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  • Dora Nudelman


There are different types of people in this world. Some are more takers than givers. Some are more givers than takers. And some fall somewhere in between. However, those of us who are people-pleasers often fall into the category of the over-giver, and this can cause all sorts of issues if they are not properly addressed.

Now, doing nice things for others, being generous, and being of service are wonderful things. However, there are some of us who get overly caught up in self-imposed guilt, manipulation from others, and a sense of false obligation, all of which can cause us to feel depleted and resentful over time.

Some might think that people-pleasers are actually wallflowers who do not know how to stand up for themselves, but this is not necessarily true. For me, I have always been very outspoken about my beliefs and values, as well as what I want and don't want. However, even with such an outspoken nature, at times I too fell into the trap of wanting to please everyone. Now, it's not that I was afraid to speak my mind. Rather, I actually believed it was my duty to "make" everyone around me happy. And so, it was really easy to say "no" when the answer was clear as day. But when it wasn't, when compassion and emotion came into play, that's when it became more difficult to know where to draw the line.

You see, as an empath I have always had a deeper awareness of the emotions of those around me. As a result, I always felt like it was my responsibility to make people feel better. Unfortunately, doing this haphazardly often drained me of my own energetic resources but at the time I did not understand why. I was afraid that saying "no" would mean that I was abandoning others in their time of need, but what I didn't realize was that by saying "yes" all of the time I wasn't actually helping (i.e. in the bigger picture). What I was doing was enabling.

For instance, because of my desire to help I often allowed people to dump or unload their frustrations onto me time and time again, even though they were doing so without any intent on resolving their problems. They just wanted to complain about the same things over and over again, remaining stuck in a victim mentality of total disempowerment. I tried to give advice but it felt like it was falling on deaf ears. What I eventually realized was that these people didn't actually want my help. They were simply gratified in the venting process and, as such, were just using me as a dumping ground. They had no intention of listening to my advice or following through on it. And so by indulging them I realized I wasn't actually doing them any favors. Consequently, this dynamic often became very unproductive for them and very draining for me. And so there came a point when I simply had to reject their unloads, not only for my own sake, but for theirs as well. If I truly wanted to help, sometimes the answer simply had to be a "no."

As you can see from the example above, often people-pleasers try to please so much because they truly want to help. But more often than not those who try to please do not realize the underlying reasons behind their actions. Saying "no," then, becomes really hard for the people-pleaser for a number of reasons. For me, I felt like I was abandoning my duty. As such, I felt guilty because I thought that it was my responsibility to "make" everyone happy and so I believed that saying "no" meant I was letting people down. But there are other motives too.

Another motive is often the desire to be liked. People-pleasers often do not want to feel like the "bad guy" for rejecting others' requests. So as long as they keep saying "yes" to everyone they feel like they are secure in their self-perception as a good person who deserves to be liked. However, what they do not realize is that by doing things they do not really want to do they end up eventually feeling resentful and tired without understanding why. As a result, they may end up projecting their dissatisfaction onto others, which then undermines any positive actions they might have already completed. By trying to maintain a certain image in order to be liked, in doing so, they end up sabotaging themselves. Furthermore, by being attached to the need to be liked they end up making inauthentic decisions that eventually deplete them of their own energy while potentially enabling others to take advantage.

Another possible motivator for the people-pleaser is the fear of losing something or someone by saying no. "What if I say no and that displeases or disappoints someone?" "What if I say no and the person doesn't like me or want to be with me anymore?" These types of fears and insecurities cause the people-pleaser to continue to please, but only out of fear rather than genuine soul desire. This fear stems again from the desire to be liked but the cost of wanting to be liked ends up sabotaging the very relationship they are trying to save. You see, enabling people to take advantage of you does not make for a healthy relationship anyway. So why succumb to this self-imposed pressure if it doesn't actually create the genuine connection you seek?

Another motivator can be the desire to not feel selfish. Often people-pleasers believe that if they say "no" to someone's request/demand, that means that they are being selfish. But the thing is, usually those who are worried about being selfish are the ones who don't need to worry about it at all. Is it selfish to have boundaries based on self-respect or is it actually reasonable and responsible? Perhaps those who are doing the demanding are actually the ones who are acting selfishly.

The main thing any people-pleaser needs to realize is that having boundaries does not make them a bad person. It does not make them selfish or even apathetic. It does not make them uncaring, callous, or mean. It just makes them fair, to themselves and to others alike. Self-worth is key and must be a priority if we are to make conscious choices that come from the heart rather than from fear.

People-pleasers must ask themselves, what's the payoff? Figuring out your payoff from being a people-pleaser will help you uncover your motives, and once you do that you will know if your motives are genuine or if they are coming out of some sort of fear. Furthermore, when you do give, it is very important to remain detached from the outcome. That means, whether we are saying "yes" or we are saying "no," we need to be detached from our expectations of how others will react to that. So, if we do something to help someone, we need to be detached from the need to actually "fix" that person's problems. We also need to be mindful that we are giving out of personal choice and with no agenda. And if we say "no" because we feel we are justified in doing so, we need to detach from how others are going to react to that too. Whether or not they like us, approve of us, or perceive us as good or bad need not be our concern if we feel we are making the choice that is right for ourselves and, truly, all concerned. Finally, it is vital that we all practice self-acceptance and allow ourselves to make our decisions from the heart. We simply need to trust our instincts and do what feels right without feeling the need to apologize for it.

I know that when I didn't have sufficient boundaries I ended up feeling resentful of others, in truth, for choices I had made. if I chose to give out of guilt, fear, or a false sense of obligation, that was my decision. But when I did create boundaries that changed everything for the better for me. Did I lose some friends over it? Sure. Some people didn't like being cut off from what they thought was owed to them out of a misplaced sense of entitlement. After all, if you have been saying "yes" for a long time, "no" suddenly seems like an unfair and harsh answer to those on the receiving end of it, even though it is probably what you should have done in the first place.

At the same time, I really learned who my real friends were, not those who were trying to "get" something from me but those who actually respected me and liked me for who I was. And the more I upheld my boundaries, the more I attracted people who continued to treat me with the respect I knew I deserved. As soon as I let go of my feelings of guilt, fear, insecurity, and attachment to outcome, I became totally free to be myself with everyone and to be okay with the outcome of that too. You see, when we accept ourselves and our decisions as being authentically right, then it doesn't matter anymore how others perceive us because all that truly matters is how we perceive ourselves. The world always mirrors back to us how we view ourselves, so if we want to be treated well we need to start treating ourselves in the same manner.

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