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The Practice of Being True to Yourself

My earliest memory of holding back the truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings was in first grade when Abel Adams boldly expressed his love for me and waited expectantly for my response. So started my life-long struggle with saying what was true for me when I feared it might hurt, offend, piss off, bother or slightly annoy another person. Thankfully, Abel was fickle and moved on within 24 hours of the launch of our one-sided romance. I, however, have taken considerably longer to recognize and master my people-pleasing pattern.

In fact, my pleaser pattern played out in my marriage big time. My unconscious need to please was closely tied to my life-long fear of having anger directed toward me. I only felt safe when everyone was “happy” with me. This is hard to pull off when you’re married to an intense man who, although a kind and loving person, was easily tipped into angry responses. That led to 10 years of peace-at-any-price acquiescing that was ultimately one of the nails in the coffin of our marriage.

So, how do you know if the people-pleasing pattern is running your life? Take the quiz below:

Over-Pleaser Pop Quiz

If you have a people-pleasing pattern, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you always acquiesce or tell a white lie to save someone’s feelings. Your pleasing part may only be activated in certain situations while in others you might be assertive.

Read the following questions and answer True or False. Answer True even if you only feel this way occasionally. If you never feel this way, answer False.

  1. I agree to do things I really don’t want to do.
  2. I have a hard time speaking my mind if I think ________ will disagree or become angry with me.
  3. I try to be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
  4. Sometimes it’s just easier to go along with what someone else wants than to argue about it.
  5. It bothers me if I think someone is angry, upset or unhappy with me.
  6. I try to do for others before I do for myself even if they don’t appreciate it.
  7. I listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
  8. I have a hard time saying no.
  9. I have a hard time setting boundaries and sticking to them.
  10. It’s important to me for everyone to like me.
  11. I try to be who the people in my life want me to be.
  12. It’s hard for me to decide what I want.

If these statements fit you, even if it’s only occasionally, you may have a people-pleaser pattern. It isn’t necessary that they apply to you across the board. You may be over accommodating only with particular people or in specific situations. Once you’ve answered the quiz questions thinking of your life in general, go through it again and answer the questions for how you are at work, with your partner, with your kids, with your friends, etc. It may be that you score relatively low for the pleaser pattern with your co-workers but much higher with your spouse or your boss.  It’s worth seeing if and where this pattern creeps up on you so you can focus your efforts on mastering it.

Answer Key:

9 – 12 True: You, my friend, appear to be in the grip of the people-pleaser pattern. It is likely informing your decisions, impacting your relationships and potentially undermining your happiness and well-being because you are suppressing your authentic voice.

5 – 8 True: The people pleaser pattern is present enough in your life for you to take a good look at it and consciously decide if it’s working for you. You could be paying a heavy price for not being true to yourself.

1 – 4 True: Almost all of us have some of this pattern to some extent and with certain people and if you answered True to four or less, this pattern is present but not primary. However, it’s worth examining the questions for which you answered True—these are your opportunities for healing and growth.

Are People Pleasers Made or Born?

Whether or not you have the type of personality that naturally tends toward the care and feeding of others, crossing the line into unconscious over-pleasing is a habitual response that is programmed early in life. As small children, we pleaser types put it together in our heads that if we were “good” everyone would love us and we would survive.  We then made an unconscious agreement with ourselves to keep the people around us happy so we would be safe.

Our parents may have inadvertently reinforced our early misunderstanding by rewarding “good” behavior and subtly, or not so subtly, rejecting us for “bad” behavior. Some of us may not have had our childhood feelings and needs acknowledged or valued by our caretakers and we did not learn to value them ourselves.

The good news is that patterns start losing their power over us the minute that we become aware of them. The people-pleaser pattern can be challenging because if feels tied to survival in the primitive part of your psyche. However, with intentional practice you can heal this pattern and reclaim your authentic voice. This does not mean that you have to sacrifice being kind or compromising or that being nice is bad. It’s simply shifting from “over-pleasing” from an unconscious place where you are giving up who you really are, to loving and giving consciously when you choose to do so.

Next Week: Check the blog, or subscribe if you haven’t already, to get Part 2 of Ending the Tyranny of People Pleasing: Get Back in Touch with What YOU Want.

Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.

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