In my last blog we looked at practical ways to break the cycle of guilt so that it doesn’t take over our lives. The more I think about this though, the more I’m troubled by a pattern I see. Why is it that women are more prone to feel unwarranted guilt than men?
I’ve been thinking about this tendency and then I found this gem of wisdom that I believe gets to the core of the issue “The answer probably lies in socialization. Women and girls have been socialized for thousands of years to get along with others, not hurt anybody’s feelings, and take care of loved ones”. This is Melanie Greenburg, PhD take on this tendency and I think she is spot on. We feel guilty when we perceive we are falling short. It’s impossible to please everyone, but oh how that early childhood belief system, haunts us well into adulthood.
For decades, guilt was the driving force behind all my over-extending, over-offering, over-doing…which led to being over-busy, over-whelmed and yes, being driven to over-pleasing at the expense of my own health and peace of mind.
When I think back on this, I can see that my need to please began in childhood. I learned early on that pleasing my parents resulted in compliments and positive reinforcement and that made me feel darn proud and loved.
So, if the reason for guilt lies in socializing then Elizabeth Svoboda’s, take on this in Psychology Today is correct. She says, for children, “The only way to feel valuable is to comply with others’ demands, give others what they need, and “go with the flow.” The pattern only solidifies as children grow up, fearing that if they do not strive to please, people will not love them. They respond to this perceived threat by becoming obsessed with meeting others’ needs. Because girls are typically trained from an early age to accommodate and defer to others, a disproportionate number of people-pleasers are women”.
Ah ha! Oh my gosh ladies – this makes me simultaneously angry and sad. Look how society has unwittingly shaped us to feel guilty and to strive to please everyone.
We expend so much energy, meeting other people’s needs, that we lose sight of our own. Our pleasing leads to feeling deprived; feeling tired, feeling overwhelmed and oddly enough, not feeling appreciated – except for perhaps in that tiny moment when someone says “wow, great job – you are so helpful”. In that moment we have received our fix, but when we come down from the ‘high’ of positive reinforcement, what is left is ‘you’. Tired, depleted and little, to no time to please yourself.
But what if you could fill yourself up? What if you changed your inner dialogue to one of self- appreciation, self-love, self-respect and acknowledge yourself for a job well done? What if you didn’t need to please others to feel good about yourself? And what if you could release the ‘guilt’ that is driving over-pleasing.
Take a moment and image what this would feel like. I imagine it’s like a warm breeze blowing on a sunny day. Calm washes over you, anxiety dissipates, you feel care-free and comfortable in your own skin
Here are 5 steps I used to shift myself out of over-pleasing mode and back into ‘me’ mode.
#1: Awareness of what is not working.
Change always begins with awareness and you can begin to cultivate that awareness by tuning in to your ‘shoulds’. When you catch yourself saying “I should” that is the moment to stop and look at where that feeling comes from. When I first started doing this, it was quite an eye opener. I quickly realized how often my actions were driven by that feeling of “I should, I need to, I have to”. It was rare that I made a decision based on “I want to”.
#2: Be ever-so-mindful of your thoughts.
Try to pay attention to every self-depreciating thought you have. Just be aware of the thought, and be gentle with yourself. Don’t judge yourself or feel bad for thinking that thought, just acknowledge it. Then, take the thought and reframe it. What would you say to a friend, who was putting themselves down? Say that to yourself.
#3: Know why you are saying ‘yes’.
This is a process of discovery. What feeling does ‘pleasing’ give you? What are you getting out of it? In the beginning, you probably did receive a ‘feel good’, but as time goes on, pleasing becomes a habit driven by guilt, that leaves you tired and depleted.
#4: Be willing to be a bit uncomfortable.
Making yourself a priority (aka, pleasing yourself) is going to feel different. You may even feel agitated. Somewhere in your psyche there is a belief scurrying about that you’re going to get in trouble for being ‘selfish’ and that your parents are going to appear and scold you. This habit of pleasing has also become a way to feel secure. You are re-wiring your brain – it takes time.
#5: Hit your pause button.
I wrote about this in my “Just Say No” blog series, and it’s worth mentioning again.
When someone asks you to do something, no matter how small – say this:
“Thank you so much for asking, but I need to check my schedule (or talk this over with my partner) and I’ll get back to you tomorrow”.
This question, allows you time to pause and time to answer these questions:
If I say yes, will this feed my soul or zap my energy?
How will this enhance my life?
Is saying yes fulfilling an unmet need?
If I say yes, will I still have time to make myself a priority?
And finally, there is pleasing that comes from saying ‘yes’ to others who have made a request of you. And there is pleasing that comes from ‘doing’ for others without being asked – ‘pleasing’ to keep others happy (habit). My pleasing was both!
When you say ‘no’ to the countless requests that drain your energy and take that time to do the things that fill you up, then saying yes and giving to the people you love and care about becomes a rich and rewarding part of your life. Doing things for people because you want to and because you enjoy seeing them light up, that is rewarding. I know that I feel happiest when those close to me are happy too. Doing things for others isn’t the issue, it’s doing things for others at the expense of ourselves that is.
Be gentle with yourself, change takes time. As with children, first we crawl, then we toddle, and then we walk. It’s a process.
Can you see areas in your life, where not expending so much energy pleasing others, would give you more time for yourself? Please comment below.
Next up: Part 3: What anxiety & a witch’s cauldron have in common.