Are you a people pleaser?

People PleaserThis blog post was written by RHN’s, Leslie Kolb, MSW.

Modern life is busy. Our lives are filled with work, appointments, plans, obligations…the list can feel endless. We all have the experience of putting others’ needs in front of our own sometimes, because we care for other people and it feels good to take care of them. But for those who were parentified as a child, who were forced to care for their parents emotionally or physically, putting their needs in front of another’s can be difficult. Learning to always manage a parent’s needs as a child can create a pattern of “people pleasing” as an adult, which can limit your ability to meet your own needs.

There are certain times during life when putting yourself last feels natural. For example, when you are a parent, your needs will come second (or third or fourth or tenth) quite often. When you are caring for a sick loved one, the same will most likely be true. But even during these times, it is important to be able to check in with yourself and make sure that your needs are getting met too. In order to effectively care for others, you must first take care of yourself. When you are fulfilled, you have much more to give.

But what about when you consistently put yourself last? In your day-to-day life, do you continue to put everyone else’s needs before your own? Sometimes it’s difficult to realize how much we give to others before ourselves, but consider this: do you feel overextended, overcommitted, and over-obligated to other people, whether it’s about making plans, being there for them emotionally, or helping them out in some practical way? Are you often concerned with being “the nice guy” and doing “the right thing?” Do you feel guilty if you decline an invitation? If the answer is yes, then you might be sacrificing your own self-care for the benefit of others.

When we are so used to pleasing others first, how can we adjust our behavior? First, you must identify what you want. This can be more difficult than it sounds. How do you like spending your free time? What would fulfill you? Perhaps you would prefer to stay home and read sometimes instead of attending every party to which you’re invited, but you feel guilty about declining the invitation. You’ve identified what you really want, but your sense of obligation to others is keeping you from achieving it.

Next, you must find a way to acknowledge that you are just as worthy as everyone else in your life. This can take time, because those who were parentified as children often struggle with self-worth. If feeling unworthy is something you struggle with, it might help to speak with a therapist about it.  Processing the experience of unworthiness can help you move forward into a place where you are more able to fulfill your own needs.

Finally, you can begin to set boundaries by saying no when you are feeling depleted. One way to manage this is to practice mindfulness, particularly about what your intention is in agreeing to whatever is being asked of you. Did you accept the invitation to the party because you feel guilty not accepting it? Or did you accept it because you are excited to go and socialize with your friends? Being mindful of your motivation can help you decide when you need to say no to others in order to care for yourself.

As you move through your busy week, try to notice when you feel overextended or depleted. Is there something you could have said “no” to that you felt you had to say “yes” to? Did you agree to what someone else wanted without checking in with your own needs and feelings? Exercise the power of saying “no” at a time when you feel the need to please. Not only can it give you a much-needed break, but it can also empower you to begin setting boundaries to meet your own needs on a regular basis.

Elana Clark-Faler
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