How I Stopped Being a People Pleaser

I unknowingly gave from a place of insecurity and low self-esteem in an attempt to bolster my feelings about myself.
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Senior woman, aged 64, walking on a beach at sunset
Senior woman, aged 64, walking on a beach at sunset

I've been a people pleaser of the worst kind for most of my life. I used to try to make everyone else happy and dodge their displeasure at my own expense. By doing this, I created a world where I placed my well-being in the hands of others for them to crumple up like a piece of paper thrown in the trash.

When a school party needed organizing, baking or decorating, I was your girl. When a friend wanted someone to watch her kids after school, I was the sure go-to. You name it, I did it. While I was always available for assisting others, I regularly neglected to take care of, give to and help myself.

On my priority list, I was somewhere at the bottom, right below the dog.

I realize now that my people-pleasing tactics were really just poorly-veiled attempts to sway others' judgment of and reciprocation to me. Although compassion and generosity are generally seen as positive traits, I unknowingly gave from a place of insecurity and low self-esteem in an attempt to bolster my feelings about myself.

That's giving to get -- which is manipulating and taking in the end.

Like some unspoken insurance policy, I thought that the more I contributed to others, surely, the more they would give back to me. Right? Wrong! With this philosophy, I attracted people into my life who were more than happy to take and take and keep on taking from me, and I allowed it. After decades of this, I ended up depleted, resentful, and empty.

This dynamic is a perfect example of life reflecting back to me a part of myself that I refused to acknowledge. I didn't love or respect myself and surrounded myself with people who treated me similarly.

The flip side of people-pleasing is resentment and hostility. Even if someone tried to respond graciously to my efforts, I wasn't comfortable receiving their kindness and deflected their overtures stockpiling animosity instead. I was oblivious to most of the consideration that did come my way because I was too focused on the bad. Compliments slid off of me like an egg out of a Teflon frying pan.

In order to keep up my pleasant, people-pleasing front, all the bitterness I felt got buried until it came out in snide passive-aggressive spurts or erupted in angry outbursts.

The Dalai Lama had this to say about taking care of your own needs which he calls being "wise selfish": "Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate."

I'm not a people pleaser anymore, and in fact, I'd bet that some would say I've gone too far in the other direction and have gotten way too comfortable saying "No." I had to to make myself a priority in order to recover.

Funny, how there's always good in the bad if you look for it.

First and foremost, I have to meet my own needs because I figured out that, before I can have anything to offer someone else freely, I've got to give to myself. In every situation, there's always a caring way to respond considering what's being asked of me while also factoring in my own needs, happiness, and the wisdom from my head, heart, and gut. My response doesn't have to be "yes" or "no" and is usually something in between.

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