February 26, 2024

The Buddhist Teaching that can Help Us Break the Habit of People Pleasing. ~ Elyane Youssef

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Have you heard of maitrī?

The first time I came across this word was in Nepal in 2014 during a meditation session that I had attended.

The session was held by a Buddhist nun who was kind enough to bring me tissues when I burst into tears when she told us to close our eyes and wish ourselves happiness before we could extend it to others.

Say what? Wish myself happiness? Hmm.

I sobbed that day (and for the next few weeks whenever I would sit in meditation) because visualizing myself alone and directing love toward myself was an awfully challenging task.

However, I had zero trouble bringing to mind another friend or family member or lover or neighbor. Why was it so hard to think of myself?

You see, I’ve been working on my people pleasing habits for a long time. Looking back now, practicing maitri toward myself was complicated because I had never done it before. Being kind to myself was a strange concept and something that was meant to remain in books and articles.

Although it had taken me many months to (kind of) master the practice of metta meditation, I eventually learned the most important Buddhist teaching of all:

I can’t love others without first loving myself.

This is maitri.

Maitri (mettā) is one of the 10 Paramis (pāramī) in Buddhism. It means loving-kindness. Friendliness. Warmth. Love.

We send these intentions to ourselves and slowly extend them to others. In Buddhism, our interest in others’ happiness is shallow if we’re not interested in wanting ourselves to be happy too.

Unfortunately, I’ve always thought that if I please others, I’d be happy. My happiness has been dependent on what they give me—appreciation, respect, worth, validation, and so on. But I could become miserable and disappointed in a hot second if I don’t reap the rewards of my so-called “kindness.”

I’ve learned the hard way that true love—maitri—is the other way round. It’s the opposite of people pleasing. You see, maitri is an intention, not a need for acceptance. It is rooted in bravery, not fear.

Being willing to love ourselves as we are takes a whole lot of courage. It is because we are scared to look within and appreciate our broken and messy parts that we become people pleasers. The thought of forgiving a cheating or abusive partner might sound easier than having to look in the mirror and say I love you. It is so damn hard to fall in love with our mistakes, the past that haunts us, and our bodies that don’t meet the expectations of our Instagram peeps.

I break the habit of people pleasing and practice maitri instead when I acknowledge that the love and compassion and kindness and warmth and friendliness that I wish to cultivate toward others have to start with me first.

I become friends with myself when I treat myself with the same understanding that I freely give to others.

Having said that, if you struggle with people pleasing, practice maitri. Start with yourself. Know that you, too, deserve all the love and attention that the people in your life need. We achieve maitri when we comprehend that our empty cup and other people’s empty cups are connected. We can’t fill one without the other.

Are you going to fill yours today?


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