I recently asked a question in my social media community around “guilt and the biggest trigger” and wow! The feedback, admissions and struggles came flowing in like a river during spring thaw. Although the topic of guilt is a bit more than a single blog post can completely do justice I did want to begin unpacking it because of the huge impact it can have on shifting our life from BUSY to FULL.
As a self professed, recovering people-pleaser, I thought I could most authentically begin by address the relationship between people-pleasing and guilt and boy do they LOVE to hang out together!
For me, guilt is like a barrier emotion; when I say that what I mean is that guilt can soften the blow of someone being disappointed with me. For example, “If I feel guilty, I’m not really a bad person” “By feeling guilt I am already aware that I am doing something bad so your words of criticism don’t need to cut me so deeply”. Can you relate?
The biggest challenge of this mindset or behaviour, of using guilt as a shield and getting stuck there, is that we end up in a cycle of self sacrifice and deprivation. Getting stuck in Guilt, vs getting Good at it, prevents us from taking care of ourselves. It also impacts our physical health as guilt, like many toxic emotions, can get stuck and contribute to various “inflammatory” conditions in the body, not to mention the impact it has on our emotional well being.
I call myself a “recovering people-pleaser”, not just because its true but because it opens a door for me to talk about it – to shine a light of awareness on it and to share some practices that I have found VERY impactful in my ongoing recovery.
So People Pleasers Unite!
As Cheryl Richardson says in her amazing book “The Art of Extreme Self-care” “LET ME DISAPPOINT YOU”.
Very early in my life I began to realize that if I did things for others (my mom, neighbours, teachers) that they would give me their love and approval. What I didn’t realize was that no body could really love me until I learned to love myself. But this behavior of using “people-pleasing” as my currency for love informed most of my young life…and frankly most of my adult life up until about 10 years ago. I told myself a story – planted a belief very deeply in my sub conscious – that making people happy, no matter the cost to myself, would get me that very primal desire…love. And so the people pleaser was born.
Guilt then became the emotion that kept me tightly in line. If I dared to do for myself, guilt would strike and I would quickly get back in line.
It wasn’t until I got so depleted in my people-pleasing that I had to stop and when I did, I began to become aware of how this behaviour was so detrimental to my health, to my happiness and that the love it provided was not true love. That is something only I can give myself and for that to happen – some extreme self-care would need to done.
Are you a people pleaser?
Are you the person who says yes even though in the pit of your stomach you swore you wouldn’t. The beautiful soul who so hated to confront conflict that she said yes to that project at work that she really didn’t even feel qualified, let alone have the bandwidth, to do. That person who loves her kids so much that she puts them first to the point of feeling completely depleted. Then yes, You are a people pleaser. A beautiful, kind hearted, people-pleaser.
Is this bad? Not necessarily. So let me help you wade through this potentially messy state and decide for yourself. I have a few questions for you to “honestly” ask your self, an admission of “people-pleasing” guilt from my own archive and 3 ways to honour yourself during times of extreme people-pleasing. So let’s get to it! People Pleasures Unite!
I like to share the story of me and my “yoga-loving” neighbour as an example of how people pleasing can back-fire on you. When my older boys where about 9 and 12 I was at the height of my “people-pleasing” addiction and I didn’t’ even know it. I had no idea how tied this behaviour was to my reactivity and constant feelings of overwhelm. I was in a phase of saying yes to everyone’s requests, running around short of breath and behaving like a perfect martyr. One day I noticed my neighbour heading out with a yoga matt slung around her shoulder and a smile on her face and I thought “wow, what a self-indulgent (fill in the blank)! Imagine leaving your kids with a sitter to go to yoga….on a SATURDAY! How selfish”. Well, selfish indeed.
Interesting enough, this is the same person who then had the energy and patience to have all the neighbourhood kids over to bake (for which I also criticized her with “must be nice to have that kind of time!”). What I failed to realize was that my pleasing everyone else while depleting myself made me down-right angry at people who were giving themselves the very things I needed. Once I had this epiphany I then had a decision to make; do I continue on with the pleasing or do I learn to honour that I have needs to and that I can’t be the person I want to be unless I start to take care of myself. A job that only I can do. This really was the start of my journey (about 10 years) that lead to The Full Life and the beautiful “work-in-progress” that I call my soulful life, today.
Honouring Your People-Pleasing Tendencies
In my experience, we most often people please because we are addicted to approval and/or desire to avoid conflict. Both of which are the wrong reasons to people please. Why? Because they come from an object-referred state that says that other people’s needs are more important than your own. Oh, you can do it! Sure! But at a cost. As you continue to deprive yourself, you become depleted, reactive and unhappy. In addition, it becomes a really difficult habit to break.
When doing for others is not people-pleasing I like to call it “acts of kindness”. Acts of kindness are not done out of obligation, the need to be accepted or to avoid conflict. They are done from a self-referred state; from a place that feels like compassion, love, gratitude.
So how do you know if your people-pleasing is healthy or not? The vast majority of people I work with are well aware; that isn’t the challenge. If you take a moment to close your eyes, have a couple long, slow, deep breathes and ask yourself “is this an act of kindness that I can do with my whole heart or I am afraid that saying yes will result in me feeling depleted” your body will give you the answer.
At that point its up to you to make a tough decision. Can you be brave and say no and then hang out in the discomfort long enough to see what happens? To see if it will all be ok? To find out what taking a different and more nourishing approach may get you? I bet you can and if you can’t, I’d love to hear from you. This is a life skill. And every time you say yes to your health and happiness, you model for people how they can treat you and how they should treat themselves. Awesome, right?
So before you say “yes” to that party you don’t really want to go to or “ok” to that request to help out at an event when your week already looks over-committed;
Take 5-10 long, slow, deep breathes and ask,
Am I people-pleasing again? Can I honestly say, “this is a full-body yes?”
Awareness is the catalyst for change. And that simple awareness followed by a “thanks for asking, I’m flattered, however my week is too full already” or “I would love to but I’m learning to say no” could be the difference between you continuing to feel overwhelmed or the start of a love affair with yourself that will ripple into every corner of your life.
Your “Full life ” Challenge (should you feel ready to accept it)
1. Say “I can’t” to someone today (not sorry, not a drawn-out excuse, just “I can’t”)
2. Notice how it feels (it might be messy but please stay with it and NOTICE)
3. Assess how it went (as bad as expected? Not that bad really? Pretty good?)
4. Commit to try it again (Neurons that fire together, wire together. Every time you try out a “no” you are teaching your brain a new habit! Its called Neuroplasticity and it means that you can re-train your brain to automatically take better care of you!)
Let’s work together to kick #UnhealthySacrifice to the curb.
And in case you didn’t know, YOU ARE WORTH IT! YOU ARE SO FREAKING WORTH IT!
Sending love and strength your way as you enjoy…The Full Life.