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The Downside To People Pleasing: Your Depletion Of Self-Worth And How To Get It Back

Confession: I used to be a whore… for approval.

My unconscious mission was getting everyone to like me and for the most part, I actually succeeded.

Fortunately, I've managed to ditch my role as a doormat, but it took me a long time to get here. It took a lot of hesitant “no's,” many uncomfortable situations and some serious self-esteem building.

I eventually realized that an existence that revolves around seeking approval from others — whether I cared about them or not — is meaningless. In fact, it's depressing, draining and downright degrading.

There are many tiers of people pleasing. Maybe you're the kind of person who nods your head at things with which you don't agree because you can't stand the thought of offending someone. Maybe you go out of your way to do things you don't want to do in hopes that you'll win people over that way.

Eventually, you'll realize you haven't made a single decision based on your own morals or feelings. The result is that you'll not only be unfulfilled, but also resentful. It's no way to live.

For most of us, this is not a developed behavior. It's deeply rooted in childhood, when we desperately sought our parents' praise for that test score or put on an act to make sure every junior high clique accepted us.

Your twenties is a great time to grow out of this people-pleasing phase. The truth is it's a trap that will spread you so thin that you'll never be self-assured, truly intimate or close with anyone — or happy.

Simply put, you can't be everything everyone wants you to be at all times. Here's how to turn things around:

Do some soul searching.

If you're a people pleaser, it's easy to forget what's important to you, what makes you tick, what really excites and motivates you and what simply doesn't vibe with your values. If you don't figure out these factors now, however, it will become secondary to how other people think of you when it comes to every life choice you make.

Think of this first stage as a mental detox. Clear out the toxic thoughts that cloude your judgment — thoughts that perpetuate your addiction to approval — and start over with a clean slate.

You'll need to be more in tune with how you react when confronted with a distressing demand or problem. If you don't have to worry about anyone disliking you, what will your instinctual decision be?

If you can train yourself to recognize what triggers your people-pleasing behaviors — whether specific individuals, scenarios or other factors — it'll be a lot easier for you to reverse your self-destructive thinking.


Take baby steps.

You won't kick this approval addiction right away so don't bother trying to go cold turkey, as you're doomed to fail. Instead, start by doing just one thing you wouldn't normally do.

If your friends invite you out on Friday and you're just too exhausted, tell them you'll join next time. You won't be fun if you're basically nodding off into your Blue Moon, anyway.

If your roommate hates on your hockey team, playfully throw it right back. Guess what? He or she won't hate you; your roommate will only gain respect for you.

If some guy asks for your phone number and you're not interested, try turning him down politely rather than reluctantly providing your digits.

It's a double-win: No need to dodge any irritating texts tomorrow and you won't need to worry about inflicting even more ego-wounding when you inevitably reject him down the road. It's going to feel really awkward at first, maybe even nauseating, but you'll get over it.


Learn to pause.

Now it's time to master the art of stalling. You know that time an acquaintance asked you to help move and you agreed despite being totally stressed out? You were on approval autopilot and your knee-jerk reaction was to blurt out a “yes.”

Sometimes saying no right away feels challenging, but that's when the pause comes into play. Just know that it's okay to say you need some time before you give an answer. Not only does this give you the chance to really weigh your options, but it also shows the other person that you care enough to give the situation some consideration.

Even if you end up saying “no,” he or she will know that you thought about it.

Whatever you do, don't explain yourself too much and don't apologize. Both will weaken your sense of self-assurance and make you seem guilty to the other person.


Pat yourself on the back.

People pleasing comes from an ugly place — one of inexplicable unworthiness. So, if you can break that cycle — even once — then you really need to give yourself some credit. Celebrating even the smallest successes will reinforce your worth.

Making a decision doesn't make you selfish or uncaring, and once you start to realize that, you'll slowly build confidence, which is absolutely crucial for ending your approval-seeking ways.


Be aware of manipulators.

There are certain people who, unfortunately, prey on people pleasers.

You'll need to become a better judge of when you're being taken advantage of. Be wary of those who frequently flatter you before asking you to make a major commitment. Be especially suspicious of people who regularly beg for help and never seem capable of returning the favor.

Also, super needy friends may have grown accustomed to demanding a lot from you. If you don't set boundaries, you're basically asking for a problem later. You should also pay attention to people in your life who seem to be nailing it.

You know, the ones who manage to disagree with others but still have a lot of friends. They've probably turned you down or said “no” to you here and there. Did it make you hate them? Probably not. Realizing this will hopefully help you to understand that your fears are invalid.

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Rebecca Strong

Freelance Contributor

Rebecca is a Boston-based dating and fitness writer whose work has also appeared in the HuffPost blog and U.S. News. Her interests include people watching as a sport, singing the blues and drinking cold beers in a hot shower.
Rebecca is a Boston-based dating and fitness writer whose work has also appeared in the HuffPost blog and U.S. News. Her interests include people watching as a sport, singing the blues and drinking cold beers in a hot shower.

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