Studies confirm that social interactions and face-to-face relationships are strongly connected to longevity and happiness. But challenges can arise when the dynamics of your relationships are not reciprocal. In this scenario, you may seek to accommodate people in your exchanges with them, aiming to fulfill the needs of those around you -- at the expense of your own needs. When the behavior becomes a deep-seated habit, you are exhibiting traits commonly referred to as "people-pleasing."
If you are a people-pleaser, you may hold a strong sense of pride in what you accomplish on behalf of those who are most important to you -- and you may try to avoid conflict. While these traits are extremely useful in teamwork settings as well as in servant leadership, they can become unhealthy habits when taken to the extreme. Self-care may often be overlooked -- leading to feelings of regret or even resentment for not having pushed back and asserted your own needs. Other pitfalls associated with putting the needs of others before your own is becoming overextended. You risk over-promising to meet the other party's needs, and then absorbing the full brunt of stress as a result.
When your emotions become highly charged in this state, you can become overly sensitive to the idea of letting others down, and experience anxiety over the potential of failure or disappointing others. As a result, you avoid having uncomfortable, yet necessary confrontations, and instead, aim to keep the peace at all cost. If you are a people-pleaser you may find it particularly difficult, and even painful, to say "no" to those who matter to you. And this can place undue pressure on others to manage the equitable balance in the relationship that they have with you.
According to Susan Newman, author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say it And Mean It, "yes" people can also become "...weighed down, trapped, or taken advantage of, and as a result are unhappy or annoyed with themselves for being easy marks."
If you resonate with these behaviors, try the following practices to help restore balance and step off the people-pleasing track. Be gentle with yourself and strive to remain non-judgmental through the process. With practice, it is possible to shift to a more balanced and harmonious approach in your relationships.
1. Practice saying "no" with neutral emotions.
Begin this practice with someone you know and trust, such as a close friend or family member. Let them in on what you are up to, and ask them for their help in holding you accountable for setting better boundaries. The critical part of the practice, is to say no calmly, and without anxiety or discomfort. By responding with a neutral tone of voice and body language, you can diffuse negative connotations. As you continue this practice, you will be surprised by how often people accept your decision without issue, or if they do counter, it will be to engage in compromise or provide opposition in a way that is equally respectful in tone.
2. Get off the roller coaster.
Stop feeling compelled to say yes, by lowering the intensity of the reward cycle of saying yes. Attempt to decrease the positive emotional spikes you receive from accommodating the needs of the people around you. This will open your mind to more discernment prior to obliging others. By lowering the "high" of positive emotions when serving people, you also reduce the "low" of negative feelings and fears associated with saying "no" and potentially letting someone down.
3. Affirmation practice: You have nothing to prove to anyone.
When the hooks of people-pleasing are deeply ingrained, you can fall into the trap of believing that you are only as good as what you have accomplished for others. In this case, success is typically defined externally, that is, by others around you. The problem with external validation, is that you ultimately cannot control how others view you or your actions. Practice self-acceptance by affirming that you are not obligated to give anyone else the power of affirming your worth. One way to achieve this is through practicing a form of self-compassion meditation.
Saying "no" may be uncomfortable at first, but acquiescing to the needs of others may only result in feelings of anger, guilt, and resentment. The bottom line? Be good to you -- and whole-heartedly respect your own boundaries.