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When You People Please, You Let Others Live Rent Free in Your Head

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

All too often, we get caught up in worries about what other people think of us. We try to win their love through people-pleasing, and neglect our own wants and needs. Many of us compare ourselves to friends, or what we see on social media. This leads us into trying to change to meet an impossible standard that has little basis in reality.

For many of us, people pleasing can start at a very young age. It can be learned if we have parents who are narcissists, or are otherwise difficult to please. When parents set impossibly high standards for children, they set them up for failure in the long run. Children tie up their self-esteem to their parents, and to other relationships as they grow older.

According to the Hindustan Times,

When we are brought up in homes where we have been neglected, we grow up with trauma and the fear of abandonment rooted in us. Hence, to combat that feeling of being left behind, we try to please people. This is a defense mechanism that works in people with childhood and abandonment trauma. They constantly try to please others and seek external validation, all the while pushing their own priorities far from themselves.

When we grow up this way, it is difficult to develop boundaries or our own internal compass to guide us through life. We allow our priorities and values to be determined by others. This can cause us to act in ways that are a denial of ourselves and what we really want from life.

Basing your self-worth on the opinions of others is always going to lead to unhappiness in the long run. The type of people who require you to please them at all costs are never going to give you the kind of validation that you crave. Distancing yourself from this type of person can help you find internal validation, develop your own interests, and like yourself more.

People pleasing is a trauma response

When we are children, we are young and vulnerable. We depend on our parents or other caregivers to keep us alive. They feed us, shelter us, clothe us, and meet our psychological needs for love and safety. However, if these needs are not provided for by our caregivers, we can feel like there is an empty space inside us.

As the adult child of a narcissist, I have spent most of my life feeling starved for love. Often, I have felt like I am not loveable at all based on relationships. I fell into patterns that were unhealthy for me, and I never did end up pleasing the people around me either. Some people will never be happy with you, no matter what you do. Realizing this is the first step to healing.

You are enough, just as you are!

Anyone who makes you feel otherwise probably doesn't belong in your life. Having a healthy sense of self esteem is crucial to having a happy life. But, narcissists and other toxic people will try to take that away from you, so that you get stuck in a toxic cycle of love bombing, rejection and abuse by them.

If you grow up in a family like this as a child, you often may think this is normal, and not begin to question the toxic nature of your family relationships until adulthood. Feeling misunderstood by your family can lead you into people pleasing as well as other toxic relationships both romantically and with friends.

In psychology, the response of people pleasing is called a "fawn" response. This means, if there is a conflict, you will go out of your way to please others even if it is to your own detriment. You go against your own needs in order to feel safe in relationships.

According to New Direction Psychology, you may be having a fawn response if:

  • You Have an Inability to Say “No”

  • You Find it difficult to stand up for yourself and what you believe

  • Your Guilt and Anger Go Hand-in-Hand

    • Often suppress own feelings and overly sympathise with the other person, even when you don’t agree.

  • Disconnect Emotionally

  • You feel like you have no identity and its difficult to identify your feelings.

  • Your Emotions Erupt in Unusual Ways

  • Regular suppression of emotions are often released in unrelated situations – and when you least want to.

  • You Feel Responsible for the Reactions of Others

  • In your relationships, you are constantly explaining someone’s bad behaviour as somehow your fault.

  • You Feel like No One Really Knows You

If any of these sounds like you, it is likely that you use the fawn response when you are in a situation that you aren't feeling safe. This can often develop in childhood as a defense mechanism if you are in a home that is frequently unsafe for you.

As you begin to work through your trauma in therapy, you can also work to develop a healthy sense of self esteem and learn to relate to others in different ways.

Learning to stop being a people pleaser

In order to stop being a people pleaser, you have to learn to honor yourself as a person worthy of love and respect. Learning to love yourself and set proper boundaries can help to overcome people pleasing tendencies.

However, when you first begin to assert boundaries with narcissists or other toxic people in your life, you will probably experience a great amount of push back from them. This is because they were benefitting from your lack of boundaries, and taking advantage of you in some way. Taking space from these relationships may become important as you heal.

According to Sofo Archon, some ways to stop people pleasing are:

  1. Become conscious of your behavior.

  2. Don’t blame or judge yourself.

  3. Listen to your internal guidance.

  4. Respond, don’t react.

  5. Practice honesty.

  6. Set your boundaries.

By first becoming aware of your own behaviors and your people-pleasing tendencies, you can begin to break the vicious cycle that it creates in your life and your relationships. Know that you started doing this in order to feel safe, however there are other ways to stay safe in relationships.

Take some time to work on yourself, and to develop your own priorities and values. You can do this by working with a therapist or life coach, or on your own by practicing journaling and meditation to connect with your inner self. The more you feel secure in your own skin, the more comfortable you will be in following your own inner compass.

After you determine what you need from your relationships, you can begin to set boundaries with the people in your life. Boundaries are things that you will or will not accept in your life. For example, one of my boundaries is that I won't tolerate people yelling at me. If they do, I am going to walk away from the conversation to preserve my inner peace.

Inner peace can also create a sense of safety. Once you are able to find peace within yourself, then you can set boundaries with others to preserve your peace. Stop allowing other people to have control of your feelings, and the way you talk to yourself.

In certain relationships, jobs and situations in life, we can let our compass get skewed. This happens more easily if you have a long history of people pleasing. When you realize that you have allowed relationships get off track, and gone back to people pleasing tendencies, you can take a step back to reevaluate how you are acting and make changes.

Change isn't going to happen overnight, especially if you learned to be a people pleaser in childhood. Learning healthy coping skills, practicing honest communication, and finding relationships with healthier people can all help to improve your life and help you stop people pleasing.

If you have been through trauma in the past the way that I have, finding a trauma-informed therapist is a great first step towards healing. Therapy can provide a safe space that allows you to be heard, and to be honest about your feelings without being afraid. The relationship you develop with your therapist can serve as a template for healthy relationships with others as well.

Personally, I have thrived the most in therapy when I was supported by a care team. This can consist of your therapist, life coach, psychiatrist, case manager and any other professionals you may be working with. Having coordinated care can help you learn new skills more quickly, as well as feeling safe and supported.

Once you are receiving care, and feel supported by a team of professionals, then you can reevaluate the other relationships in your life, and the impact that they are having on your mental health. A hard lesson I have had to learn is that with some people, no matter how much you love them, they may not really have a place in your life.

Making change can be difficult and scary, especially at first. However, in the long run, it is well worth the effort to overcome your people pleasing tendencies and develop healthy relationships with others.

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If you have additional questions, or other topics you would like me to cover in the future, let me know in the comments!


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