Something many of us find baffling is painful, sucky, one-sided relationships that, despite resenting our mistreatment by the other party, we find it challenging to create healthier boundaries and distance and/or cut ties. It’s all too easy to judge ourselves for still being there. We might decide that we’re a “doormat”, “lacking courage”, or just a “glutton for punishment”. To be clear, it’s none of these things. The answer to why we’re still there lies in recognising our style of people pleasing.

In my book, The Joy of Saying No (out Jan 2023 HarperCollins/Harper Horizon), I break down the five styles of people pleasing–gooding, efforting, avoiding, saving, and suffering. 

If you’re struggling to create healthier boundaries or distance or step away….

  • It might be important for you to look a certain way to people, and the idea of not being liked doesn’t sit well with you. Instead, you focus on conveying an image and getting the other person to accept and validate it with changed behaviour. This mentality is a sign of the gooding style of people pleasing. 
  • You might be someone whose solution to pretty much any problem is to “try harder”. Or you might find it tricky to step away when you believe you’ve made a lot of effort. You want return on investment. Your people-pleasing style is likely efforting
  • Part of why you might be at this juncture in the relationship is that you’ve avoided confronting something or expressing who you are. If you’re someone who uses going out of their way to avoid conflict, criticism and disappointment to try to “please” others or you fear being or doing anything that makes others even slightly uncomfortable, your pleaser style is avoiding.
  • You might think that how you help, support and give are signs of being a Good Person and that drawing your line is the antithesis of that. You don’t want to be someone who “abandons” people in their time of need (even if the “need” is inappropriate or exploitative). This is a sign of the saving style of people pleasing. 
  • It could be that you’ve internalised the idea that suffering is a sign of goodness. In reality, it’s a style of people pleasing. There may be a part of you that thinks that whatever you’ve endured will create a tipping point where the other party finally decides to come good and reward your suffering.

Are you about how things look and being liked; effort, being the Best, and giving it your “all”; avoiding confrontation and discomfort; helping, supporting and giving because you need to be needed, or falling on your sword with suffering to prove yourself and draw attention to needs?

While you might identify with more than one people-pleasing style, one will dominate when you acknowledge what drives you, including your primary concerns and motivations.

When we people-please, we’re stuck in false identities, including playing roles.

As a result, we find it difficult, when unaware of our people pleasing and how to cut back, to be or do anything that contradicts our identity. So, for instance, we’re afraid to be a Bad Person or Someone Who Gives Up or Doesn’t Make an Effort. 

As a result, we may well be sick to the back teeth of a situation but feel like we’re being “bad”, “selfish”, “difficult”, “disloyal”, and the like by saying no, creating limits, and being and taking care of ourselves. 

Recognising people pleasing in our relationships and the mentality that blocks us from acting from a place of self-care allows us to acknowledge what’s really going on. When we recognise the roles we play and the driver behind our people pleasing, we can begin liberating ourselves from relationships, situations and dynamics that harm instead of love us. We can recognise the conditioning of the past and choose healthier boundaries of love, care, trust, and respect. 

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.

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Baggage Reclaim with Natalie Lue

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