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Mental Health

Are You a People-Pleaser? 6 Ways to Let Go of the Habit

It’s natural to want approval, but that desire can also prevent us from cultivating self-worth. Luckily, there are affirmative ways to strike a balance.

Let Go of Anxiety

At the heart of people-pleasing lies an all-too-familiar feeling: fear, reveals psychologist Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., who urges looking inward to discover the source of your approval anxiety. If you’re afraid of disappointing someone, for example, picture a friend feeling the squeeze to please, while you play the part of someone she doesn’t want to let down. Would you hold it against her if she didn’t do what you ask? Of course not. Swapping roles helps put fear in perspective, loosening its grip.

Celebrate Your Values

“Many women were raised to be helpful, so seeking approval becomes a habit,” says psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D. But once the initial rush wears off, we feel drained and eager for another chance to prove we’re “lovable.” To stop this cycle, notice the choices that make you proud, from your church work to your volunteerism. Savoring your core values helps you recognize that you are enough.

Embrace Love

Once you acknowledge your self-worth, manifest it with acts of self-care, which boost confidence, curbing the urge to look to others for affirmation. “Connecting with yourself isn’t being selfish — it’s being selffull,” says psychotherapist Ilene S. Cohen, Ph.D. If you find this hard to do, look to a higher power. Letting in divine love makes it easier to treat yourself kindly, gently, tenderly.

Envision the Future You

After years of trying to please others, it can be challenging to learn a different way of communicating. That’s why it’s helpful to hit pause and ask yourself a couple of questions, advises Newman. What will I have to give up if I commit to this activity? Will I be upset with myself if I say yes? “Envisioning your future self helps you build confidence in your decisions and become more selective about what you’re agreeing to.”

Let Yourself Be Honest

Instead of dropping hints about how busy we are because we don’t want to offend someone, “it’s better for everyone to just come out and say no,” promises Pagoto. Simply acknowledge how important the request is: I care about this organization’s mission, but I won’t be able to work this weekend. Or consider finding smaller ways to help. You may not be able to helm the bake sale, but you would like to donate cookies. We often feel “all or nothing” pressure, but giving what you’re comfortable with lets you feel in control of your time and triggers a ripple effect of joy at the same time.

Allow for Growth

“It’s natural to feel anxious when setting boundaries,” says Cohen. But with a little practice, your urge to please will be replaced with self-validation. And the people in your life will respect the changes you’re setting in motion — not only making you happier, but improving all your relationships.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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