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  • Writer's pictureJason Carrasco MSc., RP, RMFT-SQ

People-Pleasing is costing you!

Yes! You read that title correctly! People-Pleasing is definitely costing you - but let's break things down for a minute.

This month, we have been focusing on assertiveness and boundaries! Check out our latest podcast episode or last week's blog post for more on this very topic!

Some of us may look at people-pleasing as a cute or quirky personality trait. Others may look at it as a way to walk all over you. As therapists, we see this a little differently.

When looking at people pleasing behaviours, we as therapists get a bigger sense of how it is that you communicate! Yes - this 'personality trait' can also be seen as avoidant behaviour, but why?

Well, ask yourself the same question...why would you people-please? Ultimately, when you boil down to it, you will find that it is a way to avoid the discomfort of the perceived disapproval from others around you.

There may be very good reasons from your childhood or upbringing that disapproval or invalidation are painful events that need to be avoided at all costs. We'll have to save that topic for another blog post. However, what we must realize is that there is absolutely no other way to have our needs and wants met by others if we do not vocalize it to them. Just as much as you are not a mind reader that can anticipate the needs of others, the same is true for everyone else.

What we must do is challenge ourselves, push ourselves past our comfort zone in order to experience some level of meaningful change. Where to start with this is to become much more self-aware.

I always say this with all of my clients, that "task number one in therapy is to know what is going on". In other words, it is to foster awareness. How come, you may ask? Well, what is it that you expect to change if you do not know what is going on or what "the problem" actually is?!?

Fostering awareness has to be a personal choice and not something that you feel forced to do. However, let me give you some incentive. The title of this article is that being a People-Pleaser is costing you...but what am I referring to? It is costing you an opportunity to experience meaningful relationships, more effectively managing stress and anxiety, and living authentically.

What we know about people-pleasing, being passive, always saying yes (whatever you want to call it), is that it is often associated with:

  • Stress

  • Resentment

  • Anger/Frustration

  • Reinforcing a negative worldview bias

Luckily, there are things that we can do to help combat this! This is where assertiveness comes in. Before I continue, let me also be clear on what assertiveness is not. Assertiveness is not aggression. Let's use different words, and you'll see what I mean. To be assertive is to be clear in our communication; to be aggressive is to engage in violent behaviour. Violence does not have to be physical, as long as you are misusing power in some way...we're talking about violence.

  • Become self-aware: It is going to be important to start paying attention to you first, before you focus on others. Bring your attention to your body - there's good reason for this. Notice what your body does or how it feels when you think about confronting that one person, saying no to that request, or speaking up for yourself. Does your stomach feel like it's in a knot? Butterflies? Dry mouth? These are some common body signals for fear/anxiety. Pay attention to what your body does when feeling frightened and ask yourself "what story am I telling myself right now as I feel ______ in my body?"

  • Practice saying no: It may sound silly and simple - but there are reasons why this stuff works. Rehearse conversations in your head or, better yet, out loud in front of a mirror. Say out loud to that person you have always wanted to start to implement boundaries with "No". Notice your body as you practice and rehearse - what does your body do and where does your mind go? The more time you practice this, the more familiar and confident you will become!

  • Give yourself permission to take up space: Literally...take up space! Those times when we second guess ourselves, and/or we do not feel confident in our abilities or our own selves...our bodies speak. They do more than fact....we shrink! Our shoulders slouch forward, our bodies collapse, and we begin to look down or off to the side. Pay attention to this - if this begins to happen for you...tell yourself to take up space. Look up! Shoulders down and back! Focus on your breathing and bring your attention back to your needs. Speak using 'I' statements, and perhaps borrow one of my favourite lines in couples therapy I Feel.....About.....I Need..... This sentence invites you to identify your emotion, give it context (share that story you're telling yourself), and express what it is that you need. For example: I have a lot going on right now and am feeling quite overwhelmed. I would normally help you but I need to say no - I hope that you can respect that.

Beginning to be more assertive, or clear, in your communication is never an easy task. Over time, like with anything, you will become better and better and suddenly - you'll be the master of clear and effective communication!


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