It’s so common that we came up with a name for it. People-pleasing. Being a people-pleaser. And it’s often said with pity, a sneer, or rolled eyes by someone who is describing someone else as such. Or it might be said with shame, embarrassment or guilt by someone who is self-describing as one — often when they want to know how to stop being one.
Since we were children, most of us learned that it could be advantageous to make others happy. Most children want the approval of their parents, teachers, and peers. We tend to carry that same tendency into adulthood. While it’s natural to seek the approval of others, sometimes it might not be for the best. Like when you go so far as to be able to wear the label of people-pleaser.
Being a strong and free person includes the ability to move freely through the world without excessive concern about the opinions of others. Think about the people you respect the most. Do they allow the opinions of others to dictate their decisions? Probably not. You can live the same way.
Live life on your own terms with these tips.
Learn to say what you think
If you’re concerned about the opinions of others, you’ve probably developed a habit of keeping your opinion to yourself. You might keep it to yourself entirely or you might just keep it to yourself until you know what others think. Either way, it’s unhealthy. Your opinions matter and you’re allowed to have them — even when they’re not the same as others.
Start giving your opinion on smaller issues. For example, if you’re asked what movie you’d like to see, give a specific answer — an honest answer. If invited to a restaurant you don’t like, say so and suggest one you do like.
As your comfort level improves, you can speak up about more important issues.
Take the time to appreciate yourself
When you rely too much on approval from others, you also begin to rely on that approval (or lack of) to tell you whether you have value and should feel confident or not. This is, of course, very unhealthy. But you can change this by appreciating yourself.
Take a few minutes each day to remind yourself of all the things you like about yourself. Think about all the good things you do each day. List your positive characteristics. Write these things down and come back and read them each day. Let them sink into your awareness.
If you can approve of yourself, you’ll be less likely to need approval from others.
Remind yourself that it’s impossible to make everyone happy
There are a wide variety of people in the world. So no matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn’t like you. It’s no joke, there will literally always be at least one person in the world who wouldn’t or doesn’t approve of you and what you do. So why keep trying to please everyone else?
Instead, make happy the one person you can: yourself. Make decisions and do things based on what you want, what you think, what you feel. If others disapprove, who cares?
Interestingly, those that try to please everyone tend to be less respected. Others admire confident people, and confident people march to their own drum.
There’s more gray area than you think
Many people that desperately seek the approval of others believe that perfection is the only thing that pleases others. You’re not going to be condemned (or considered a saint) for everyday words and actions.
Even the best people occasionally do or say things that most would consider to be negative. Most of us understand that no one is perfect all of the time.
Do you judge people harshly over minor issues? If you don’t, then you should realize that others don’t do the same to you — or shouldn’t. And if you do, then it might be worth considering that you do so because it somehow helps you get the approval you crave from others.
Avoid reacting to disapproval in a way that encourages the criticizer
Many people use disapproval as a way to control others. When you apologize unnecessarily or change your opinion in reaction to disapproval, you might be simply rewarding that other person. You’re telling them that their disapproval means something to you and thus, encouraging them to tell you the next time they disapprove.
If you feel that another person is being unreasonable, consider confronting them in a calm, reasonable manner. You’ll likely find that the criticizer’s tendency to disapprove will stop when it fails to affect your choices. When they see that you don’t care what they think, they’ll still disapprove — but they’ll do it silently, knowing it’s a waste of time, breath, and energy to tell you.
Worried that this means you’re now using disapproval to control others? Don’t be! The disapproval you’re showing is fair under the circumstance. For once, disapproval will work for you instead of against you!
Before taking an action, ask yourself if you’re primarily doing it to receive approval
What do you do that is solely about getting someone else’s approval? Did you choose your career based on Mom or Dad’s approval? Maybe you bought a house in a specific neighborhood to get the approval of a friend or client? Wear a certain brand of clothing or makeup or started doing a specific workout to impress others? Try to eliminate activities and choices from your life that are driven by the need to have others think highly of you.
Do a few things each week that you enjoy, even if they’re not going to impress anyone. It gets easier with time. If there are bigger things that you want to do, like changing careers or moving, to live the life you want to live instead of the one others approve of, start working on a plan to make those changes. Break them down into smaller steps that you can start taking toward that new life.
We all seek the approval of others from time to time. But allowing that need to control your thoughts and behavior makes life less enjoyable and more challenging. It also makes your life not your own.
The first step to changing approval-seeking thoughts and behavior is recognizing them as they occur. With a little work, you’ll find that the disapproval you’ve been avoiding has much less impact than you thought! It’s simply not a big deal. Free yourself from needing the approval of others. You’ll be glad you did!
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for her newsletter where she offers more insights, tips, tricks, advice, and information to help single moms find purpose, creativity, passion, and peace.
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