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6 Steps to Stop People Pleasing and Put Yourself First


Your big heart makes you want to keep people pleasing and make everyone happy — but when it impacts your self-worth, there are steps you can take to stand up for yourself

Let Go of Guilt

Discover the roots: The urge to please or appease is so entrenched, we often don’t realize where it comes from. Acknowledging it’s a pattern is a vital first step, says expert Rainie Howard. “It tends to begin in childhood, rooted in the belief that you’re responsible for others’ happiness,” she observes, explaining that seeing parents argue, for example, can trigger an impulse to make everything “okay” for them. Bringing conscious awareness to this response helps you validate your feelings.

Name the feelings: To free yourself from the fear that often triggers the people pleasing need , just put words to your emotions: I feel bad because X person is going to be unhappy if I don’t do Y. “Saying it aloud gives you data you can analyze,” says expert Erin Leonard, PhD. “For example, if they’re going to be angry just because you don’t do something, that’s a sign they’re being unfair or that they’re unhealthy. Instead of looking within to blame yourself, you’re seeing the bigger picture.”

The price is too high: What is people pleasing costing you? It’s a deceptively simple question that can allay self-doubt, says expert Amy Morin, LCSW. “Making others happy at the expense of yourself might cost you personal happiness or authentic friendships.” You may realize that while pleasing others gives you a brief respite from the fear of letting them down, subverting yourself over the long-term costs you far more. Your answers to this question, in other words, let you see that people who are worthy of being in your life will still love you even if you sometimes have to say no.

Set Boundaries

Remember your worth: The disease to please can cause you to twist yourself into a pretzel so much that it’s easy to become someone you’re not. “A lot of people pleasers come from a place of depletion,” reveals Howard, who says that creating healthy boundaries starts with building ourselves up. “It helps to connect to the fact that you are here for a purpose,” she says. “You’re not just a mind and body, you have a strong spirit. As a child, I hid my voice, but now I’m touching lives because I gave myself permission to speak — something we all deserve to give ourselves.”

Hit the pause button: “When we’re so used to serving everyone else, we think we’re wrong for setting boundaries, but it’s the healthiest thing you can do for you and your relationships,” says Howard. If it’s too hard to summon “no,” consider saying, “Can you give me some time to think about it?” Howard adds, “This allows you some distance to decide what you want to say and how this person fits in your life.”

Honor your good heart: You can be kind and empathetic and still stand up for yourself, assures Leonard. For example, if a friend always expects you to drop everything to help her, you might say, “I love your company, but I’m overwhelmed right now and can’t make it.” Says Leonard, “Leading with the positive lets you be the loving, compassionate person you are while still making your needs known.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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