I think I was born with my hand extended, an offering to anyone who needed it. Growing up, my friends and I were taught that the nicer we were, the more people would like us. Since we were all pleasers, it was a more level playing field. We were just trying to feel secure.
Unfortunately, my people-pleaser habits continued into adulthood. I pleased everyone -- everyone but me. As my insecurity deepened, my habits escalated at that same rate. I was scared to stand up to people or say no when I wanted to. This is common, as evidenced by what I hear from my readers and clients, but that doesn't make it right.
When you're insecure and need approval badly, it's easy to fall into people-pleasing habits. Even when you feel better about yourself, those habits are often so ingrained that it's second nature to still go out of your way for everyone. Despite the self-empowerment messages we hear, people-pleasing is still rampant, especially among women.
The need for approval and to feel like a "nice person" drives people-pleasing habits in folks at all levels of success. I've had clients in top positions in a large company who lamented how they couldn't let go of their need to please everyone. When I was on Oprah, every person in the audience said they'd rather be liked than respected. Most equated being liked with how much they pleased others. I call that "buying approval."
Accepting that true approval is based on who I am and the quality of what I do, not on doing favors, helped me slowly break my people-pleaser habits. It's not easy. And it can be scary if you don't know how people will respond when you're no longer a pushover. Like breaking any habit, change takes time, consistency and patience. I took one small step at a time to curb myself.
It took years of building my self-esteem to realize that people-pleasing is a habit and habits can be broken. Pay attention to your behavior. Awareness is key for change to occur. How often do you complain that you feel used or taken advantage of or that you always pitch in for others but nobody is there for you? When pleasing others doesn't make you feel good, it's time to take control.
Start by identifying the factors that feed your people-pleasing habits. Like most people, mine was a need to be liked by everyone. People-pleasers are scared of being lonely if they stop pleasing. It was eye-opening to realize how lonely I'd really been, wondering if people were only with me for the perks. And it was rewarding to see how many were still in my life when I broke my habit.
It's important to take responsibility for how people treat you. That gives you the power to change it! People-pleasers often complain that they're taken for granted or their kindness isn't returned but keep giving anyway. Nobody can take advantage if you don't let them! Accept that it's your CHOICE, not obligation, to do favors and let others dictate what you do.
Once you decide to change, try doing one thing differently. Turn down one request. Express what you really think to one person. Speak up about your preference for where to eat or when to schedule a meeting. When nothing bad happens, try it again. As I got more comfortable and saw that people still liked me without being on agreeable autopilot, the habit began to fade. Give yourself kudos in the mirror whenever you do something to break the habit.
I've been a consummate people-pleaser since childhood and didn't become empowered overnight. It took many years to get to where I am. As I enjoyed my progress and felt more in control of my life, I continued making changes. As I appreciated who I am and what I offer, my resolve got stronger. Being a people-pleaser can seem like a safety zone when you've been one for a long time. I still occasionally revert to old habits with someone I want to like me or in situations that make me nervous. Fortunately, I've got good defenses now and pull myself back quickly.
Get into the habit of not responding immediately to requests. Say you'll let them know or at least give yourself time to think about whether it's something you want to do. Then take the plunge and say the first "no." Don't stop giving altogether but do it to be kind, not to please. When you accept it's your choice to be a people pleaser you can choose to break habits, one person and one act at a time. The empowerment it brings is worth the effort!