I always feel like I walk a thin line between being “nice” and being truly kind. Old me is a burnt-out people pleaser. To be authentic in relationships with people that used to know me before I started this journey is an ongoing lesson! See, with new acquaintances, it’s easier: they have no expectations of what I will be like or how I will express myself. But in older relationships, I still have to catch myself.
Stop acting and pretending, stop fawning and being “nice and polite” in socially acceptable ways. Instead, remember to show up as the kinder version of you.
The real version of me is much more self-aware. I have a clear understanding of what it means to live aligned with what’s important to me and who I truly am.
That doesn’t mean being rude, obnoxious or unkind, but I’m now willing to state my opinions and turn down requests to be a stagehand on someone else’s stage when I have other plans and priorities. You’re much more likely to find me now on my own stage or an intentional participant on someone else’s stage where I feel reciprocity.
But why contrast being authentically you and people-pleasing?
Rejection scares the best of us. If you could work out what everyone wants, and do that – they would love you… right? But then, while you’re busy taking care of everyone else’s wants and desires, who do you become? A shadow of yourself.
In the short term, people-pleasing helps win approval and acceptance. But the price you pay is not worth it. You lose yourself.
When you authentically care for someone else’s well-being, their state of mind and emotional state is not a reflection of your worth. On the other hand, people-pleasing has you feeling guilt, fear and anguish when they disapprove of you, expressing displeasure or disappointment. You begin to avoid conflict and confrontation “at all costs”. You stop having crucial and difficult conversations that build better, deeper relationships.
The effects of people-pleasing:
Over time, a people-pleaser will lose touch with their inner voice and knowing. They only feel important and valued with other people’s feedback.
Unfortunately, while at another person’s beck and call, you feel resentment, bitterness and frustration, because they don’t reciprocate. While you might do anything to make them happy, they aren’t taking responsibility for making you happy.
Being at another person’s service constantly makes you feel exhausted if you don’t make time for self-care. It’s impossible to please everyone and exhausting to try. You might feel burdened by the weight of all the commitments you’ve agreed to because you didn’t feel that you could turn anyone down without disappointing them. But you don’t have the time or energy to fulfil all those promises and commitments.
This might look like
- Saying “yes” to going to a party you didn’t want to go to;
- You laugh at jokes that you didn’t find funny, just to fit in;
- Perhaps you feign interest in something that bores you to tears; and
- You don’t have an opinion wholly your own.
You feel disengaged, unfulfilled and unhappy.
While a people-pleaser might always comply, never complaining or disagreeing, it’s easy to feel that a small part of you dies each time you say “yes” when you wanted to say “no”. You become like a chameleon, always changing to please those you are with as you try to blend in and be accepted. Unfortunately, this very nature is often responsible for creating depression.
On the one hand, your schedule and calendar are always full of activities that others have invited you to do. But at the same time, there’s a feeling deep within you that you don’t have the social and emotional support you need. There’s little reciprocity in all of these relationships and commitments: you take care of others, but who is taking care of you?
Take this moment… yes, just now, and ask yourself, “How am I feeling?”. What thoughts are passing through your mind as you read this? What would it mean to you to live an authentic life of serving others from a place of compassion instead of need?
Authentic at heart:
What motivates your connection & relationships with others?
If you are desperate for validation and acceptance, you aren’t acting from love and compassion. Your needs guide your actions: a strong desire for approval. While you may be busy taking care of others, look carefully at what drives this.
This is reflected in many ways:
- you take the blame for other people’s actions or feelings when they are beyond your control;
- you don’t speak up if your feelings get hurt or if you feel frustrated, disappointed or let down;
- others regularly take advantage of you, possibly without even noticing it.
Others rely on you to always say yes to their requests, knowing you can always be pressured into accepting. Perhaps you learned that the only way to get love and acceptance was to exist for others as a child or adolescent. But this is not compassion: this is hunger, need and compulsion.
Living in alignment with values: whose values matter?
Do you feel like you’ve lost touch with your own goals, values and priorities? Perhaps you go with the crowd (family, friends or at work), even when it goes against something you hold important within. It might be something as mundane as staying out late when you really intended to have an early night so you could go for an early morning walk or hike to enjoy the sunrise. But you compromise what is important to you and capitulate.
People-pleasing is caving into social pressures and rules against your personal principles. It’s conforming to opinions and expectations and holding in your resentment or pain. As I mentioned, it might be small things:
- eating when you’re not hungry or more than you wanted;
- having another drink after you already said no;
- going out when you really wanted to stay in (or staying in when you really wanted to go out);
- not eating when you are hungry; or
- doing or not doing exercise when you had other plans.
The worst example of this that I can think of was conducted at Yale University by Stanley Milgram (The Milgram Shock Experiment), where participants inflicted pain on other participants “following orders”. Only a few of the participants honoured their personal values and refused.
Whose values and goals get prioritised in your life? Does this feel authentic?
Whose feelings and emotions matter?
When you want others to like, love and accept you, you might be tempted to take responsibility for how others feel. But could you be honest with yourself: how much control do you have over their happiness? Can you really make them happy?
Do you feel uncomfortable when someone gets angry at you? Or gets angry with a situation or another person?
Consider the times others have used shame and false guilt to manipulate you into doing what they want. It’s unrealistic to imagine that you have control over another person’s emotions. How are you taking responsibility for how they feel?
Allow yourself this moment to consider your self-worth if you are constantly telling yourself that your feelings and emotions don’t matter. This isn’t about self-esteem and things you are good at. It’s not talents or abilities. I am asking you to acknowledge that your feelings are valid: whatever they might be.
Feelings don’t always “make sense”. Do they need to? You are worthy of love and respect – your feelings and emotions are valid, irrespective of whether someone else feels differently. These are authentic emotions – they are what they are without being bottled up or swallowed down.
Can you see yourself, just for a moment, feeling good about yourself without validation or acceptance from others?
Getting in your head:
Ego says your self-worth depends on how others see you.
Ego can be so judgemental! And when it comes to people-pleasing, it’s going to add in their opinions for good measure. Not only will it point out your flaws, but it’s going to define your self-worth based on what other people think of you. Or, more specifically: what it thinks others think of you. Now, you depend entirely on external approval and your “ratings” so that ego can decide whether you’re good enough.
We all know our ego loves to be validated, praised and approved of. A people-pleasing ego is constantly weighing up the reward of what you say/do on the attachment to responses and approval of others. Ego makes it it’s business what others think of you. Hardly authentic.
As if ego wasn’t already harsh enough constantly judging you on “how do I look?”., now it asks, “Will others like me if I do this?”.
And so, it will sacrifice your authenticity on the altar of buying approval in self-sacrifice or material wealth and “generosity”.
The altar of “should”: living up to other people’s expectations
Unfortunately, you will sabotage your own goals and dreams to do what others want. Rather than train for that half marathon that’s on your bucket list, you find yourself making plans to spend a day at the spa with the friend.
It’s not that you don’t have good intentions for your own dreams. But consider how many promises to yourself you have broken because you have yet to learn to say “no”.
How realistic and fulfilling are all these “shoulds”? Which promises to yourself do you keep shelving to keep promises to others instead, because, well, “you should”?
Take time over the next week to notice how transactional your promises and involvement with others has become. Do you justify doing something for others when it’s actually a selfish desire to obtain approval for yourself?
Whose desires and dreams are reflected in your plans and goals?
When you look at your schedule for this week or month: notice what made it into the schedule.
Whose “stage” are you performing on? Are you constantly the stagehand on someone else’s stage, working towards their goals and dreams? Or are you performing on a stage that someone else set up and is directing for you to be on, with no say in what the result will be?
Regardless of whether you are on someone else’s stage or whether someone set up a stage for you and told you, “this is where you will perform”, – how does this serve your own hopes, dreams and desires? Sometimes, it feels like you chase a moving target because the multiple people calling the shots are never fully satisfied.
When people expect from you, they are not looking at the reality of “you. They haven’t deeply delved into your hopes and dreams, but rather are looking at their hopes and dreams “for you”. It’s not that they don’t care – but you are left feeling that you got left out.
It’s only a gut feeling: what is authentic?
When your safety, security and self-preservation depend on others
Your gut tells you when your boundaries have been crossed. Unfortunately, if you are a people-pleaser, you might stop listening to that gutsy “no” that others might not like. For safety and acceptance into the “tribe”, you might choose approval over personal boundaries. So, you don’t turn down requests, instead choosing to keep the peace.
Unfortunately, those who fail to put their own mask on first are bound to find themselves running out of oxygen and energy.
We treat people how to treat us based on the behaviour we tolerate and accept from them. But how much are you willing to put up with for acceptance?
Personally, I have to be especially aware of my reaction to anger – I fear it, and so avoid it. This means I please and fawn, rather than holding my personal boundaries and risking anger—anything to avoid conflict or confrontation. Now, with awareness, I work through those fears, but I still have an inner conflict between my gut and what I tell myself will happen if I displease someone.
That hollow feeling in your gut: losing your authentic core identity
If you consider that professional you, the family you and the person you are with friends – which one is the authentic you? Are you constantly changing hats or putting on an act to live up to their expectations of who you will be?
Some people in your life might call you out for being fake – like a punch in the gut, it hits you “Who is the authentic me?”.
That frustration that you feel in the gut is the inner turmoil of the gap between who you really, deeply and truly are and going through the motions of being who others expect you to be for them.
This will never allow you to shine brightly – unless it is where, when and how they want you to shine. Perhaps you feel you dim your talents and abilities, performing less than your best, conscious not to outshine or outperform that person whose approval you seek.
Deep in your gut, you know: this isn’t who I am.
How do you move forward into becoming authentic?
Until you connect with your authentic self, you will struggle with motivation and follow-through. Your motivation will be driven by a hunger for approval rather than by personal purpose or desire.
When you are driven to please others, you are like the ship without a rudder – tossed about, dragged along by the current of their hopes and dreams. Fighting that current can be overwhelming. You live for survival rather than motivated by purpose.
What would happen if you were happy and comfortable with fulfilment of your own? Rather than living from a space of chronic lack, emptiness and constantly seeking approval, could you move into the great unknown of living your own life? What happens if you turn towards your talents and abilities and explore with curiosity putting your passions and purpose to the test?
When you finally decide to change “the rules of engagement”, – there will be pushback in any relationship. Someone will complain. Another will get angry and aggressive. Still, others will accuse you of being selfish.
Could you approach these interactions with kindness and compassion – for yourself and those people in your life that find themselves affected by the change?
An authentic person bases their relationships on compassion, not expectations.
It’s not that you suddenly stop caring for and serving others. What has to change is the motivation behind your service and caring. When sharing and service are motivated by healthy self-regard, you will find genuine happiness and joy in helping others.
When you love yourself and others fully, you have the choice about what behaviour, words and actions are acceptable to you. How would you like to demonstrate kindness? In what ways would you like to receive kindness?
Suddenly, possibilities open up for showing kindness because you mean it, rather than going through the motions of socially acceptable behaviour.
What would a compassionate and kind “no” look and feel like in your relationships?
- What do you fear when you say “no”?
- Where are these fears rooted? In the present moment? Or in a memory?
- How could you kindly sit with your fear until it dissipates? Could you show yourself this kindness?
- Does “yes” or “no” empower you or the other person?
Take time to notice in which relationships “no” feels more difficult. What conversations are needed in your life to make more space for “no” so that you can say “yes” to a more authentic you?
Demonstrate real authenticity as your choices align with your values:
It all starts with
Know Thyself. (Socrates)
Start with getting to know your personal values: what is truly important to you? Values allow you to identify your personal priorities. It’s easier to say “yes” or “no” when you have a ruler or guide against which to measure.
- Does this align with what I value?
- How does it fit with my personal priorities?
The power of acknowledging your emotions and feelings
Emotions and feelings aren’t meant to be a response to someone else’s behaviour. Someone can’t “make you” feel sad. Yes, you might feel sad. But start to look within: what is the sadness truly about? Perhaps, it’s the sadness of realizing that you had an image of them that is untrue: your perception of them or the relationship you have with them has just been shifted.
It’s easy to live in your head, analysing constantly:
- What do they think of me?
- How do they feel?
- What do I notice in their reactions?
But how about taking a moment to notice how you feel in your body? Where do you sense feelings of fear, sadness or joy? Does anxiety live in the same place as excitement or anticipation?
Consider a happy moment in your life: notice how the sensations change and move in your body. What does it feel like?
Then play with love and connection: where do you experience connection with yourself? How about connecting with others? Does it feel the same when you are connected to yourself as a connection to others?
Self-awareness allows you to begin to experience authenticity – these are my feelings, emotions and responses.
As you expand on this, you will begin to notice your emotional responses to others.
“Becoming me”: how do you perceive & make meaning of the world?
What would happen if you were to change your inner affirmation from “I am worthy of love if I…” to “I am worthy of love”. Notice the shift?
Perhaps you might be bold enough to change “I can’t” to “I don’t” or “I choose”. You could choose something if it were a priority for you… so rather than looking at life through the lens of “I can’t”, acknowledge the power of the choices you make.
Even the power, for me, of saying “I choose not to eat gluten” rather than “I can’t eat gluten” has reframed how I view Celiac Disease.
Creativity: authentic people plan their goals taking into account stakeholders, without people-pleasing
When you have clarity on your values, important relationships, and hopes and dreams, it’s easy to start using your energy and focus to plan and strategise your goals.
As you’re planning, consider others – not to please them, but because you care for them and the relationship. Because they are part of the purpose and importance of the goal. View the time you spend with them as an investment, not an expense. Notice what time and energy you have for your goals and dreams and the balance this brings with your relationships.
It’s all about sitting with what’s important to you: all that’s important, and then prioritising your schedule. Because you can say “no”, you have more time for “yes”.
Genuine authenticity – change how you think about yourself and others
I ask all my clients to adopt at least one practice that allow them time to notice their thoughts and thinking processes. This might be:
- mindfulness – watching their thoughts drift by “from a distance” without judgement
- going for a walk “just to think”
- colouring or neurographic art, where they can be alone with their thoughts; or perhaps
- gardening or time in nature.
Make time over the coming days and weeks to notice how you think about yourself, others and relationships. Notice what events or situations, or perhaps exchanges, you give importance and meaning to. Which ones do you easily overlook and ignore?
Authenticity allows you to question your perception: noticing the lens through which you have been looking at yourself versus the lens you might use to look at others.
When you change this lens to kindness and compassion: how does it impact your thinking¡?
Building courage to be authentic
As I have already mentioned, recognise that when you start to say “no” or ask for changes in the dynamics of a relationship, people have three ways in which they might respond:
- Accept it and continue to love and accept you;
- Treat you better, but continue to treat others with disdain; or
- Break off the relationship with you.
That is a reflection of their state of being. Not yours.
Find your authentic voice and speak your mind:
Over time, you might learn to stop mincing your word or shrinking yourself smaller. But start with smaller steps.
If you struggle to say no, learn to say, “I really love you, and I already have X in my schedule, so perhaps we could do something different”. This is not “but”, and it’s not “no”. Nonetheless, it allows you to offer alternatives that work with your priorities.
“Let me get back to you” is a great way to allow yourself to keep your promises to yourself and others. Rather than trying to please someone, at the moment, by saying yes and over-committing, give yourself the chance to check your commitments, priorities and goals. Do you really have time for this? Can you do it well?
In all of this, what does kindness, compassion and personal integrity call for? How does being authentic allow you greater space, energy and time to keep your word to yourself and others? As you practice keeping your word, you’ll notice your sense of self-worth grows.
This is true authenticity.
- Author your life: make choices for authentic relationships
- Hyper-independence makes you miserable: ask for better support
- Make life better: how to live abundantly and authentically
- Emotional intelligence: 9 ways to build your self-awareness
- Your authentic self: it takes courage to be vulnerable