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While people-pleasers may think they excel at making others happy, their real talent lies in making themselves feel miserable and inadequate.
Maybe you realize just how good you are at making yourself feel bad. As a people-pleaser, you push yourself around with commanding orders, burden yourself with a strict, rigid code of personal rules, and measure yourself against unrealistic, judgmental standards. And, you do all this in order to be a nice person!
But, why can’t you be nice to yourself?
The reason is that your thinking is contaminated and distorted with demanding and erroneous should statements
This virus that corrupts your mental computer—the infiltration of shoulds, musts, oughts, and have to’s into your thought process—is sabotaging your emotional capacity to feel happy, satisfied, adequate, or successful.
The Ten Commandments of People-Pleasing
- I should always do what others want, expect, or need from me.
- I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not.
- I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
- I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
- I should always put other people first, before me.
- I should never say “no” to anyone who needs or requests something of me.
- I should never disappoint anyone or let others down in any way.
- I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others.
- I should always try to please other people and make them happy.
- I should try never to burden others with my own needs or problems
The Seven Deadly Shoulds
The people-pleasing syndrome involves a number of expectations about the way other people should treat you, given how nice you are and how hard you try to make them happy.
Many of these expectations about others fall into the category of “hidden shoulds”; that is, they are implicit in, or follow from, the more explicit commandments above. However, The Seven Deadly Shoulds about others are compelling demands nonetheless that set you up to have negative feelings when others fail to fully meet them.
- Other people should appreciate and love me because of all the things I do for them.
- Other people should always like and approve of me because of how hard I work to please them.
- Other people should never reject or criticize me because I always try to live up to their desires and expectations.
- Other people should be kind and caring to me in return because of how well I treat them.
- Other people should never hurt me or treat me unfairly because I am so nice to them.
- Other people should never leave or abandon me because of how much I make them need me.
- Other people should never be angry with me because I would go to any length to avoid conflict, anger, or confrontation with them.
The Sabotaging Shoulds of People-Pleasing
- Whenever your thinking is contaminated by shoulds, musts, oughts, and have to’s, it is rigid, inflexible, and extreme. Rational thinking that will serve you better is flexible, moderate, and balanced.
- Imposing your shoulds on others is coercive and controlling. Instead, try using phrases such as, “I would prefer if …,” or “It might be better if …,” or, “I would like it if you …” instead of the manipulative and coercive “you should” and “you shouldn’t” statements
- You don’t have to do anything perfectly, including pleasing others or having perfectly positive emotions. Striving for perfection is demoralizing. Striving for excellence is motivating.
It’s Okay Not to Be Nice
Here are some corrective thoughts to replace the toxic idea that you need to be nice, at any price. Replacing just one toxic thought with a corrective statement can start the process of curing your people-pleasing syndrome.
- Being nice won’t always protect you from unkind treatment from others. Thinking that it will is likely to make you feel guilty and responsible if others treat you badly.
- Don’t reward people who treat you badly or unkindly by acting nice and pretending that it’s okay.
- If you have to compromise your own values, needs, or identity as a special and unique individual, then the price of nice is just too high.
- It is far better for you to say what’s on your mind, even if you must communicate some negative feelings, than to stuff your thoughts inside and become depressed, anxious, or emotionally ill in other ways just to stay nice.
- It’s okay not to be nice.
Putting Others First
Here are some corrective statements to counter the toxic idea that others must come first. Remember, changing just one thought can start the whole process in motion to cure your Disease to Please.
- If you always put others’ needs ahead of your own and fail to take care of yourself, there is a very good chance that you won’t be able to take care of those who matter the most to you.
- It is entirely possible to care about others and to look after yourself.
- There is a big difference between being selfish and acting in your own enlightened self-interest.
- You are not compelled to be with others who are controlling, punitive, rejecting, and exploitative. You have choices about the people with whom you surround yourself.
- You become a slave to others only if you enslave yourself with self-defeating, people-pleasing beliefs and behavior.
- It is not always better to give than receive; the best balance in relationships is both to give and to receive.
- Your own needs, desires, and ideas are just as important as anyone else’s. To you, they can be even more important.
- You’re setting yourself up for trouble and disappointment if you fail to teach the people you love that you have needs, too, and that they have some responsibility to help fulfill your needs.
There’s More to You Than How Much You Do
Believing that you are indispensable and that your identity and self-esteem depend on how much you do yourself for others will keep you stuck in your people-pleasing rut. Give yourself permission to delegate and do it effectively. By delegating and by asking for what you need and want without fear of disapproval or punishment, you will open the exit door to the people-pleasing syndrome and begin to reclaim control of your life.
Here are some corrections to counter the toxic idea that you are what you do:
- It is more important for you to effectively delegate than to maintain total control or to receive all the credit (or all the blame).
- By not delegating, not asking for help, and not saying “no,” you are just asking to be buried in stress and to be overwhelmed with pressure.
- The quality of your accomplishments and everything you do for others will be improved if you take time to play, have fun, relax, and do pleasurable things.
Nice People Can Say “No”
By giving yourself permission to say, “no,” you will be removing a heavy burden from your shoulders. Remember these corrective thoughts the next time you start to say “yes,” but you want to say “no.”
- You need to say “no,” to some people, some of the time, in order to preserve your ability to give to the people that really matter most in your life.
- You need to treat yourself as well as you treat others.
- Saying “yes” when you want to say “no” in order to protect your emotional, physical health or well-being should make you feel guilty—not the other way around.
- Your value as a human being does not depend on the things you do for others. Saying “no” some of the time to some of the people will in no way diminish your value or worth in their eyes. It probably will enhance it.
Learning to Please: Approval Addiction
Just because you may have an addiction to approval doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to remain helplessly hooked. Even if you’re addicted, you can break your people-pleasing habits. Here are some important steps that will help you change starting right now:
- It is impossible for you (or anyone else) to get everyone’s approval, all of the time. So you might as well just stop knocking yourself out trying to do the impossible.
- If you keep habitually trying to gain everyone’s approval, you’ll wind up depleted, exhausted, and demoralized just like the hooked second pigeon. Pigeons have very small brains; humans don’t.
- Trying to make everyone like you will only deepen your sense of inadequacy. It will never make you feel better about yourself.
- Having others’ approval may make you feel good, especially if the others are people you like and respect. But, you don’t need the approval of others to validate your worth as a human being.
- Some people may never like or approve of you simply because of their own problems and not because of who you are or what you do.
- The most important, effective, and lasting source of approval is the acceptance you give to yourself. Develop a clear sense of your own judgments and values and govern yourself accordingly.
- Exercise choice in the place of compulsive habits. Be intentional about what you do and why you are doing it.
Love at All Costs
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a man you love happy or wanting to please him. Just be sure that you’re not pleasing him by hurting yourself in the process.
- In healthy love the feeling is, “I need you because I love you.” In unhealthy love based on deficiencies the feeling is, “I love you because I need you.”
- No man is worth devaluing or demeaning yourself in any way.
- Any man who is threatened or feels diminished by your intelligence, achievements, success, or talent is not someone with whom you are likely to have a gratifying relationship anyway. Look elsewhere.
- If a man truly loves you, he will not try to make you over into somebody else. He will treasure the person that you are and nurture your own self-directed process of personal growth and self-improvement. Changing you away from your best self isn’t loving; it’s manipulative, coercive, and controlling.
- Know your sexual boundaries and honor them. Insist that any man who wants to share your body respects your boundaries. If sex doesn’t feel loving, it isn’t.
The Fear of Anger
Anger does not work on an on/off switch. It develops on a graduated scale and goes through discrete phases. Understanding this can help you effectively manage and control your own anger.
- Anger can be appropriately expressed and healthy for you and your relationships. It is necessary and constructive to the maintenance of good relationships to express your anger clearly, firmly, and directly.
- Inappropriately expressed anger—such as volatile rage or violence—is obviously dangerous and undesirable. Anger (an emotional state) is not the same thing as aggression (a hostile behavior).
- Chronically suppressed anger damages your health; so does frequently and aggressively expressed anger and hostility. The notion that “blowing off steam” is good for you is a dangerous myth. Rage isn’t good for anyone.
- You are not responsible for controlling the anger or temper in others; they are responsible for their own emotional reactions. The link between anger and illness is complex. You are not likely to cause serious physical harm to someone because you express your anger appropriately.
How Far Would You Go to Avoid a Confrontation?
Here are some important things to keep in mind as you work to overcome your fear of fighting and confrontation:
- In your close relationships, don’t be afraid to fight constructively; instead, worry about too strong a tendency to bury or avoid conflict as a symptom of relationship trouble.
- A certain degree of conflict is inevitable between people, especially in a close relationship. Constructive conflict is healthy and beneficial to relationships.
- You really cannot avoid conflict altogether nor make your relationships conflict-proof. (Remember: the elephant is there.) However, instead of avoiding conflict, you can learn to abort an escalating cycle before it reaches destructive proportions. With effective conflict resolution, you won’t merely repeat the same conflict over and over again.
- As a people-pleaser, you learned to be afraid of anger, fighting, and conflict; you can unlearn your fears and relearn effective ways to cope with anger and resolve conflict.
- Your fear of anger and conflict makes you overestimate the chances that others will become angry or confrontational with you if you were to express your anger, however appropriately. This is a form of emotional reasoning—because you feel that something might be true you begin acting as though it were already an established fact.