say no,” is that this is a lifelong way of being that is woven into every cell of my body. As much as I’ve tried to exorcise the niceness out of me, it’s my set point, and whilst I can veer away, somehow it rebounds back at full velocity.
Change doesn’t happen in a snap—however, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen a massive change in my life. This doesn’t mean that I’m a pushover or that I haven’t gotten really good at knowing what I want and how to hold a boundary. Who I once was and who I am now are two different people, though I recognize I have a long way to go.
It’s an adventure—not one I wanted, but the one I got. Being on this journey has taught me a few things along the way that has made it much easier to live my most authentic life, while accepting that as a people pleaser, my path is different from others.
Here are three things that I try to remind myself on a day-to-day basis:
1. Slow it down.
Real change happens slowly. Reworking everything about oneself all at once isn’t realistic. Saying things like “no,” “I can’t,” or “that doesn’t work for me,” are just really hard. If you don’t identify as “one of us,” then you just can’t understand. Just as we can’t understand how someone cannot care what anyone thinks and do only what they want with no thought of others at all. I used to get angry and call that selfish, and now I call it “life goals.”
While you shift toward what you want, many different insights can appear—so go at your own pace. One small canceled plan (or fill in the blank) at a time gives you the confidence to do it again.
I discovered that my need to put others first covered up the fact that I didn’t know what I wanted. I spent so much time trying to fix people that I had no idea what I really felt or liked. That required some digging and a complete reconstruction of self.
2. Be guilt free.
When you start setting boundaries, there can be huge amounts of guilt that come from all sorts of unexpected places. People can pressure us for “changing,” “becoming someone they don’t know anymore,” or other creative ways of saying, “you aren’t doing what I want you to do.” However, the guilt from within was the sneak attack. There were many times I said “no” but had to fight myself to not take it back. Sometimes I did take it back. The need for others to be alright was shockingly more important than what I wanted. I couldn’t understand how I missed this?
It was only by truly seeing the truth that I was able to sit through the guilt of disappointing and letting down others. Here’s the thing, no one should want you to do something you don’t want to.
3. Recognise it’s imperfect.
Becoming a boundary setter is not a one-size-fits-all kind of mission. The point is there is no getting it right, and change is often messy. There’s a pendulum that swings hard when you shift from pleaser to powerful. There were occasions when I found myself being mean, and that is definitely not the kind of person I want to be. I don’t want to put your needs before mine, but I do want to be kind.
Also, when you’re the pleaser of your family or friend group, people tend to think you’re really happy and together. So it’s quite a shock for them to see that facade crumble, but, with each honest interaction, things shift. It’s hard to unravel all this, and some days “no” is said with ease, and other days it’s not. The process isn’t perfect.
Are there consequences?
Sure. You may lose some family, you will definitely make waves, and there will be a disturbance in your world that was held together by you. People may gossip, complain, or get mad at you. Some may beg for you to go back to the way you were. You may even wish you could go back, but you probably won’t (for long).
Your life may become unrecognizable, you might change friends, jobs, and hobbies, and you may even move. You may crumble, fall apart, or not know what to do with all your sudden free time, and you may lose sight of your path.
But you will be free.