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4 Vital Steps in Overcoming People-Pleasing


Hello, my name is Sonia Dube and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

Ouch. That really stings for me to admit but the truth is the truth. For most of my life I have struggled with this innate desire to make others around me happy at the cost of my own joy or comfort. It started from a young age. I remember being a young girl and doing things that I knew would get me compliments from my parents (I didn’t even care about getting things from them, just the nice words). I would beam from ear to ear when I’d hear my Mum relate a story to visiting guests about something great I’d done or a great quality I possessed. But, should someone say something not-so-great about me, my whole world would come crashing down! I would be sad for days trying to wrack my brain about where I went wrong and how terribly this person must view me now.

People-pleasing is a prison. Whether it’s trying to gain the approval of others or trying to figure out what others think of you because of the “wrong” you’ve done. You’re never truly free. It is one of the most exhausting habits to possess. I came to realize that this was a problem about 5 years ago and I’ve been in recovery since then. As with any other addict (because I strongly believe that any bad habit is an addiction too – thanks Aunt Gail for the lessons on this!), I relapse every now and then but the joy is that it’s becoming less frequent.

There is a powerful young lady that I’ve recently come across with whom I resonate so deeply. Her name is Terri Lomax and she too has struggled with people-pleasing (Dear Mama: Standing Up to My Mom for the First Time). Do take a moment to click on the link and read her powerful story. I grew up in a tightly controlled home and was surrounded by abuse. I was told what to do and did not develop an independent way of thinking until much later on, in my adulthood. I think this was exacerbated more by growing up in a black African context. As a girl child in my culture, you give way to the elders, the men, the boys and the older women around you. You often do as you’re told despite your thoughts around that particular issue. And so, I did not believe that I had my own thoughts or that I was truly of any value and I walked around in the shadow of everyone else trying not to make waves or get into trouble.

I’m so grateful though that I met Jesus and He has been helping me to overcome this struggle one day at a time. As I said, I’m not yet fully over my people-pleasing and I have to monitor myself, but I’m all the more better today. Here are a few things that I’ve learnt and adopted to help me get past my bad habit:

  1. Acknowledging that I am by nature a people-pleaser. I remember attending the Life in Recovery class at my church run by my Mother-friend Aunt Gail Masondo which focused on admitting our bad habits/addictions. One of the first steps to recovery is admitting that you are powerless. Admitting that I have this problem has allowed me to recognize when I’m falling back into it which allows me to more quickly bounce back.
  1. Prayer and meditation. I have found that nothing can change you more than prayer. When you pray, you become honest with yourself and this allows you to take the necessary steps to recovery. You cannot know what you need to do to recover if you have not acknowledged what is wrong. Prayer and meditation on encouraging Bible verses also allows God to reveal personal steps to recovery for you.
  1. Taking the time to acknowledge and validate my feelings. As a people-pleaser, one of the main issues is that you don’t believe that your feelings/thoughts/opinions are as valid as those of others. In my case, I didn’t believe I had any valid thoughts or feelings because they were essentially dictated to me. But I’ve had to slow down and acknowledge how I feel when I go through something. If someone does something that makes me upset or uncomfortable, I no longer just sail past it, but I pause to recognize how it has left me feeling. Whether or not my feelings/thoughts are correct is not the point, it’s the fact that I have them and that’s alright. This then makes it easier for me to work out my response to people or situations.
  1. Learning to say no to others so that I can say yes to me. This has been the most difficult step to carry out but one of the most liberating. I used to find it impossible to refuse others around me because it felt like I was being unreasonable or that I had no right to refuse anyone almost anything. I also did not love myself enough to make healthy choices. But I had reached a point where I was so unhappy and it was nobody’s fault but mine. Everyone else was living life but me. So after reading books, articles and speaking to mentors, I decided I would say no to things I did not want to do. It was initially tough and sometimes I’d go back on my refusal. It was hard not only on me but on those who were used to me always saying yes. But over time, and with practice (yes even in front of a mirror), I became more comfortable with saying no to others. It was not a dirty word afterall. And I gained more respect for myself and respect from others.

These are just a few of the steps I have adopted on my journey to recovery and they have made an amazing difference in this area of my life. I know that I’m not alone in this struggle and I’d love to hear from anyone who is currently trying to overcome people-pleasing or who has already done so.

Remember, I’m still praying for you!

With love,

Sonia Dee

What has been your journey with people-pleasing? What steps have you learnt/adopted to overcome this habit?