the origins of people pleasing + three reasons to stop

I’ve had hundreds thousands of conversations about people-pleasing.

With lucid certainty and crystal clarity, from listening to mountains of regret and reading rivers of research, I can tell you –

People pleasing will break your heart.

Living your life just to please others – whether it’s your partner, your children, your parents, your friends or anyone else – will weigh you down and stress you out.

People pleasing can costs you greatly – your integrity, your aliveness, your relationships, your vitality, your dreams … the life you love.

Trying to guess what other people want, how you can gain their approval and what you need to do to be accepted is a shadowy realm to live in.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, from me or from a great TED talk or from the awakened people who love you. I know it’s not new, but here’s a {hopefully} fresh layer on the origin of it and three good reasons to stop doing it.

People-pleasing originates from unconscious stories and biological instinct. The good news is, we can rewrite the stories and override the instinct.

The unconscious stories that direct our lives are based on personal histories, acquired coping strategies, reactive responses, genetic predispositions, cultural expectation, and intergenerational messages.

For the first few decades of my life, my people-pleasing story was “if I’m not perfect, I won’t please them. If don’t please them, they won’t approve of me. If they don’t approve of me, I’ll be rejected. If I’m rejected, I’ll be abandoned. If I’m abandoned, I won’t be loved. If I’m not loved, I won’t survive.”

Your people-pleasing story may not be the same as mine was, but I encourage you to dig into your own stories that are rooted in fear. If you follow the dark spiral down to your greatest fear, suddenly it will become obvious why you do what you do, how healing can begin, and where your liberation lives.

Here’s the biological instinct – we are wired to do what we need to do in order to belong. It’s a left over survival mechanism from living in tribes, where being rejected by the tribe meant you were on your own to find the berries and kill the bears. Back then, being rejected really did mean death. But, we’re not living then, we’re living now. If one person rejects you, there are 7.347 billion other possibilities. You will never be alone, but if you live your life for others, you might feel like you are because you will have abandoned the most important person in your life.

Here are three good reasons to stop people pleasing.

it’s energetically draining

People-pleasing consumes a tremendous amount of energy. Energy that could be spent focusing on what deeply matters to you, turning your dreams into reality, or creating meaningful relationships with like-minded people.

The white lie you tell in the morning to make someone like you will consume the energy you need in the afternoon to focus on an important project. Every time you respond to a person or a situation in a way that’s out of alignment with who you are, you diminish your capacity to control your attention, to mange your emotions in healthy ways, to make good decisions, and to take actions that support you in living a life you love. When you drain your energy with people-pleasing you’re more likely to lash out, eat crappy food, drink too much, drop the ball, skip the workout, forget to pick your kids up from the play date, or double book your schedule.

lying is stressful

Pretending to be someone you’re not, believing something you don’t believe, liking something you don’t like, feeling something you don’t feel, wanting something you don’t want – is a lie. And, lying stresses us out.

Polygraphs test work because they detect subconscious stress – skin electricity, pulse rate, breathing, vocal pitch. Every lie you tell, no matter how small and no matter the reason, impacts your nervous system and negatively affects your health and happiness {from the research, this means – more anxiety, more fear, disturbed sleep, more sickness, more depression, more relationship problems}.

it doesn’t work

By the way, you’re terrible at faking it. We all are.

We have micro-expressions that give away what we’re really thinking and feeling. The people we interact with subconsciously register, via mirror neurons, that something isn’t right. Trying to pretend you’re feeling one way when you’re really feeling another creates interpersonal stress, reduces rapport, and inhibits connection. Being authentic is the most reliable way to develop healthy, meaningful, and loving relationships.

People pleasing is rooted in fear – fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of not being good enough, fear of vulnerability, fear of disappointment. Getting to the other side of these fears takes courage. But, it’s better to be yourself and risk rejection than to abandon yourself and suffer from the stress of trying to be someone you’re not.

Anne Lamott wrote,

“Oh my God. What if you wake up some day and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; you didn’t go swimming in warm pools or oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people pleasing that you forgot to have big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

People pleasing will break your heart.
Don’t let it happen.