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Being a people pleaser isn’t necessarily a bad thing — having an inherent desire to help people is an admirable quality. But once someone puts their own needs entirely at the bottom of their list of priorities is when this trait can become unhealthy. A people pleaser will do their best to help others and avoid conflict, often at the expense of their wants and needs. This self-sabotaging behavior often stems from an unhealthy relationship with parents who undermined learning how to stand your ground.
If a caregiver constantly criticized their child for expressing their wants and needs — whether they were emotional or physical — it can lead to a people-pleasing personality type. That kid learns other people take priority over them and will do anything to make others happy before themselves. Trauma with friends or partners can have the same effect. But people pleasers deserve happiness and care as much as anyone else in their lives. Here are four tips for learning how to stand your ground and become happier.
1. Prioritize Your Wellness
Because a people pleaser wants to make everyone happy before themselves, they probably say yes to a lot of things they wish they hadn’t. Perhaps they told someone they liked a food when they actually hate it or accepted an invite when they didn’t have time in an effort not to be rude. Trying to balance everyone else’s pleasure instead of their own will quickly burn them out, so start taking small steps to prioritize personal wellness.
They can say no when someone asks for help moving and they were planning to take a day for themselves. Ask to make plans for another day if a family member wants to go to lunch but there’s a big project due. Above all, don’t apologize for taking time for self-care — doing so is essential for positive mental health.
2. Stop Saying “Sorry”
This step can be tough when learning how to stand your ground. While apologies are absolutely necessary if someone gets hurt, saying sorry for not being able to make it to a party or not liking something isn’t. Not only that, but constantly apologizing can actually make people feel worse instead of better. It undermines self-confidence and makes someone feel like they did something wrong when they didn’t.
Simply state there isn’t enough time or there’s another occasion taking priority. Having other plans isn’t something to be remorseful about — it’s just how life is sometimes. When a person stops saying sorry every time they can’t do something someone wants, it can reaffirm there’s nothing to feel bad about.
3. Cut Out Toxic People
When learning how to stand your ground, people who constantly ask for help will begin to notice. Many will likely move on and ask someone else for the favor while keeping up the friendship, but others might start to push back. They could use guilt to get that person to do what they want, either getting angry, feigning sadness or becoming passive aggressive as a result. These relationships are often toxic ones and can hinder the progress toward inner strength.
Try talking to the person first — after all, they might not know what they’re doing and would appreciate the chance for self-reflection. But if they insist their attitude is all the confronter’s fault or deflect the blame another way, it’s likely time to give less priority to them.
4. Relieve Your Guilt
People pleasers who have spent their whole lives taking care of others before themselves will likely experience some guilt for prioritizing themselves. Especially if the behavior roots in trauma or low self-confidence, setting boundaries and practicing self-care can feel like the “wrong” thing to do. However, it is probably the healthiest possible thing at this time to acknowledge these self-sabotaging behaviors — and recognize there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
Like every other recommendation on this list, processing the guilt around people pleasing will require effort. The conscious decision to take personal time and put their needs first will be necessary. Hopefully — as time goes on and the choice gets easier — the guilt fades and self-love becomes second nature. However, speaking with a licensed mental health professional may be vital if those negative thoughts become too loud.
Learning How to Stand Your Ground Takes Time
Living life as a people pleaser is not a bad thing — it’s not sustainable, though. Learning how to stand your ground will be an inconsistent journey, but it’s one of the most beneficial paths someone can take. Exercise grace when those moments of negativity creep in and start establishing healthier boundaries, no matter what others think.
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