Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? Trying to be a ‘good egg’ is a never-ending game of musical chairs with your time, energy, and other resources. It is an untenable balancing act that few master.
The psychology of people-pleasing suggests that our deep insecurities drive us to seek validation through actions that might make other people happy. But, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, ‘Love/Belonging’ and ‘Esteem’ are the basic building blocks of our human experience.
When the need to please becomes a ‘growing giant for whom the coat of have was never large enough’ that people-pleasing can become a major destructive force in our life.
I want to be kind, generous, loving and giving, so I often find myself struggling with trying to protect people’s feelings by being agreeable. Yet agreeing too much comes with a cost and often backfires.
I am reminded of an acquaintance who would keep me on the phone for houuuurrrs. I’d feel a tightening in my gut and heart that I knew meant that it was time to say ‘good night’. Yet, I did not want to be rude or hurt this person’s feelings; and so I stayed on until I could muster a reluctant “ahh.. umm, I have to…hmm… wake up… umm… early tomorrow”. It was a frustrating challenge for me!
Around that time, I received unexpected sage advice from a spiritual mentor. He told me: “you are a very good and loyal friend, but sometimes you allow yourself to be treated like an extra in somebody else’s film”. That statement became my wake up call.
I realized I had to honor my own needs and pondered how being afraid to say “no” got me in trouble in other ways.
I had on occasion agreed to lunch dates with two different friends at the same time. I could have said ‘no’ to one of them, but I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I thought a mélange would be a good solution, but it hardly ever worked out that way. They invariably disliked each other (much to my surprise and chagrin) and both thought me rude for not telling them about the other person.
I really had to make some changes...
I learned to pause and give myself time to look within and understand what I felt and what I really wanted, then slowly learned to set healthy boundaries and honor my needs. It worked!
Here are the steps you can take to claim your freedom and peace of mind too:
Pay attention to the messages your body is sending.
Notice sensations, uncomfortable feelings in sensitive areas like your solar plexus, heart and throat. Instead of resisting uncomfortable feelings by intellectualizing or justifying, stay with them and see what they are trying to tell you. Resolution comes from feeling these sensations without running away from them. This is the essence of mindfulness.
Label these negative emotions.
Is it anxiety, anger, fear, impatience? Research shows that when you give the feelings a name, activity in you brain lessens, stress is reduced. Putting words to feelings helps to understand them and connect with your truth.
Decide what you want and state it.
Research shows that the brain becomes “happy” when a decision is made and we are not stuck with living in the subjunctive (coulda, shoulda,woulda)! Making decisions changes your perception of the world and calms the limbic system. It does not have to be the perfect decision, but something that feels good enough. According to a Time article entitled “Four Rituals that Will Make You Happy according to Neuroscience” trying to find the “perfect” decision overwhelms the brain and makes you feel out of control.
And if the decision is indeed a “no”, then state your truth. I did not force myself to be perfect when I decided to do this and I experimented with saying “no” one situation, one person at a time. As the fear eventually diminished, saying 'no' became more natural and less painful. My true friends respected me more for it and all others quietly disappeared, for…
In conclusion, I am reminded of a wonderful quote by Marianne Williamson that has lessened my fear of expressing my truth, even if it is “no”.