08 Jun Are you a Doormat? Strong but Tired? Kick the Habit!
People pleasing image copyright: pzaxe / 123RF Stock Photo
You don’t have to be in a codependent relationship to be a people pleaser, but those who are stuck in a relationship with a narcissist are invariably people pleasers – the narcissist will tolerate nothing else. This is why the end of the people pleasing usually results in the end of the relationship in these cases.
Whether you are stuck in a codependent relationship or not – or are unsure – tackling your people pleasing habit can only be a good thing and in this article I have set out eight related strategies that can really help you to regain your identity and, with it, your self-esteem.
Kicking the People Pleasing Habit
Tip 1: Define your values and priorities
This is one of the most important tips in this article and I will refer to it again later in the text. People pleasers tend to sacrifice most of their own values on one overriding priority – making the other person (or people in general) like and approve of them. For example, you may believe it is wrong to criticise someone you love in public but if your partner scolds you during a dinner party you might make excuses rather than risk upsetting them (‘she’s going through a stressful period at the moment,’ or ‘he just wants everything to be perfect’.) Start addressing this classic people pleasing tendency by spending some time thinking about what you need and expect from your relationships, and use these values as an anchor point as you work on kicking the habit.
Tip 2: You rarely ‘have’ to do anything…
Other people, particularly the most manipulative ones, are very good at stating (or implying) that you have no choice in satisfying their demand. This is rarely – if ever – the case and you will usually have more of a say than you might grant yourself. Whenever someone asks you to do something for them, you should ask yourself if you have a choice about it. Most often, the answer will be yes.
Tip 3: …And hardly ever immediately!
The most persuasive people can not only convince others that they have to do something, but that they have to do it (or decide to do it) NOW! Creating a sense of urgency is a powerful technique because once you have committed to doing something it is so much harder to extract yourself from that new obligation. It also prevents you from modifying the agreement with conditions and increases the risk that you will not only do what’s expected of you but that you will do it exactly how and when the other person dictates. Train yourself to be aware of that sense of pressure and respond with a deep breath and a promise that you will think about it and respond in due course.
Tip 4: Declare your own terms…
After having given yourself ample time to think things through, you may decide that you are not simply people pleasing but genuinely happy to help out. You still need to be wary of being taken advantage of though. Carefully consider what is being asked of you and introduce your own terms and conditions to avoid misunderstandings (‘OK, I will step in as club secretary, but only until the end of June,’ or ‘I will put the kids to bed myself so that you can go to your Gerry’s celebration, but next Saturday I would like to go out with Marian.’)
Tip 5: …Or just say no – with no excuses or apologies!
If you really don’t want to or can’t agree to the other person’s request or demand, you will need to give them a clear, unambiguous no. This is one of the hardest challenges for a people pleasing person but becomes easier with practise (although qualified therapeutic help is often beneficial if this proves too much of a struggle).
A common mistake people pleasers make is to wrap their dissension in explanations and apologies. The problem with giving too many explanations is that they can be used as hooks to try and manipulate you into changing your mind: (‘Don’t worry about the mess. I’ll make sure it’s cleared up straight after the party – and I won’t invite Boris,’ or, ‘The committee meetings are only every other Monday and I’ll give you a lift so you don’t have to worry about Julie having the car.’) A reason can be given if really warranted, but it should be made clear that negotiation is not on the table. Habitual apologies are the calling card of the people pleaser and are a kind of shorthand acknowledgment of their lower status in the relationship. Saying, ‘no,’ doesn’t have to be harsh and cold even if this is sometimes necessary. Gentle, empathic and firm repetition is often the best approach (‘I know you really want me on board, and I’m flattered, but I’m going to say no this time,’ or, ‘I understand you haven’t seen your friends for a while but I don’t want anyone around tonight.’)
Tip 6: Use affirmations, visualisations and journals
To strengthen the power of core values and priorities (see tip 1) over habitual people pleasing, affirmations can be useful. These can range from sticky notes put in prominent places around the home to verbal messages recorded on tape or repeated out loud during a meditation session. Examples might include, ‘I have the right to choose what I want and don’t want to do,’ or, ‘Time to myself is important to my health,’ or, ‘I respect myself and deserve respect from others.’
Visualisations can also be very helpful tools for combatting compulsive people pleasing. For example, visualising a red light whenever someone makes a demand can be an effective reminder to stop before making an immediate reply (see tip 3).
A self-esteem journal can be a powerful way to keep track of progress, record positive results and identify people pleasing challenges.
Tip 7: Start small and work your way up
In long-term relationships (whether in love, work or family), a lot of work may be needed to unpick previous habits of people pleasing. This is often best achieved by tackling minor issues first before building up to tackling the bigger picture. For example, instead of confronting a partner on how they always control the relationship, start by refusing to take the rubbish out when you have just returned from a long shift at work. Once assertiveness has become more natural it will be easier to bring up the wider issues that impact on the relationship.
Tip 8: Realise you can only change yourself
Once you have strengthened your values, organised your priorites, built up your self-esteem and become practised in resisting unwanted demands an amazing thing is likely to happen! You will often realise that the manipulators have moved on to easier targets while those who are truly committed to your relationship have adapted to the changing dynamic. In resisting your people pleasing need for approval, you are rewarded with genuine love and admiration – what you were looking for all along! This does not mean that the transition will be easy; for example, a true narcissist will never accept losing control and will fight back or leave the relationship completely. At this stage, you may come to a profound and unsettling realisation of your own – that, just like the narcissist, the hidden purpose of your own codependent behaviour was all about control rather than the acceptance of another person’s right and need to be an individual.
More about Codependency and People Pleasing
For more information and advice about people pleasing, codependency and how to unhook from a narcissistic relationship, please see my book ‘Narcissism and Co-dependency: Both Sides of the Coin,’ available in hard copy through Amazon or as a digital eBook via the Apple iTunes store.