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Breaking Down People-Pleasing Tendencies

Elephant ripping down tree

We all have a desire to be liked and approved of by others. It’s built into our psyche. We’re social creatures by nature. We all want to belong to a community. Psychologists refer to this as our Social Self, the part of us that learns how to behave a certain way for acceptance and love.  It’s our tendency to conform and please rather than stand out or disagree.

This belonging is wonderful if the community and its values align with our essential nature. However, if we pretend our way in, it creates dissonance and internal strife.

Martha Beck says, “We go blind to our deepest selves to fit in with other people.”

On the enneagram test, I’m an Achiever. That means, on the positive end of the scale, I get shit done before deadlines and exceed expectations. On the negative end of the scale, I have a tendency to lose myself, and my own inner guidance, in the desire to please others, especially authority figures.

There’s even a mantra for Achievers to help them maintain balance: “I am loved for myself.”

As an Achiever, I excelled in my corporate career. My urge to people-please often overwrote my inner guidance system. As such, I was a good worker bee that always received high marks and consistent raises. Physically, though, I suffered from frequent migraines, colds and lower back issues. I later learned through Mind-Body Connection that these were psychosomatic symptoms resulting from not having my own back, not being my own person, not speaking my mind, and avoiding standing out from the crowd.

As a coach, I’ve found so much freedom in embracing my authentic self. I’ve enjoyed the process of reintroducing myself to my Self. Part of me had to relearn what was genuinely me versus the “programmed” me.

Recently I’ve had some corporate speakership opportunities arise. Excited to blend both of my roles together, my business-side and my coaching-side, I dove in with exuberance. One company in particular was interested in an inspiring speech to motivate their team to operate at their fullest. Right up my alley with how I coach my executive clients.

My first attempt was in my wheelhouse of pushing your edges, testing your limits and getting comfortable with uncomfortable in order to achieve amazing.

And it went over like a ton of bricks. They said it was off the mark, condescending, pedantic and cliché. A week or so later, they informed me that they wanted to shop other candidates.

This immediately sent me squarely back into my old people-pleasing role. I panicked. I lost faith in myself. I reverted to my old habit of looking for them to tell me what they wanted me to be so that I could be that.

I requested a second chance, and they suggested I focus on sports analogies. So I chose some that spoke to people’s inner fire and passion for their sport and how that fueled their mastery. To be clear, sports aren’t my forte. Frankly, I’m bored watching sports. But I can resonate with people who love what they do because I also have an insatiable appetite for learning about healing and spiritual growth.

Within five minutes of presenting this alternate angle, I was told it was still off the mark. They reiterated what they saw as my failings from the first pitch and expressed they had hoped that I’d have something more inspirational. They wanted real sports…team sports…and proceeded to outline my speech for me, including audience engagement.

This completely deflated my balloon. I spent the rest of the meeting nodding and pretending I was on-board with their suggestions. I didn’t push back; I didn’t speak my mind — out of fear of rejection. Afterward, I was told that my reaction only confirmed they didn’t think I had the chops for public speaking or writing inspirational speeches.

This irony is best summed up by another Martha Beck quote: “We lie our way through our lives to get people to like us, and then we find out they didn’t like us because we were lying.”

Over the next few days, I self-coached and received coaching to dissolve many limiting beliefs. And despite my instinct to fall back into my role of people-pleasing puppet, I reconnected with my integrity and original medicine to create the presentation I would have pitched the first time if I’d had more solid faith in me, my worth and my coaching niche.

And I fell in love with it. This new speech features lessons animals teach us about working together, trusting each other, everyone playing an integral role, knocking down whatever obstacle stands in your way, resilience, and strength in numbers. It completely aligns with my purpose and my own special sauce.

At this point, I have no idea if they’ll like it. And it’s completely ok if they don’t because this whole process taught me a valuable lesson about owning my gifts and my personal brand. I know I’m not for everyone. That’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.

In the words of the highly successful and inspirational Susan Hyatt, “Boldly be not for everyone.”

My people already get me and love me for the real me. My personal stories, journey and metaphors will resonate with folks because I’m in my integrity and not trying to copy others. If some people aren’t ready for that yet and find it too “fluffy, soft, tree-hugging, etc.” then I can accept that they are on their own path and it doesn’t have to be mine.

If you’re struggling with your own people-pleasing tendencies and want to break free of those puppet strings to reconnect with your authentic self, I can help!