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Episode 230: People Pleasing


And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls Podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be... The best you can be! I'm Psychotherapist Richard Nicholls and this episode is titled People Pleasing and if you're ready, we'll start the show!

Hello folks! Welcome to a new month. First off, I want to say thank you to those that have jumped on board to support what I do on Patreon this month. Couldn't do it without you. Not every week, anyway. And after all this time of making weekly episodes, I'd find it pretty much impossible to go back to just doing monthly ones.

Before Patreon, I tried to do one in the middle of the month as well. Don't know if you remember that, but it just took up too much time and I had to go back to monthly. But because of you lovely patrons, I can do this every week. If the 6 pounds a month is a struggle, by the way, let me tell you that at current time of recording, there is one space left of the patron for a patron funded level, where you get full access to my weekly stuff and you just have to pay the Patreon fees, which is about 1 pound 80, I think, per month. Your patronage is then funded by another patron who pays extra, so big thank you to those that are doing that. There's even a few that are paying for two extra people, and even more that are paying for three. And I don't own enough hats to take off so as to acknowledge all of these good people out there in patron land.

But if I did, I'd take them all off right now. I genuinely wish I could provide all my time and content for free. But to do that, I'd have to clone myself ten times. And I often feel that people pleasing urge to sacrifice everything and just spend my time doing public media stuff. And if I won the lottery I probably would, but I haven't, so I can't.

But the urge is still there. And I know I'm not alone. Feeling the overly conscientious urge to please other people at the expense of ourself is a very common issue. It's not just for the consulting room. It seems to crop up in probably every job I've ever done, really, because if you get enough people together in one place, it's impossible for it to not be there.

Because I think most people do live their life based around making other people happy, to some degree. It's just how far we take it that determines whether or not it becomes a problem. When we forget about ourselves in the process, that's when the benefits are outweighed by the drawbacks. But we've all been that age when we needed other people's validation in order to know that we were doing the right thing.

We've all been to school. We've had those early experiences in life when we're learning to be a human. We don't really know what's right and what's wrong when we're little, because we've got no experience, so we take our cues from other people. Alongside that, we're constantly being rewarded by our parents for doing things that make them happy.

We learn to walk, and our parents will smile, clap, and tell us how clever we are. That's the only place we see our value at first, and then it creates this foundation that says I'm only worth something if I can make other people happy. And usually that gets overrided by what we often call the theory of mind after a few years where we learn to separate our mind from others.

And we've probably got that sorted by the time we're about five years old as we grow and we gain new perspectives. But even then we're still trying to please our parents. Even at five or six. If we're not, if it's not our parents, it's our primary school teacher. And then it becomes our school friends.

We're just little, remember. We're five years old, and we feel we've got to impress other people in order to feel good about ourselves. We all did that. And probably, at some point, it was the most we've ever experienced it. Probably more than ever before. At that age, we're all taking our cues from the external world around us to figure out whether we're good or bad or what.

And that's fine, because it teaches us some life lessons. It encourages us to be conscientious and kind. It encourages respect. And it teaches us that other people are important. And as long as it doesn't teach us that we're not then it carries on being fine. But if 25 years later, we're struggling to pay the bills, because we've bought a house that's too big, because we're trying to impress other people, or we're leasing a car that costs so much we're better off unemployed and we feel we just can't give the car back, or sell the house and go back to renting because of what our friends and family would think of us, then that's not fine.

If we feel so crappy about ourselves because of this, that we eat too much every day, drink too much alcohol every day then it's not fine. And I know it sounds quite an extreme. What, your life is falling apart because you don't want people to think bad of you? Uh, yeah, that happens. Because they're living their life based on other people's judgement of what life is, rather than their own idea of what their life needs to be and what they want.

And I've met plenty of people over the years who would be very happy living in a small, two bedroomed house with a Fiat 500 parked outside. But their fear of what their family might think means that they're in this three or four bedroomed, detached, with an Audi or a BMW on the drive, working all the hours they can.

Pawning their laptop every six weeks just so they can pay for their food shopping. And that does happen. A lot. Now, this can sometimes be a fear of confrontation, forcing yourself to agree with other people or go along with stuff because you don't want conflict, you don't want an argument. But unless everyone in your life is quite nasty and toxic, disagreeing with someone shouldn't cause any conflict, should it?

If it does, then there's something that needs looking at there with the people that you hang around with. But for some people that's really, really hard to do. Even though disagreeing with people is actually quite helpful. Disagreeing with the people that are in your friendship group, for example, helps you to see who your true and close friends really are.

And if you lose friends because you're not the people pleaser you once were, well they weren't actually friends, they were just people that you knew. So it helps to trim the fat, helps to get rid of the dead wood. It's just hard to embrace the idea that you can share your genuine opinions and beliefs or say no to something.

So if you're feeling more resentful, then you are fulfilled by helping someone. Then your conscientiousness has gone too far. You're not being conscientious and thoughtful because you want to be. You're doing it out of duty. Rather than out of desire, and that is gonna lower your self esteem even further.

Now, sometimes on top of all of this, we've also got perfectionism. Because if you're high in conscientiousness and agreeableness, you might find you're also quite hard on yourself. Expecting too much of yourself. We can maybe blame our parents or our primary caregivers from when we were young sometimes for this.

They may well have started the ball rolling, possibly by being too demanding when we were little. But once you're aware of it as an adult, then the blame, if that's even the right word actually, I'm not sure I like that, the responsibility maybe, that sounds better, can shift onto us. And then we can start overriding it.

We can tell ourselves, This is good enough, or I am good enough. And cut yourself some slack if you make a mistake, because we are not perfect. Even if our unconscious instincts and habits tell us that we should be. We need to realise that mistakes of any type are part of life and see them as a part of progress rather than failure.

Like I was saying last week on Patreon, we're learning and practising at life all the way through it. And it's okay to admit to ourselves that no matter how much practice we get, We're still not going to be perfect. Shout out to, uh, patron Andrew, actually, who sent a lovely little message as a follow up from my failures episode that I put on Patreon last week.

And he was saying how at his children's school, rather than the phrase practice makes perfect, they use practice makes progress. And I love that, because I think maybe we do need to redefine what perfection is. So that once something is good enough, then that's perfect. Good enough should be perfect, whether that's our finances, our essays, our fitness levels.

Once all of it is good enough, then that's perfect. Because perfectionism is irrational, whether that's setting standards for yourself or setting it for other people. It's irrational. There's not a psychologist under the sun who wouldn't define perfectionism as a problem. But it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that anything less isn't good enough.

So people pleasing isn't just about not being able to say no to a friend who needs a babysitter, or an idle colleague who likes to pass the buck on to you for things. People pleasing can mean living your life in a way to please people who might not even be alive anymore. Let me ask you this. Do you feel that you don't matter?

That your opinions, your beliefs, your desires, that you don't count? That you aren't important? That life is about other people, because if so, that hurts. That's gonna hurt. Do you feel as if it's always up to you to fix things? To make other people happy? If something isn't right, if something's not being done, then it's up to you to do it?

That it's your responsibility? If it's not being done, it's yours and your responsibility alone? Because if so, does that hurt? If this is you, then I hope you take something from today's episode because there has to be a middle ground. Being a kind and caring person is a good thing, but being a people pleaser isn't.

Connections with other people is the reason that our species has been able to survive for as long as it has. Being in a tribe, feeling safe because you're not rejected, was and still is vital for us to be happy. But if we take it too far... Then we're going to develop this bad connection with ourselves, putting ourselves down, disrespecting ourselves because we're not listening to what we really want.

We're being the toxic friend to ourself. And that's neglectful, which trains you to expect neglect. And you can't live there. Not healthily. You'll feel awful all the time. But not only that, it trains other people how to treat you as well. If you treat yourself like crap, then other people are going to pick up on that and treat you the same way.

It's just what we do. Maybe not intentionally. 'cause we are unconsciously nudged in directions all the time from the external world. These little cues that tell us what to do and how to do it. And those cues come from the signals that you might put out there that are gonna be picked up by other people.

So if you treat yourself unfairly, then so will other people. If you put yourself down, then so will they. If you ignore your needs, then so will those who you spend time with. If you neglect yourself, then you will be neglected, which reinforces this belief that you're worthless, which lowers your self esteem, which then encourages you to think and feel worthless until you become depressed.

And then you ask yourself, why am I feeling like this? And your therapist explains all this stuff I'm waffling on about and the lightbulb goes on. Of course you can just go to your GP and be prescribed medication, because clearly there's a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes you feel this way.

Well, not in that case. As with probably most people, it's the depression that causes the chemical imbalance, not the other way around. Maybe antidepressants can lift you a bit, but things are only going to improve when you examine the issue in greater detail, to see where it comes from. Whether it's early life or later in life. It comes from a need to be liked. A need, an absolute need to be liked. Not a preference, I think we'd all prefer it if we're liked, but for the people with more self esteem, it doesn't matter if people don't really like them. Their world doesn't stop spinning. But to people pleasers, It is a fundamental need, like oxygen, that they are liked. Even if it means denying who they are, pushing themselves down, squashing their personality, the real them, and pretending to be somebody that they're not.

So they're not who they want to be. They're not necessarily even who other people want them to be either, actually. A people pleaser strips away who they are and becomes who they think other people want them to be. And that might not be right for others either. So, examine it. Look at what you really want from life.

And if in saying yes to one thing, it means you're also saying no to something else, that to you is more important, then maybe you have to say no to them and yes to you. Because in trying to be liked and connecting to people, you'll actually feel More disconnected than ever and probably very lonely and that's going to be surprising because you'll think But I'm the one everybody likes.

I'm always there for everyone. I try really hard to be liked and yet I still feel lonely. Yeah, because you're not being authentic. You're not being yourself. It isn't who you want to be. You've become a myth. This character, a made up person that you act out for everyone because you want to .Be liked. But it comes at a cost of not being genuine, and that is going to hurt. You're only doing and saying what you think other people want you to say and do, rather than what you want to say and do, which strips away who you are. And yeah, you're gonna feel very lonely doing that, because no one is actually with you. The real you. The fake you might have loads of folks around, but the real you, the authentic, actual you, will be totally alone in all of this. Because they've been lost. So to deal with this, I say first off, look at why. Look at why you feel the need to say yes, even though you're screaming no in your head. Look at why you don't think that your wants, your needs, your feelings matter. Are you living in the past? Is there a young child inside of you still playing out a character from childhood?

When maybe you felt that love, affection, attention must have to come with terms and conditions. Maybe people around you when you were little made you feel that you needed to act a certain way, to be accepted. And it became a habit to look externally for validation that you're a good person. Or maybe they were all unpredictable.

Maybe you never knew whether what you were doing was right or wrong. So you were always looking for cues from other people in their body language. and what they said to see if you were likeable or not. And that can easily put somebody on their spectrum of a personality disorder, given enough practice, maybe even borderline or preoccupied attachment disorder, but most definitely develop an insecure attachment style personality.

So, look at the why. Look at the past, if you have to. So you can question whether it's still relevant nowadays. Question whether you still need to do that as an adult. Because at what point are we allowed to choose a relationship or a friendship where there's give and take? Where both people matter? And if the other person can't respect that?

Well then maybe you need to distance yourself from them. If certain people around you only take and can't accept you unless you give, then they need to start seeing you as someone who doesn't just give. That there's more to you than that. And it starts by seeing yourself that way. So, open up the possibility that maybe you are just as important as everybody else.

Even if your self esteem is so low that you don't think that you do count. Fine, start there and the next step is at least to be open to the idea that that might not be right. That there is a possibility that you are worthwhile, whether you believe it or not. So that instead of your self worth only being external, there's at least a spark of something on the inside that suggests that you are worthy of love, affection, respect, by default, with no terms and conditions. And guess what? Liking yourself and acting as if you do, by no longer trying to please everybody all the time, it's not going to kill you. It won't destroy the world after all. Because if someone can't accept you for being you, even if people are disappointed that you aren't the people pleaser that they can take advantage of anymore, you can still accept yourself.

You can still have a healthy relationship with you. Now, in making these changes, it's worth starting with the most trusting of your friends and family. So think about that. If this is you, and it might not be, but I think there are probably enough people listening that it might be, think about this. So as to take some steps, who is the least likely to be angry at you for making these changes and being more authentic?

More like the real you that's inside of you, that's been desperate to be free? Be yourself with them. Just them, maybe. For now. Maybe for the first time ever, actually. Because if you do have some support from someone as you start moving up the ladder of all of this and taking the steps to say no to other people, you've got someone there that you can say, Hey, I just told Jeff to ask someone else for help when he came to me first. Because doing that might be a really big deal.

So, be patient, start small, and work your way up until eventually you can be yourself with everyone. Right, okie dokie, pig in a pokie, let's leave that there for now because time is properly ticking on today. I knew today's was going to be a long episode. So, go and practice all of this if you need to. Or if you don't just spread the word to those that will need to hear it, maybe. And enjoy your week, and I'll speak to you again very soon. Take care, folks. Bye!