That much-loved question, ‘So, what do you do?’ is supposed to be a request for information about our working life. But a few years ago I think an alternative and accurate response might have been something like:
“Ah, I’m so glad you asked, thank you. I say ‘yes’ even when I desperately want to say ‘no’ because I’m scared that if I say ‘no’ you might not like me anymore. And I really need you to like me because I don’t know how to like myself and I think maybe if enough people like me somehow that will help me like myself more, even though I’ve not had any proof of that so far.
Because I always say yes, I spend quite a lot of time doing things I don’t really enjoy or want to do and every time that happens I tell myself I’ll stop but then I never do because I’m too afraid. I think if I don’t keep doing more and more ‘good’ things, I won’t be a ‘good’ person. And I really need ways of feeling like a decent, good human being because deep inside, I don’t believe that I am.
Because I spend lots of time doing things I don’t really enjoy or want to do, I don’t feel very alive. I do sense that life isn’t supposed to be like this but I think I’ve lost sight completely of how it could feel. I’m not living my life. I spend my time living up to other people’s expectations and ideas of what my life should look like. I’m so tired of that.
If someone does something that hurts or upsets me, I never express myself because I don’t think my own feelings are as valuable or important as anyone else’s. So mostly I just keep everything inside where it festers like a mouldy tomato in the fridge until one day it all gets too much and I explode. Then I feel really guilty and hate myself for being a mean person and I try to compensate for my outburst by being extra nice, which also makes me feel rubbish because it feels so fake.
I spend a lot of time getting annoyed watching other people do things I know I could also do. But I never do them and never put myself forward because even though in my head I understand I have as much to offer as those other people, something inside still feels inadequate and not good enough. I’m afraid that if I actually put myself forward, everyone would realise just how much of a fraud I am.
I put everyone else’s needs before my own because I don’t think I’m worth taking care of and then I end up feeling resentful and angry that people ask so much of me when really I know it’s because I keep giving everything of myself and then some. That would be ok if it came from the right place, but it always comes from a sense that I’m not enough. No matter how much I do I can never fill that hole.”
Do you relate to any of this?
I have spent so much of my life trying to make everyone like me. Doing everything for everyone and taking on more than I wanted to or things I had no interest in doing. All of it was about trying to be ‘good’ because somewhere inside, I didn’t think I was.
In fact, the problem I came up against over and over again was that deep in my core I felt that who I was as a human being was wrong. From that core belief I was destined to seek validation in the approval of others and the outside world. The problem is, no matter how much validation you get, it’s never enough. The hole still needs filling and trying to fill it is an endless and exhausting task.
Ending a lifetime of people pleasing is about ending a lifetime of thinking who you are isn’t enough and to do that I think we have to come to know who we really are. I had a partner who told me he used to look in the mirror every morning and tell himself he was awesome. That stuff never worked for me. It felt like putting a sticking plaster over a punctured artery and expecting it to stop bleeding.
The thing that finally flipped the switch was realising that I’m not who I always thought I was. It was in realising that all the thoughts that I’d had about who I was - ie. someone with a lot of self-doubt, someone who wasn’t good enough, someone who was bad and wrong - were just that, thoughts. It was in the seeing that my essence was pure Love. It seems so simple and obvious now and how could everyone not realise this, but if I spent thirty three years lost in an illusion, clearly it’s not that obvious.
People-pleasing will keep you from living your life. It will keep you from reaching your potential and allowing your creative gifts to find their full expression through you. It will keep you from joy and the sense of aliveness you crave.
What we each need to know is that we are all born of the same stuff and that we all came from the same place. Imagine that the whole universe is made of Love and the only way that Love could experience itself was to come into physical form as you and all the other billions of people on the planet. You are one part of that Love expressed in a very unique and beautiful way.
Coming from the same one source, we cannot some of us be worthy and others not. We are all worthy or none of us are. We are all innocent, or none of us are. We are all wanted and needed here, or none of us are.
The more you can see and feel that your true nature is inherently worthy and whole, the more you will treat yourself with love and the more easily you will turn away from people-pleasing habits.
When a situation next presents itself when you can go to your default people-pleasing behaviour or choose differently, choose differently. Give yourself permission to experiment with taking the opposite course of action to your usual habits. Give yourself permission for it to feel uncomfortable and just be curious about what comes up. Be prepared for a feeling of guilt to arise if you say no where usually you’d say yes or if you cancel something because you know you need to take care of yourself vs. pushing through.
I love this quote from Adyashanti which a friend recently shared:
“The important thing is allowing the whole world to wake up. Part of allowing the whole world to wake up is recognising that the whole world is free—everybody is free to be as they are. Until the whole world is free to agree with you or disagree with you, until you have given the freedom to everyone to like you or not like you, to love you or hate you, to see things as you see them or to see things differently—until you have given the whole world its freedom—you’ll never have your freedom.”
I wonder, what would it be like to tell yourself today:
If you love me, that is ok. If you hate me, that is also ok. Freedom is the path I choose.
Love and courage,