How Self-Reflection Will Help You Overcome People-Pleasing

emotional health people pleasing perspective self-improvement Jun 09, 2024
self reflection people pleasing

Turn your overthinking into self-reflection and overcome your people-pleasing habit.

If you are a people-pleaser, one of the things you do is overthink. 

  • You think about what others think of you a lot.
  • You worry whether someone is upset with you a lot.
  • You ruminate on how you could have done something better a lot.
  • Nothing that went wrong or could go wrong gets past you. 😩

While all this overthinking and worrying is making you miserable, it’s also the key to getting out of your people-pleasing rut.

That’s because if we back off a little on all this overthinking, what we have is your ability to reflect on your behavior and how other people reacted to you. This is self-reflection and the key to being an emotionally mature adult.

Let’s break down your usual pattern of overthinking and compare it to self-reflection. Once you get the hang of self-reflection, instead of overthinking, you’ll be on a good track to ditching your people-pleasing impulses.

When we overthink, we leave the present moment and go into an alternate moment or future that is not in existence. We may believe it exists, but if it is not happening right now in front of you, if you are not being told that it is happening, or witnessing that it is happening, it is not a reality for you right now.

When we overthink, we are making lots of guesses and assumptions about the situation. On top of that we are usually catastrophizing, focusing on the worst possible outcome of our guesses or assumptions. Then our whole body feels like that worst case scenario is actually happening, or we are worried that it is actually happening, even though we don’t have any evidence that it is.

Self-reflection, on the other hand, is being objective and a lot less emotional and distorted in our thinking. Self-reflection is when we can observe what happened, set aside our negative reactions (even if we are having some), and focus on what we did, rather than on how the other person reacted. From this perspective, we can assess our behavior authentically and not be so caught up in what the other person thought.

The truth is that your negative reactions are your people-pleasing impulses. It’s your fear system that has been conditioned to believe that if you upset someone, they will reject you and you will be alone. This is not reality, this is your fear and conditioning speaking. 

Learning to self-reflect becomes an exercise in feeling the fear and not reacting based on your fear. It’s okay that your fear is there but it doesn’t need to dictate your behavior. Instead, notice your fear reaction and then talk with yourself about (reflect on) what actually happened.

If you find there is something you don’t know, such as what your friend thought of you, then you don’t know. There are ways to find out but acknowledge you don’t know. 

Even if you believe with all your heart that your friend is upset with you but your friend hasn’t told you that, you are making an assumption. Acknowledge that your fear is assuming your friend is upset.

It becomes automatic to assume that other people are judging you or not happy with you and then you act as if that is true. But you don’t actually know whether it is true or not. 

Not judging ourselves by what we imagine other people think of us is an important skill needed for ending our people-pleasing impulses. When we assume we know what another person thinks of us, we are mind reading. Mind reading is a cognitive distortion, it isn’t real. People are very poor at knowing what another person is thinking, even if they have been together for years. 

To get out of the automatic and distorted thinking habit, label your thoughts as true or distorted. Distorted thoughts are stories we make up about what the situation means–they are not true, there is no evidence for them at the moment. If you realize that a thought is distorted (or that you are making up a story), then that thought won’t carry as much weight and will be easier to work around.

Set aside your distorted thoughts and figure out ways of thinking about the situations that are not distorted. What’s really happening? What’s the truth? These thoughts are self-reflection. These thoughts are thinking about what happened, being objective about it and truthful with yourself based on standards that YOU decide, not someone else.

To build your self-reflection mental muscle, do this journaling exercise:

  • Write down what happened.
  • Come up with 3+ emotional reactions you had. (Hint: these are one-word answers)
  • Write down all the thoughts you had. (Hint: these will be sentences.)
  • Ask yourself, “What is the truth?” Write down these rational thoughts. 
  • Then reflect on what you have learned and what you could do differently next time.

For more help with improving your self-reflection muscle, get my free Self-Reflection Worksheet.

Self-reflection is necessary to work on reducing your tendency to people-please. It is the pathway to change because it allows you to question your usual pattern of reacting and helps you find better ways to respond. Changing how we respond and the meaning we place on events is how we grow and become a person who no longer relies on people-pleasing in our relationships others. 

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