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Stop Being a People Pleaser!

09/09/2013 04:22 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2013
  • Jonathan Alpert Licensed psychotherapist, executive coach, columnist, and author of "Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days"

Carol came to see me for stress and mild depression. She was 39, married, had two kids, and had a career dealing with contracts for a major company. She came to see me at the urging of her sister, who noticed she was stressed out.

As I got to know Carol a theme emerged: She was willing to drop everything and anything to help others. She was a people pleaser. People pleasers go above and beyond the call of duty, and they do this consistently. If a loved one passed away while a work deadline is looming, they will skip the funeral in order to meet the deadline. Or they will attempt to do both -- at the expense of their own rest, peace of mind, and well-being. They put everyone and everything ahead of themselves and their own needs. People pleasers are willing to do anything for the company, anything to make someone happy, and anything to help anyone in need. But people like this should not be exploited. And while kindness is a fine quality, it should not come at the expense of one's needs and personal happiness. Carol was stretched so thin that she had little if any time for herself.

I asked Carol for one week to keep track of and write down two things:

1. Her needs
2. How she spent her time

The result was remarkable. She had plenty of needs, but she hardly ever met them. She loved reading, but almost never did it. She enjoyed time with her friends, but rarely saw them. She was signed up for a yoga class, but she hadn't attended it in months, and she frequently skimped on sleep in order to get more done. She had no private time or time alone. At the same time, she was an overachiever at work, and she was a super mom, too. She took care of her kids, managed the household, and cooked and cleaned -- and she did it all without any outside help.

On the outside, she seemed competent and successful. On the inside, however, she was a mess. She had created an image of herself as a super achiever, and she was working hard to continue to portray it at the expense of her own peace of mind. She was afraid to be vulnerable or show any weakness. She was afraid to ask for help, and she was afraid to say, "No."

As Carol's story illustrates, there can be such a thing as being too nice to people, especially if it comes at the cost of your own needs and well-being. It's not that kindness or niceness is bad, but the motives behind it can be and they can keep you stuck.

Think About It: Do you give because you are trying to gain a friend or because you genuinely want to share? If the latter, then giving should feel good and not interfere with what you need to do to be healthy and happy. If the former, you will probably find that you are filled with apprehension, anxiety and eventually resentment when you give.

Think about how you could achieve the same outcome without giving too much. Think about a person you respect, someone who seems to take care of him or herself. How does he or she do it?

  • Don't focus on what you think you "should" do. Instead focus on what you want to do.
  • Be willing to do what's best for you, even if that means others around you don't fully approve. Your happiness matters just as much as the happiness of others matters.
  • Keep a tally of two things: your needs and how you spend your time. Are you spending any time on your own needs? If not, reallocate your time resources so that you are.
  • Continually ask yourself: "If I say no, then what?" What will happen if you turn down requests for your help? What will happen if you take time for yourself? What will happen if you ask someone to help you so you can take time for yourself?

For more advice on how to be fearless and happy check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

For more by Jonathan Alpert, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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