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Overcoming People-Pleasing Tendencies & Finding Your Voice in Relationships

Updated: Sep 22

People-pleasing, a trait often embedded in one's personality from a young age, can overshadow genuine connections and rob individuals of their authentic voices in relationships. While wanting to make others happy is commendable, when it's at the expense of your own needs or truths, it can become detrimental. Let's dive deep into understanding this behavior and explore strategies, backed by research and literature, to reclaim your voice.

Understanding the People-Pleasing Syndrome

Dr. Harriet Braiker, in her groundbreaking book "The Disease to Please", explains that people-pleasers are individuals who habitually and compulsively respond to the desires of others, at the cost of their own needs or well-being. This behavior stems from various factors:

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1. Childhood Conditioning: Often, people-pleasers have grown up in environments where their worth was measured by their ability to satisfy others, leading to the ingrained belief that love is conditional on pleasing.

2. Fear of Rejection: A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology posits that people with strong people-pleasing tendencies have a heightened fear of rejection, driving them to act in ways they believe will be most accepted.

3. Low Self-Esteem: According to the Journal of Personality, there's a negative correlation between self-esteem and excessive agreeableness, a trait prominent in people-pleasers.

The impact people-pleasing has on relationships

While people-pleasing can give the illusion of harmonious relationships, in the long run, it breeds resentment, suppresses genuine emotions, and can create imbalances in relational dynamics. Dr. Margaret Paul, in her book "Healing Your Aloneness", emphasizes that suppressing one's voice leads to a loss of inner connection, making genuine outer connections almost impossible.

Steps to Reclaim Your Voice in Relationships

1. Self-awareness: Recognizing and accepting your people-pleasing tendencies is the first step. Reflect on situations where you've suppressed your voice to make someone else happy. Journaling can be a useful tool, as supported by a study in the Journal of Psychological Science, which found that expressive writing can lead to significant psychological benefits.

2. Set Boundaries: As Dr. Brené Brown discusses in her research on vulnerability and boundaries, saying "no" is a fundamental aspect of maintaining healthy relationships. Understand that setting boundaries isn’t about being unkind but about preserving your mental well-being and inevitably preserving and protecting your relationships.

3. Practice Assertive Communication: The American Psychological Association underscores the importance of assertive communication, which is expressing oneself effectively and standing up for one's point of view while respecting the rights and beliefs of others. Consider using this skill: FAST Skills

Purpose: To maintain self-respect in interactions.

- Fair: Be fair to both yourself and the other person.

- Apologies (few): Avoid over-apologizing.

- Stick to values: Stay true to your beliefs and standards.

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- Truthful: Avoid lying or exaggerating.

4. Seek Therapy: Professionals can provide strategies and tools tailored to individual needs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for instance, have been found effective in transforming people-pleasing behaviors, as noted in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

5. Build Self-Esteem: Engage in activities that boost confidence and self-worth. Dr. Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion suggests that treating oneself with kindness and understanding, as one would treat a good friend, can be a significant step in diminishing people-pleasing tendencies. Here are a few guided meditations created by Dr Kristin Neff that may help you get started on your journey of overcoming your people-pleasing tendencies. Affectionate Breathing [21 minutes]

Compassionate Body Scan [24 minutes]

Loving-Kindness Meditation [20 minutes]

Self-Compassion/Loving-Kindness Meditation [20 minutes]

Noting Your Emotions [18 minutes]

Soften, soothe, allow: Working with emotions in the body [15 minutes] Self-Compassion Break [5 minutes]

6. Join Support Groups: Engaging with others who struggle with the same tendencies can provide insights and support. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can be a therapeutic way to navigate this journey.

Being a people-pleaser might seem like a boon to relationships initially, but it's essential to understand the cost it extracts on personal authenticity. By actively recognizing and working on these tendencies, one can nurture relationships that are based on genuine understanding and mutual respect. After all, as Dr. Seuss wisely put it, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."

Begin your journey today with Boundless.

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