“If I don’t behave a certain way, I will be rejected.”
“If people see who I really am, they won’t like me.”
How often do you behave in a certain way to make other people like you? How many times did you do it this week… or just yesterday?
People pleasing usually begins in childhood or at school. It is the fifth survival skill (fight, flight, freeze, play dead, attach) to help us negotiate difficult situations.
In small doses, “playing nice” can be an essential social tool, forming bonds, connections and helping us work towards shared goals. But if you always avoid conflict by agreeing with other people and don’t put your side across, or simply say "no", it can become a problem.
Like all repeated behaviours, pleasing others can become hardwired into our brains. We do it so often, without thinking, that it becomes habit. Over time, the behaviour confirms negative beliefs we have about who we are and how other people view us. We can end up -
People who are secure in themselves tend to trust that other people will respond to them appropriately. And if they don’t, it’s not immediately anyone’s fault. Their aim is not to make people like them, but to communicate and explore what is true, especially when it feels important to do so.
The good news is, thanks to neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to learn new behaviours and drop old habits) we can change. Just bear in mind, this is not an instant fix, but a process, a new way of being. It takes 21 days to break down your thoughts and start the building process; but real neuroplasticity happens after 63 days.
So, if you are ready, here are five things you can do now to begin to live your life authentically, be honest and let go of people pleasing behaviours.
5 steps to change
1. Gather – You’re not going to solve everything by simply “being present in the moment”. But it’s a good place to start. Integrity is acting the same on the outside as you think and feel on the inside. But what if you have lost touch with how you really feel? Find quiet moments either walking or meditating. Notice how you are being in the world? How does it feel to be you? Tune in to yourself.
2. Reflect - Wonder why you might be doing this, where did it begin. Are you acting out somebody else’s script? Are you living a life written by your family, friends or culture?
3. Write – Begin by writing the truth for yourself, non-judgementally, with compassion. Write all this down in a flow - don’t worry about grammar or handwriting as only you will read this. Read it back and reflect on what comes up. Be kind, don’t criticise; simply get to know yourself and find your voice.
What are your values? What do you believe? Make a list. Collect quotes, poems, song lyrics, images to inspire you. What does your ideal life look like? Take your time. Self-exploration through journaling can be a lifetime’s work; this is just the beginning of a new daily or weekly habit.
Some of the true things you write might make you uncomfortable, sad or worried – remember you don’t have to take them into the real world yet. You are still in R&D (research and development). Take care of yourself and acknowledge you have been trying very hard to be a good person, that you deserve this time to be you.
4. Rewrite – Now, take something that happened recently. What would you say if you weren’t afraid to say it? You may like this person, but you want them to see things from your point of view. Express this warts-n-all, then rewrite according to your true values – separate the core truth from old wounds and insecurities.
5. Test and adjust – At some point, you need to road test your new script. Do it in small stages at first. Stop and think before responding in your normal fashion. Ask yourself what you really feel, what is true, then try to express this. Practice saying “I feel…”
You might get it wrong at first, that’s okay. Don’t try to predict or control other peoples’ responses – allow them to be authentic, too. They may surprise you. Use any feedback (your feelings, theirs) as info. Test and adjust.
Change begins when we can see the negative habits we’ve picked up over time. Then we can choose to take responsibility and act differently.
If you are honest, it’s true, you may lose some people: most likely the toxic or narcissistic types. They don’t care what you truly think or feel so good riddance. You will find that you attract like-minded souls who enhance your wellbeing and encourage you to grow.