We all want to be accepted and validated. However, for some people, the need for approval leads to such unhealthy people-pleasing tendencies that they negate their own opinions, wants and emotions in favour of the approval of others.
People-pleasers often do not end up living the life that they desire because to avoid disappointing someone, or to avoid an adverse reaction; they put other people’s feelings ahead of their own by frequently say “yes” when really, they mean “no”. And the reason why they do this is for a multitude of reasons:
I myself was an anxious kid growing up, and this led me to become a people pleaser, which I continued to be for a good portion of my adult life. Despite having an inner voice telling me that I didn’t want to do certain things, I would invariably end up ignoring my inner voice to make other people happy. I assumed that if other people were happy, that meant that they would “like” me. Essentially I had very poor self-worth.
“When you say “yes” to others, make sure you
So how do we learn to develop a strong sense of self and drop the people-pleasing tendencies?
Put Yourself First
This is a radical concept for a people pleaser, especially for a lifelong people-pleaser. In my late 20’s/early 30’s I realised that by putting others first, I was putting myself last, and with this realisation, I began working on reversing this.
I began to put myself first by no longer looking for other people’s approval to make me happy. Furthermore, I stopped thinking that I had to be the source of other people’s happiness.
Before agreeing to or committing to anything, I began asking myself what my gut reaction was telling me. Was my gutting screaming “hell yes” or was it screaming “hell no”? Whatever my gut told me, I went with it, regardless of if my decisions or actions would displease someone else. Eventually, with practice, listening to my gut became section nature.
Key questions to ask yourself:
Society and in particular advertising tell us that we need to be perfect. Our bodies need to be the ideal size and shape, and this pressure to be perfect is compounded by perfectionism being ‘sold’ on social media these days.
Airbrushing, filters and the highlight reel of people’s lives plastered across social media make the people viewing these posts feel like they are lacking. And the resulting “less than” feeling can lead people to ask themselves: Why aren’t I perfect and why isn’t my life perfect?
The best thing we can do to stop putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect, and, to cease being a people-pleaser is to accept ourselves as we are.
To cultivate self-acceptance, we need to appreciate that comparing and contrasting ourselves to others and societies expectations of us is not empowering. The media, social media, and advertisements that continuously bombard us are unrealistic, and we must recognise this. Pictures are photoshopped and airbrushed, and the sound-bites we view from friends, family and celebrities via social media are but a snippet of reality. Knowing and realising this is a fundamental step to developing self-acceptance.
Furthermore, to develop self-acceptance, we need to love and accept both our positive and negative qualities without judgement. We need to recognise that everyone has faults – there are no perfect human beings and putting ourselves down and beating ourselves up is not beneficial, nor is it healthy.
Key questions to ask yourself:
I have discussed setting boundaries on a few other occasions so I won’t repeat these here, however, if you would like a refresher on how to establish, communicate and commit to boundaries, you can read how here:
feelings.html and setting-boundaries.html
“Your self-worth is not determined by others.”
To conclude, you do not have to be a people pleaser, and you do not need the approval of others. If you receive an adverse reaction from someone because you said ‘no’ or because you decided to honour your needs instead of someone else’s, remember that you do not need to feel guilty. Their response is an indication that they do not respect your boundaries, and as a result, this is their issue, not yours.
Have absolutely no sense of guilt about being happy and successful
What is the biggest barrier that stops you from pursuing your dreams?
In the past, for me, it was the belief that I was not deserving of success. However, it took me a while to figure out that this is what was actually holding me back.
Roughly fourteen years ago, I was in Italy on a business trip with one of my former corporate clients with whom I had a great relationship. We got along exceptionally well not only on a professional basis but also on a personal level, and I recall that one evening as we were driving from her office in Belluno to Venice for the following days meeting, we began discussing life in general.
As we opened up about our various life experiences, I remember saying to her that I felt that something bad was going to happen to me. Concerned, she asked me what I meant. I responded by saying that I was due to get married to my long term boyfriend, we were buying a beautiful apartment in West London and that we had just gotten two kittens, and that although I should feel happy, I felt worried. I explained that after years of paying off student loans and climbing the corporate ladder that life was finally coming together and because of this I had a feeling that the rug was going to be pulled out from under me and I would lose it all.
Not long after the conversation with my client, I returned home from another business trip and asked my then-boyfriend, and now husband Ben, if he had ever felt like something bad was going to happen to him. He looked at me confused, replied no and asked me to elaborate. I told him that life felt like it was going too well and that I couldn’t enjoy feeling content because I felt like “external factors” would come into play and take it all away from me. He looked at me perplexed and disbelievingly and responded that neither of us was born with a silver spoon in our mouths, we had worked hard and therefore we deserved everything that we had worked for.
DESERVED being the operative word.
At that moment, I realised that I did not think that I deserved success. All the while that I was struggling to pay off student loans and saving money for the deposit on our apartment, I felt normal and okay - because I associated the feeling of struggle with being normal. Being successful was a new feeling for me, and so I struggled to believe that I deserved success. Hence my fear that I was going to lose it all.
Recognising that I am worthy and deserving of success was a significant barrier for me to overcome. Primarily because I used to compare and contrast society problems to my own life and as a result, I would feel guilty for my own success. Guilt from my Catholic school days circulated continuously in my mind… there are starving children in Africa… there are homeless people…there are so many disadvantaged people. How come I get to be so lucky?
Ultimately after a great deal of work on myself, I came to realise that I was not enlightening myself or anyone else by feeling guilty or refusing to enjoy my successes. If anything, I realised that I could use my experience and success to help others.
I am telling you this story because the deep unconscious beliefs which we have about ourselves and our self-worth are the missing pieces that hold us back from pursuing our dreams. And as such, we need to take the time to understand what these unconscious beliefs are so that we can create a path forward.
So, now I return to my original question,
What is the biggest barrier that stops you from pursuing your dreams?
Last year I was asked to be a keynote speaker at a 6-day conference in California, and, the conference organiser advised me that the audience size would be 2,000+ people, with the previous headline speakers being Jessica Alba and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Wow! I thought. This will be taking my speaking career to the next level.
The only catch was that none of the 100 speakers invited to speak would be paid. It was positioned that no speakers would be paid because it was an honour to be invited to speak and that the exposure alone would be beneficial to the speakers.
I took a few days to consider the invitation and ultimately decided it was an excellent opportunity and that I would wave my speaking fee and speak at the event.
Fast forward to a few months later, where I regretted my decision and began to feel disconcerted about the whole thing. Poor communication and inadequate information from the conference organiser was the norm, and the limited e-mail’s I did receive made me feel like the conference organisers felt like doing me a favour by having me speak at the conference. All in all, in my gut, I had a feeling– a feeling I couldn’t quite place, which told me that something wasn’t quite right.
Fast forward again to now three weeks before the conference, where I received an e-mail from the conference organiser stating that the conference committee had decided it would be ‘fun’ to change each speakers keynote speech duration from 60 minutes to 15 minutes. The rationale being that they wanted to do ‘speed dating’ type speeches, which they felt would be more entertaining.
My heart sunk.
The keynote they had asked me to give was on my story of burnout and recovery from panic attacks and depression, and I couldn’t see how I could make the speech fun and only 15 minutes. I felt doing so would be a disservice to my audience. I knew there would be audience members going through what I had gone through regarding burnout, anxiety and depression and therefore, to make the speech ‘fun’ and 15 minutes would be woefully wrong.
While my heart sank, that familiar feeling of something not being quite right, kicked in again, however this time I was able to identify the feeling – the feeling was powerlessness. I had given my power away by allowing myself to be treated poorly by the conference organiser, and as such, I was feeling powerless – on the back foot per se.
Recognising this, I knew what I had to do. I had to take my power back.
I e-mailed the conference organiser and advised I would no longer be speaking at the event. And, I added that when liaising with speakers in the future they may wish to consider how they treat their speakers - especially when they are expecting speakers to prepare, write and memorise speeches for free when they themselves are making 3 million dollars through ticket sales.
I took my power back by saying no, this is not acceptable; this does not work for me.
And, I felt like a million bucks for standing up for myself and what I believe in.
Of course, there was a part of me thinking ‘But what about Jessica Alba, Benedict Cumberbatch or one of the other headliners I could be associated with’? But the other side of me – the side of me with a strong sense of self-worth told me it didn’t matter even if the Queen herself was headlining with me. It wasn’t worth giving up my power and self-respect. Nor was it worth doing a disservice to the audience by cramming a comprehensive topic into 15 minutes.
So how did I have the self-confidence to put myself first?
I’ll be honest - I wasn’t born with or raised to be self-confident, it’s a learned behaviour which I taught myself. Watch my video to learn how I taught myself to be self-confident and how you can too.
The key message I would like you to take away from my story is this:
Many of us view ourselves and our lives through the lens of judgment, going from room to room in our mind, continually searching for ways to improve. And whilst self-improvement is always a good thing, it’s also important to remember to practice self-acceptance. Because if we don’t, and we only view ourselves critically, we end up with poor self-worth, which impacts all areas of our lives.
Self-acceptance is about celebrating the good as well as the aspects
So how do we practice self-acceptance?
Quite simply, self-acceptance starts with liking yourself, which begins with respecting yourself, which starts with thinking of yourself in positive ways.
In practical terms, to practice self-acceptance consider implementing the following:
Enjoying a nourishing meal
Getting a good night’s sleep
Treating yourself to something you want - flowers or a night out, for example.
Setting, committing to and communicating your boundaries,
These are just a few short tips on how to practice self-acceptance.- If you need more ideas, please feel free to reach out to me.
To reiterate - don’t just focus on what you want to improve - recognise and spend time celebrating how great you are just because you are you. The more you practice self-acceptance, the more your self-worth will improve, which will increase your motivation for your other goals.
I once bragged that in between conference calls I made a cake in 17 minutes.
My husband had phoned to say that a friend was flying into London at the last minute for 24 hours and that it was her birthday. Excited to see our friend, I told my hubby to invite her for dinner and that I would do something special for her birthday.
As I got off the call and looked at my diary, I realised that I was scheduled to attend back to back conference calls all day. The only gap I had in my diary was 20 minutes in between two conference calls. Seizing those precious minutes, I frantically made a birthday cake and popped it in the oven to bake in a record-breaking 17 minutes.
I was super pleased with myself and bragged to my hubby that if needed, I could rule the world because I was The Master Multitasker. I was Superwomen!
Fast forward to a year later, and Superwoman was curled up in the foetal position on the bathroom floor suffering from a panic attack. Apparently, I was not Superwomen and could not rule the world. I could not even rule my own world, and because of that, my body and mind got sick, in part because I thought that I could and should do it all.
Which begs the question, why do some of us, and in particular women, assume we have to do it all?
The answer is complex and multifaceted and is not one which can be answered in a short blog. However, what I will say is this – we don’t have to do it all.
We can set boundaries, and say no, and that does not make us a bad person. Nor does it mean we are lacking.
As Gloria Steinem so eloquently puts it:
“You can’t do it all. No one can have two full-time jobs, have perfect children, and cook three meals and be multi-orgasmic ’til dawn…Superwoman is the adversary of the women’s movement.”
It’s essential to recognise that we can’t do and be great at everything. And that is okay; we don’t need to do it all. We can say no - we do not have to agree to every request and task that is asked of us.
By setting boundaries realise that it’s an act of self-respect and self-care, which contributes to feeling less stressed, anxious and depressed. Furthermore, by validating our needs, we build self-esteem and confidence, and, this will improve relationships with others as people will understand what our limits are and what we stand for.
If like me, you have found yourself running around trying to be all things to all people, and in particular to the detriment to your health and wellbeing, ask yourself these powerful questions:
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