In this weeks blog I will discuss a topic that is very close to my heart. My own psychological make-up has a lot of elements rooted in people pleasing patterns. These mental habits sometimes give me a hard time relating to myself and others with authenticity. As a people-pleaser I feel that I have to be pleasant, handsome, funny, healthy, patient, successful, kind, happy, wise perfect and enlightened (always) in order for others to accept and love me.
This naturally comes with seeing myself as an unfortunate embodiment of the opposite qualities I just mentioned above. In other words, I don’t seem to like myself very much. My life thus far was a long conditioning process in which I gradually learned to accept that I basically suck at pretty much everything. My only way of getting some loving attention was by pleasing others – by sacrificing my authenticity. Others could occasionally confirm that I’m not that bad after all. Their approval showed me – at least temporarily – that I was probably, maybe, kind of OK somehow… I guess. But they were probably just saying it for no reason, right? Can you relate a bit to these feelings? Do you know what I’m talking about?
Today I will list four of the typical problems that this heavy habit creates in our life. I will also show you my secret techniques that help me deal efficiently with the people pleasing monster.
Sometimes people-pleasers do so much for others in their endless quest for affection and approval that they completely forget who they are. They would ask questions like: “Who am I supposed to be?” or “Who do you want me to be?” Becoming a puppet that others can manipulate with their changing moods and demands robs us of our own creativity, flexibility and freedom. Eventually it leads to uncertainty and the question of who we really are given that we think, feel and act to get other people’s approval.
The way I deal with this situation is by recalling the following thoughts: I create my self-image as I go along. I have this power. My thoughts, feelings and physical actions are based on my current self image. Not knowing who I am is a self-image as well. Now that I am mindful I can choose any image that truly benefits myself. I can freely choose who I want to be right now. I can think, feel and act in accordance with my choice. My choices, thoughts and actions are my own responsibility. I have the power to choose wisely for the benefit of myself and all beings. I am like a raw block of wood that can turn into a beautiful piece of art with good work, consistency, patience and time.
As a people-pleaser we tend to avoid conflicts. We are deeply uncomfortable with people expressing anger, dislike or opposing opinions. We have a hard time seeing the difference between someone disagreeing with our ideas and someone hating who we are. Every conflict poses the great risk of someone withdrawing their love from us. Having written a text message, not immediately receiving an answer, we believe that the other person must hate us for the things we have said. We then quickly send a little smiley face just to make sure that we are not running into a possible conflict. Just to show that we’re nice and pleasant, worthy of attention and love.
The way I deal with this is by not sending the smiley-face for example. As soon as I am conscious of my tendencies I choose not to react in ways that are habitual. I would also counteract the negative talk in my head. So instead of repeating to myself that the other person must hate me, I tell myself that they don’t have time to answer right now. And if they don’t answer for a long time they would have probably forgotten about my message. I teach my brain how to think I’m better ways – because I can! I would also consciously choose to enter a conflict and express my opinion fearlessly when such an opportunity arises. This gives me the opportunity to learn that it’s not the end of the world when people disagree with me. It’s uncomfortable shadow work – but very powerful!
Oh, the essence of people pleasing. Always remember to be pleasant! People-pleasers are some of the nicest people you would ever meet. They do everything they have learned to make sure that you love them. They agree with everything you say and laugh at all your jokes (including those that are really shitty). I can remember countless times that I laughed at the jokes of people even though I hated the joke. Talk about dishonesty! Being a people-pleaser I sometimes feel like The sort of slimy goo that children might play with. I am so damn flexible that I’m a vegetarian around vegetarians and a meat-eater around meat-eaters. Who am I again? Ah yes – I’m pleasant AF!
Some people-pleasers are really afraid of being themselves. They often see this as unpleasant or rude (surprise!) In that case I would recommend you to play with being a bit unpleasant sometimes – in a safe way of course. Every time an opportunity arises, go for it. Say NO if you mean NO. Who cares for a yes when it’s dishonest? I have decided to show people who I am. Those who don’t like me as I am don’t have to spend time with me, right? This is not about trying to be an asshole btw. It’s about aligning your thoughts, your emotions and your speech. This is about authenticity – it makes you trustworthy, reliable and sexy! Particularly when you are being kind, compassionate and honest with yourself!
The ultimate fear of a people-pleaser is to be rejected. If someone shows us that they disapprove of, dislike or even hate us in any way it’s hell! That’s why we are so skilled at making others like us. The fear of rejection mostly remains dormant in our subconscious mind. Sometimes when it is triggered it might creep into our conscious mind and give us a hard time. Fear is one of the most difficult mind–habits to overcome. It takes a lot of time and consistent practice to work with this essential type of fear.
Fear is a powerful shadow aspect that is widespread in this world. When we are working with our shadows we gradually learn to illuminate those aspects that are usually left in the dark of the unknown. To know something directly with awareness means to illuminate it. It is through the light of awareness that we can heal and re-integrate the energy of those abandoned qualities that live in our being.
So whenever I am confronted with my fear of rejection I simply give it space to be. I observe how the energy of your dances in my body. I see it not as “fear” or “something bad”, but as pure aliveness. This helps me to relax around those feelings. My kind and relaxed observation in turn helps those feelings to heal and dissolve. We could say that I’m liberating my fear by simply paying attention to it in a friendly way. This takes time of course – and it’s hard work but it really pays off!
I wouldn’t say so – not entirely. Like anything in this universe, it has two sides to it. People pleasing as such is wonderful if done right. In order to share happiness with others you first have to make yourself happy. This will not work as long as we are inauthentic and misaligned. The problem with the wrong kind of people pleasing is not that we make others happy – the problem is that we destroy ourselves while doing so.
True people pleasing happens when we are fully aligned with truth and at ease with our messy human nature. Your authenticity is what truly benefits others. If you haven’t been able to accept yourself as you are and treat yourself with respect and kindness, how will you be able to share your gift with others? So let’s be people pleasers then. We can start with ourselves. Let us take some time, sit down and meditate a bit. That should be a good start 🙂
Feel free to leave some good comments (Everybody can benefit from your skillful contributions!) I will simply delete Self-promotion (e.g. “I love your article. Please check this link to my own site.”). I might post your links if they are truly relevant and contribute to the readers experience though. We are open for meaningful discussions and hope that this article serves as an inspiration for you.
Tobi has been studying and practicing meditation since 2002. He stayed 7 years in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and currently lives in Thailand where he founded the Dharana Meditation and Retreat Center in Phuket with his wife Parn. In Thailand he continued his practice and found a spiritual home within local Theravada Buddhism. Tobi is known for an open and relaxed teaching style focusing mainly on a practical application of mindfulness meditation within a modern society. The direct experience of what the practical teachings point to is of foremost importance to him.