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Stop People-Pleasing and Trust Yourself: A Guide for Social Wellness

What's your goal in relationships? This is Part 5 of our 10-part series on how you can break through barriers blocking you from a life well-lived using the benefits of wellness practice. The series will follow foundational concepts related to wellness and the 9 Dimensions of Wellness.

Image by TréVoy Kelly from Pixabay


Loneliness is real. We as humans need social interaction to know ourselves and make meaning out of life. Our social bonds influence, in part, our traditions, expectations, and beliefs. Our ways of being are compound effects of these influences, due largely in part to the teachings from our first family. This is the family who raised us and taught us about the world and what to expect of ourselves and others whether blood-related or not. 


Another major influence in our ways of being is what we determine matters to us based on the groups we hold membership to. Coexisting with family, friends, romantic, or other cultural groups, navigating social expectations, finding community, and any other values we hold can support and or harm us. 


Impact of Social Wellness and Social Illness

Feeling emotionally and physically safe and protected can instill a sense of trust within ourselves and to expect good from others. Naturally, then, we can deduce that feeling emotionally and physically unsafe and unprotected can instill a sense of distrust within ourselves and to expect bad from others. 


What is your goal in relationships? Is it to avoid loneliness or abandonment at all costs? Is it to “go with the flow”, hoping that things will work out in your relationships? Don’t get me wrong - there’s nothing wrong with wanting others to be happy. The challenge is harmonizing priorities. 


Social wellness is having a group of people in your social circle who accept and give respect and trust for your well-being. Social illness involves a lack of reciprocal respect and trust. 


A family practicing social wellness, in an individualistic culture like America, for example, could look like respect for various needs, wants, and expectations (e.g., emotional, material, physical, etc.) or trust that correcting inaccurate assumptions won’t lead to aggressive or passive-aggressive rejection (e.g., yelling, criticizing, ghosting, etc.). 


Trauma and People-Pleasing

Do you prioritize your needs, wants, and expectations concerning others? You’re not alone if you don’t. It can be encouraging and frustrating to realize that aiming to please others at the expense of your well-being is a type of response to severe, or traumatic stress. In this sense, prioritizing others’ needs is a way to stay safe emotionally and or physically. Context is key when determining the difference.


Once physical safety and other basic needs for survival are established, with practice, and trial and error, you can heal from trauma experienced throughout your life. You can understand your unique needs, wants, and expectations with clarity and commitment to their prioritization without guilt for choosing differently than how you were raised or taught in various relationships.    


3 Tips to Get Started to Stop Inappropriate People-Pleasing

  1. Pause and Notice. Pause and compassionately notice when you think or say things involving a “should, must, have to”. It can be helpful to ask yourself whether the expectation is a habit based on how you were raised or socialized, whether it’s due to unhealed traumatic stress, or clarifying if it’s out of a secure want or compulsive need.

  2. Acknowledge Your Emotions. For someone taught over and again that their needs don’t matter, this one can be challenging to accept as being an inherent given as a human being. It’s okay to take your time here. Start by identifying what emotions you experience in response to a situation. Practice saying to yourself in the mirror or simply aloud what’s going on with statements like “I feel _____.” or “I am _____.”. This can build awareness of when you may be people-pleasing, not to promote harmony from a place of control versus when you are people-pleasing to avoid being a “bother” to others. 

  3. Give Yourself the Kindness You Freely Give to Others. Validate why what you’re experiencing emotionally may make sense. It can be tempting to downplay your feelings as if you're being “too sensitive”, “frivolous”, or “overly dramatic”,  because “others have it worse” or any other reason that you’ve been taught to ignore yourself. Instead of this, speak to yourself as if you were speaking to a person or animal you care for. This means paying attention to the words and the tone in which you speak to yourself and the behaviors you enact when you feel despair and when you feel joy.


Closing Thoughts

Avoiding loneliness due to compulsive need or unhealed trauma in the form of people-pleasing can be both helpful and inappropriate for well-being. Context is key in determining which. Prioritizing others’ needs over your own can be meaningful and helpful or a burden and harmful to your well-being depending on the synthesis of expectations you agree or disagree with from family or other cultural groups that you belong to. When physically safe to do so, choosing to stop inappropriate people-pleasing is possible with compassionate reflection and practice. 


Call to Action

Looking for more? Subscribe to the Grace Counseling and Wellness, PLLC newsletter, Saving Grace for insights about prioritizing yourself, having better relationships with yourself and others, and dealing with life when responsibilities begin to feel overwhelming. We aim to empower you to make sense of your life so you can live with grace and wellness. 

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