People pleasing is one of the most debilitating survival skills that comes from a traumatic childhood. You might be thinking this is an exaggeration. Wouldn’t addictions have a greater impact on our quality of life? But here’s where we get confused. There are many types of addictions. And our need to please others IS an addiction. It could be called an approval addiction or a love addiction, but it feels desperate and life threatening to step away from. The courage it takes to stop people pleasing is definitely as significant as what it takes to stop drinking or taking drugs. And that is why we have to approach it like the addiction it is. We have to take it seriously. And we need to be motivated, the kind of motivation one who have if failing was no longer an option.
I am not suggesting we have to tackle people pleasing with one huge all-or-nothing swoop of massive action. That is what I call swinging the pendulum to the other extreme. It will usually manifest as extreme isolation. And the misery will stay. The only way to work with a people pleasing tendency is by taking small steps toward balance between rigid isolation and boundaryless exhaustion. But no matter how small the step, it is going to feel like moving a mountain. So we have to do our best to make sense of it. Here are some steps we can take to understand our people pleasing in new and empowering ways.
We can bring awareness to our need for perfection. The controller within all of us will stand in the way of dropping this addiction to approval. This inner part operates from an all-or-nothing perspective. And they will stop you from making any progress by telling you it is not enough progress. But they are actually terrified of setting boundaries with others. They are deeply committed to approval and acceptance as a survival strategy. When you can bring awareness to how they operate, you can start to take steps out of people pleasing without having to get it perfect from the start.
We can see our patterns as a reflection of our trauma. It can be “easy” to get caught up in the hype that our life patterns are bad luck or a result of us not being a good enough person. We may even believe that karma is punishing us. But our relationship patterns in adulthood are reflecting the trauma that is unresolved. It can be hard to see this especially if we are struggling with denial and memory repression. These patterns often result from our relationship contracts held by the karma kid. But they are breakable. And the more we wake up to this, the more empowered we are to make changes.
We can recognize the resistance to setting boundaries as a traumatized inner part. When we consider setting boundaries for our own benefit, the inner response is often overwhelming. It can immediately cast doubt on our decision and leave us confused about the right way forward. But this intense resistance is coming from our inner parts. They are messages from the past. This is the brainwashing. That is not an exaggeration. This is brainwashing. And the more we can see these thoughts as confused and traumatized parts, the more we can allow them to express (in writing) and detach from the messages. Then we can take the most grounded step forward.
We can start failing the tests. When we meet up with people who LOVE our people pleasing tendencies, they will latch on. They may even start to love-bomb us with tons of affection to connect with our love seeker. But they will also start to test our boundaries. They will want to see how much invasion we can take. These early stages of our relationships are the most important times to stay aware of how we are being tested. We need to watch how our love seeker will explain away these invasions. We need to watch how we allow our boundaries to be invaded. We need to stop passing their tests. That means they will probably lose interest and that terrifies the love seeker. But these are the tests we want to fail. These are the moments of rejection that will define our lives for the better. So start failing these tests.
People pleasing is one of the hardest habits to break. But you can build your awareness of what is driving it and stop these patterns, one step at a time. You do not have to live with the constant exhaustion of a moving finish line. You do not have to be consumed with the approval of everyone around you. You can let go and free yourself from the pain of being trapped in a people pleasing pattern. You can bring your attention to yourself and your happiness. You are worthy of freedom. You deserve a life free of your past.
Join us in November as we explore people pleasing in Survivor’s Guide for Life.