People Pleasing: How Your Inner Bitch Can Set You Free
People Pleasing is complicated. On one hand it feels like you have everyone’s best interests at heart, that you’re a genuinely GOOD person. People are grateful and express this with compliments and expressions of gratitude that send an almighty kick of oxytocin into your system. This makes you feel good, that you have a place in this world and that you are valued.
However, it can also leave us depleted, exhausted and with little left for our own goals and issues. What’s more, it’s easy to get lost in other people’s lives, listening to their problems, picking up their mess, making sure they are okay…so easy that it’s a convenient way to distance yourself from whatever is going on in your own life that you don’t want to see.
Too much people pleasing can start to make you feel resentful and it’s a hard habit to break once you’re in. People expect that lift; for you to cover for them at the office; that you’ll listen to their moans about the boss over and over again. Saying “No” becomes difficult. You feel that you’re letting people down. Even worse, they may make you feel like you are! You may start to feel resentful, which can spill over into passive aggression. Or, even worse, if you try and push this down, explode when you least expect it.
Work becomes a source of stress for you. You worry about your reports being good enough; whether you’re going to be “found out”, or even find yourself getting side-tracked into perfectionist behaviours which can further exhaust you and hold you back.
And what about your own dreams, your own path? That’s slowly been demoted to bottom of the list and you have a feeling that you’re so far from your own path that it’s not worth even making the attempt to do something for yourself. What about all these obligations? You can’t just let go of these.
You may have a fantasy of escaping somewhere nobody knows who you are, or just giving up on this life you’ve made for yourself and starting over again.
But you can’t. One, because you’re in this too deep and two, because you’re worried what other people will think of you. Maybe you’ll look like a loser, someone who bottled it, who just couldn’t keep it together. Or perhaps you feel people will be disappointed in you, of that their doubts about you will be confirmed. “People” could mean people in general, or you have someone’s image in your head: your parents, your colleagues, your partner or family.
Perhaps you do have some ideas for change in your life: a change of job or career. More education or some travel. Or you maybe just have a sense that something needs to change but you’re not quite sure what it is. However, even the thought of exploring that feels like a betrayal, a sign to your family that you’re not happy and how would that make them feel?
Any of this strike a nerve with you? Hmm, you’re well and truly stuck aren’t you?
Well…maybe, maybe not.
The Roots of People Pleasing
The beauties of Psychology being a social science is that it I show you some theories around why we people please and it’s up to you to see how that tallies up with your life. On the other hand, you may believe that knowing where this all stems is irrelevant and want to jump straight to the actions section. It’s up to you. Here are a few of the current thoughts and theories around this need to please or being held back by what people think. (Parents and care-givers are interchangeable here)
The Critical Parents
Critical parents have a lot to answer for, including instilling these types of behaviours. Parents who are critical, who make their children feel that their love is conditional (you only get a hug if you get an A or A*, Bs get you nothing) can leave you feeling like you need to prove yourself.
Likewise, if you were never quite sure what mood a parent might be in, pleasing them in some way would have been a habit most likely to produce a good reaction. You may have unconsciously adopted the same behaviour in the rest of your relationships, even with people who aren’t unpredictable
If you were essentially parenting your parents, or a younger sibling, taking the role of caregiving and looking to others’ needs may have become normal for you. What’s more it would have earned you plenty of brownie points and respect which you have become accustomed to.
Blame it on the Parents…or not
Note the theme running through these…parents (or care-givers). One way of approaching this is to go into therapy which can be hugely rewarding. However, it may not be right for you at the moment. One thing worth mentioning is that this isn’t intended to be a blame-fest and pass all responsibility onto our parents. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that most people are simply doing their best and this may be shaped or hampered by their own upbringing and how their parents treated them. They can only act within their own emotional limits and under the stresses they may be facing at the time; financial or health worries for instance.
There are exceptions of course. If abuse in any form is involved then I would always recommend therapy. For the most part, however, blaming someone else is not our answer.
Letting Your Inner Bitch Help
Who is your inner bitch? Your inner bitch isn’t necessarily mean or nasty. She’s not a gossip or concerned with putting other people down to make herself feel better. Your inner bitch is that inner core…whether you feel it as steely strength or firey passion…that woman who will not put up with being messed around, used or treated any less that she deserves.
You may have met your Inner Bitch before. She often comes out when we feel threatened and have to act before our brains can start diluting it with “what will they think if we do that”. She more than likely to come out if you’ve had to fight for or defend your children or fought to get an ill parent the care they need. Notice yet another theme here. She’ll come out in aid of others, but think how powerful it would be to harness that ferocity for yourself.
It’s precisely the qualities of your Inner Bitch that will help you throw off your people pleasing behaviour. Likewise, she doesn’t care what other people think, at least not in a way that will hold you back.
Let’s start by visualising a time when you have met her. For me it was when II decided to go back to University to study a masters while a single mother with 3 children at home.
Here are some times she’s come out for people that I know:
- When our Bitch coach Mel was bullied at work, she relied on the strength of her inner bitch to get her through a stressful time when she found that HR simply wouldn’t support her
- When our Healthy Bitch Coach Rachel decided to leave a long marriage and take life in her own hands
- When Harriet decided to stop contact with a narcissistic mother
- When Emily stood up to a controlling brother who seemed to organise and dominate every family interaction
- When Katherine had to report a colleague (and former friend) for illegal actions at work
- When Claire was promoted and found that her former “friends” turned on her
- When Debbie decided she wanted to write her book and booked a holiday away on her own to get the skeleton finished.
All these women have had to dig deep and use an inner strength to pull them through. Additionally, all these women have now done it and lived to tell their story. They feel stronger and more capable for it too.