The Secret Connection Between People-Pleasing and Your Emotions

people pleasing people-pleasers perspective self-improvement Jun 12, 2024

Many years ago I was at a self-development conference and the speaker said, “The quality of your life will depend on the amount of uncertainty you can tolerate.”

That quote stuck with me. I attended the conference in the early days of grad school and I often thought about how my anxiety would go up during times of uncertainty. I could tell anxiety did not make me happy and degraded my quality of life. But I worked on tolerating it.

Tolerating the anxiety meant that even though I felt anxious, scared, irritable, angry, etc. I didn’t lash out at others or withdraw into a metaphorical cave. It meant that I felt those emotions and I did the best I could to keep going. I kept studying, writing papers, seeing clients, and working on my research projects. I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

This is when things got interesting. The more I talked to myself about not giving into the anxiety and other emotions, the easier it was to work through them. 

At first I was white-knuckling situations: feeling anxious or scared and plowing through anyway. While that is one strategy, it’s not really the goal. The white-knuckling state is really just barely hanging on, barely getting through what needs to be done, before collapsing or losing your cool.

But over time, as I had more experiences with not giving into my reactive emotions, I could acknowledge I was anxious or scared and know, without a doubt, that I could get the task done even though I was anxious.

I no longer believed without question what my emotions were telling me.

An example of this was the time I was a presenter at a national conference. This meant talking to a group of doctors about my topic. To say I was intimidated was an understatement. But I also knew that I was good at speaking to groups of people. I had taught a psychology class in graduate school for 2 years and had learned I was good at public speaking.

The fear I felt in anticipation of getting up in front of the doctors felt like I shouldn't do the talk. I wasn't good enough to present to them. They wouldn't think I was a good presenter. But, I realized my fear was not telling me the truth. So, I ignored it. That didn’t mean I didn’t have butterflies in my stomach. It just meant I was confident that once I got going, I would do a good job. And, it all went great!

While you may not be faced with public speaking, I’m sure you are faced with other everyday situations where you feel anxious and scared. 

For people-pleasers, this typically takes the form of being on alert so as to anticipate what needs to be done to keep everyone happy. You may be trying to be as efficient as possible so you can get everything done at work and home. You are alert so you can avoid letting other people down or disappointing them.  Even if you don’t recognize the alertness as anxiety, it is. 

This brings me to what I want you to understand: your emotions are driving your behavior and if you don’t pay attention, they will compel you to do things that are not in your best interest. 

If you want to change your people-pleasing habit, pay attention, get to know the patterns of your emotions, and work to respond intentionally in situations, not just react. Most of the time, your fear and anxiety create the impulse to people-please and that drives your behavior. For your own well-being, YOU need to decide how you are going to behave, and not let fear or anxiety be in charge.

To help you out with this, I wrote an article on self-reflection and created a worksheet so you can identify your patterns and come up with better ways to respond to difficult situations. Check it out here.

The key to attracting the kinds of relationships you want and deserve in your life is to be in charge of your behavior, rather than letting your emotions take over.

Learning to be in charge of your emotions lets you see what’s happening when others upset you or are upset with you. You no longer have to assume it is your fault. You also no longer need to please or placate people to calm yourself down. You can do it through self-talk.

And, this my friend, is when you are breaking the habit of people-pleasing. 🌟💗

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