Coach Kim: How to stop being a people-pleasing doormat

In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some ways to change your tendency to people please.

In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some ways to change your tendency to people please. (Shutterstock)



SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some ways to change your tendency to people please.

Many of us were taught as children things like "make others happy," "be nice," "be unselfish," and "sacrificing yourself for other people is righteous." We were taught to be afraid of what others think of us and to avoid conflict at all costs.

Were you accidentally or intentionally taught these things as a child?

See if any of the following sound like you:

  • You fear rejection and abandonment.
  • You fear conflict and arguments, as they make you feel unsafe.
  • You pretend you agree with others to avoid argument or debate.
  • You fear being seen as or actually being selfish.
  • You are overly easygoing and never opinionated because it feels safer.
  • You fear disappointment and having others think less of you.
  • You are a very compassionate person and a giver.
  • Your self-esteem is weak and you need validation from others to feel valued.
  • You experience stress, anxiety and a lack of willpower around others.

If you related to many of these, it would be safe to say you have people-pleasing tendencies that are probably creating a lack of authenticity in your life. You probably struggle to know who you are and find fulfillment in your relationships.

The following are suggestions for what you can do to start changing yourself to become more authentic and in control of your life.

Don't commit to anything on the spot

Make it your rule that you always say, "Can I check my calendar and get back to you?" Then step back and ask yourself, "Do I really want to do this, or am I saying 'yes' out of guilt, obligation or a fear of rejection or judgment?" If you can say "yes" because you truly want to do it, say "yes." If you are saying "yes" because of fear, you must say "no."

Practice saying 'no'

Look for every opportunity to get more comfortable with saying "no." You are not selfish or a bad person if you occasionally choose your own happiness and possibly disappoint others. Watch for opportunities to show kind assertiveness. Kindly say, "No, I don't want to do that right now. Thanks, though." Practice saying "no" with no explanation about why so the other person can't try to persuade you.

Try saying 'I don't' instead of 'I can't'

When some people hear the words "I can't," they become committed to changing your mind on that. They try to solve the problem for you so you can still do the thing they want you to do. But using the words "I don't" declares a firmer boundary.

Practice saying things like, "I don't have time for that," "I don't do those things," "I don't want to talk about that right now," or "That doesn't work for me." These phrases are more assertive and powerful, yet they can be said with a kind tone.

Learn how to be both strong and loving at the same time

Somewhere in childhood, many of us got the idea that you can either be strong (mean and selfish) or loving (weak and scared), but we can't be both. You will find your power and your courage when you realize you can do both at the same time. You can disagree, but do it with fearless, loving kindness.

I find the trick to finding this place lies in trusting there is nothing to fear. At the end of this interaction, you will still have the same value as every other person and your life will still be your perfect classroom. So, you are basically bulletproof. Focus on your loving kindness for the other person and respond with strength and love.

Learn the trick to strong boundaries

Everyone tells people pleasers to have strong boundaries, but how does one do that? I wrote a previous article on this topic you might want to read. I find the key to good boundaries is knowing what your priorities and values really are so you can say "no" to things that don't match up. If you haven't defined them, you don't know how to make good choices for yourself.

Define what your core priorities and values are

What is most important in your life? Sit down and make a list. You might value things like:

  • Learning and personal growth
  • Helping the members of your family grow and learn
  • Making sure you balance meeting your own needs with serving others
  • Taking care of yourself so others don't have to
  • Being responsible
  • Living with love and kindness toward others
  • Being true to yourself
  • Speaking your truth
  • Treating all people with respect

It is worth the time to identify what your core values are and then post them somewhere you will read them often. This will help you make choices that are consistent with your values. When something is said or asked of you that doesn't match those values, you can more easily say "no."

Give yourself permission to be you

It's OK to be different from others and have views they won't agree with. Have a unique style or way of being and do this from a place of trust that no judgment from others can change your value. Consciously choose to not worry about what others think of you. Their ideas have no power and don't mean or do anything.

Get more comfortable with conflict and anger

You may be so afraid of anger that you avoid conflict at all costs — and the costs can be high. To change this, you need a new official policy: "Conflict happens all the time, but it is nothing to fear."

Anger doesn't mean anything except that a human is having some emotions. Those emotions don't mean you aren't good enough or are unsafe. Anger is not something you need to fear.

You can get more comfortable with anger by slowly subjecting yourself to situations where people might get angry and practicing being OK and choosing to feel safe anyway. Do some things like sending back a meal that isn't cooked right, spending a long time at the ATM when people are waiting, saying "no" to someone, asking someone to stop doing something that is annoying you, or purposely not doing something you were asked to do.

Then you get to manage the ensuing conflict or anger with strength and love at the same time. Or instead of creating conflict, just watch out for natural opportunities to practice.

Practice putting your needs first

Putting your needs first may make you feel horribly selfish, but I promise you aren't. Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it's wise and healthy. You should have an equal balance between giving to others and taking care of yourself.

Understand that avoiding conflict doesn't promote growth

Most of the growth in relationships happens in times of conflict. Those are the moments when we are asked to become more aware of our behavior, our words or our thinking. We have to stretch and put ourselves in the other person's shoes.

When you avoid all conflict, you avoid the best learning opportunities you are going to get. Try to see each conflict experience as being in your life to serve your growth. Don't avoid it. Jump in and see what you and the other person can learn and how you can become better.

Stop saying 'sorry'

People pleasers apologize way too much. Sometimes they come across as feeling sorry they exist and that their breathing causes any inconvenience to others. You deserve to exist and sometimes cause inconvenience to others, as they will do the same to you.

Your relationships should have give and take, and sometimes you will be the taker. Consciously watch for the desire to say "I'm sorry" and instead say "thank you" for their patience or accommodating you this time.

When you do something that really injures someone, still don't say "sorry." Asking "Could you forgive me?" is much more powerful and means more.

Find activities that increase your courage and confidence

I find that doing adventurous things, challenging myself and accomplishing goals helps me become mentally strong. Even lifting weights and being physically being strong helps me to feel more emotionally strong — there is a correlation between the two types of strength. Become stronger all the time.

Change your belief about your value

People pleasing is a deeply ingrained tendency that comes from a fear of not being good enough. Because you don't see yourself as enough, you believe you need approval from others to give you value. The biggest thing you can do to change this behavior is to choose to see all humans — including yourself — with the same infinite, unchanging value as everyone else. The more you see your value as unchangeable the less validation you should need from others.

Changing this will take practice, effort and time. The first step is recognizing you need to work on this and committing to the work.

You can do this.

Coach Kim:


About the Author: Kim Giles

Coach Kim Giles is a master life coach and speaker who helps clients improve themselves and their relationships. She is the author of "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and has a free clarity assessment available on her website claritypointcoaching.com. To read more of her articles, visit Coach Kim's KSL.com author page.

Editor's Note: Anything in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, to (a) be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition; (b) create, and receipt of any information does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. You should NOT rely upon any legal information or opinions provided herein. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel; and (c) create any kind of investment advisor or financial advisor relationship. You should NOT rely upon the financial and investment information or opinions provided herein. Any opinions, statements, services, offers, or other information or content expressed or made available are those of the respective author(s) or distributor(s) and not of KSL. KSL does not endorse nor is it responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any opinion, information, or statement made in this article. KSL expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this article.

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