The words used to label those who have a habit of people-pleasing aren’t always very complimentary. Doormat. Pushover. Wishy-washy. Indecisive. Spineless. Brown-noser. Goody-goody. Teacher’s pet. Yes man. Weak.
A common idea about people-pleasing is that it means we’re weak. If only we were stronger, more decisive, or better we wouldn’t struggle with these ways of trying to earn approval.
At first glance it makes sense, doesn’t it? If we give in to what others want we must be weak and the solution must be to be stronger.
But there’s a problem with this answer.
Naming a need to be stronger as the solution to people-pleasing is really just another way of saying we’re not good enough as we are. It reinforces the belief that we need to become someone else, someone better, to be acceptable.
Telling ourselves we need to be stronger to stop people-pleasing further undermines our self-trust and self-trust is the very thing we need to shift our patterns of people-pleasing.
When we don’t trust ourselves, we start looking for reassurance that we’re ok. Our most familiar coping pattern when we’re feeling unsure of ourselves is people-pleasing and so the whole cycle begins again.
When we tell ourselves we just need to be stronger, we risk going to the opposite extreme. Instead of blurring our boundaries with others to give them what we think they want, we build walls to defend ourselves against other people’s opinions and expectations. This might feel stronger, but it’s really just another way of coping with our fear of not being enough. Not caring what anyone else thinks still doesn’t give us the deep connection we long for.
Self-trust is a kind of strength, but it doesn’t exchange pleasing everyone but ourselves for pleasing only ourselves. It doesn’t require us to hide any parts of ourselves or harden ourselves against others.
Rather, self-trust enables us to stay soft, vulnerable, and open. With self-trust we can risk letting others see us for who we are, knowing that their opinions don’t define us. When we trust ourselves, we can stand up for ourselves, knowing we will be ok even if someone disapproves of our choices.
Let’s pause here for a moment as you ask yourself two questions:
Is there anything you’re telling yourself about what you need to do or who you need to be to stop people-pleasing?
Consider your answer to the previous question. Is your approach to shifting out of people-pleasing helping you grow your trust in who you are or is it telling you that you need to become bigger and better than you are?
The answer to people-pleasing isn’t becoming better. You don’t need to trade people-pleasing for yet another way of striving to prove you’re good enough. Instead of trying to become someone you’re not, how can you practice being there with yourself right where you are?
People-pleasing behaviors undermine self-trust so it’s not surprising if your self-trust feels shaky. We can’t force trust and it’s not going to be very effective to claim to trust ourselves if we don’t believe it. We can, however, build trust.
There are so many insights and practices that can help us shift from people-pleasing to self-trust. First, let’s get a sense of where you are.
On a scale of one to ten, how much would you say you trust yourself?
In which areas are you most likely to let yourself down?
Self-trust isn’t about believing that you’re always right or that you have to be perfect. Trusting yourself doesn’t mean you’ll never make a mistake, feel uncertain, or change your mind. Self-trust doesn’t require you to distance yourself from other people or be defensive. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be uncomfortable.
As your self-trust grows, you’ll become more open to letting people honestly see you—knowing you will survive if some of them don’t like what they see. You will believe you can rise from disappointment and change course where necessary. You will gain clarity around your own needs, wants, opinions, and preferences and advocate for yourself with kindness.
We don’t demand trust, but rather choose to show ourselves over and over that we can be trusted.
- What’s one thing you need to start doing or stop doing in order to show yourself you can be trusted? Are you willing to commit to trying that this week?
Notice that the question asks you to choose one thing. Just one. And it’s more than ok to start with something very small. The idea is to practice showing up consistently for yourself—not to prove you can do all the things.
Remember to be gentle with yourself if you mess up. You are also building your trust that you will begin again.