Advice from a former people pleasing expert on how to get over the need to make everyone happy.
My name’s Charlotte and I’m a recovering people pleaser. For the best part of 30 years I did everything and anything I could to make sure everyone around me was happy – except myself. Drive half way across the country for coffee? Sure. Leave the party I’m having a great time at because you’ve had an argument with your boyfriend? Sure. Go to a restaurant where I can’t eat most things on the menu? Sure. I would never say no to anything or speak my mind because I was so worried what other people would think, or worse, that they’d stop liking me.
Now I’m not saying I’m 100% cured because there are always going to be times in life where we have to do things that we don’t want to do. But I’ve finally reached the point where I genuinely don’t mind if people don’t like me. Think about it – do you like everyone?! Of course not and that’s ok. There’s enough people who will like us for who we are, without needing to worry about those who don’t.
The trouble with people pleasing is if we do it for too long, we can forget what we actually like and don’t like, losing our own personalities. This can be with friends, colleagues, partners, family, anyone.
So how did I stop?
A big turning point for me was when I left my life in the UK and moved to Sydney, where I knew two people in the entire country. People pleasing to make new friends is even more exhausting than doing it to make your existing friends happy. I started to realise these interactions were leaving me tired and unfulfilled. Because they were new friendships I didn’t feel as invested in them, so I stopped trying so hard. Gradually I started to voice my opinions and do more of what I wanted to do.
At first I couldn’t bear the thought of other people not liking me, or thinking I was strange. Slowly and surely I carried on and the voices fell away. Some of the new friends fell away with them, but I was left surrounded by people that I didn’t have to try and impress.
Now I’m not recommending you move to the other side of the world (although it IS fun if you want to try it!), but having a friend cleanse is a good idea. Start to identify which groups of people you can really be yourself around and which you feel you have to try and be something you’re not. Do you always offer to buy the coffee? Do jobs for them? Give them presents? Then ask yourself why you’re doing it and what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship. True relationships should be effortless and reciprocal and leave you feeling uplifted, not drained.
Do things for yourself.
As with many things in life, you can start with baby steps. Things like practicing saying no to the small things. When you start to see that nothing bad happens, you’ll become more confident saying no to things that are more important to you.
Another idea is to think about something you love doing and join a club, group or class where you can do more of it. Prioritizing yourself even for just an hour a week will help you build your self worth and you’ll naturally be less inclined to please people that don’t respect that worth.
Now I hear what you’re thinking. Does this mean you can’t be nice? Of course not. By nature I love doing things for other people and there’s no better feeling than making others happy. The difference is that now I do these things because I want to. It’s without the expectations that they’ll like me more if I do those things, or the fear that they’ll stop liking me if I don’t.
At the end of the day what’s the worse that could happen? You’ll lose a few fake friends and have more time to spend with the people that love you. Win.