Boundaries for People Pleasers

Do you often go with the flow, even when you would rather be doing something else, to “make” the rest of the group happy, but feel resentful after?  

Do you do anything possible to avoid emotional discord, disagreements, or uncomfortable situations?

Is it difficult for you to say no?

Are you indecisive?  Do you base your decisions on other people’s judgments?

Do you blame yourself for another person’s unhappiness, or take responsibility for another person’s emotional wellbeing? 

Do you often feel like you give and give without getting anything in return?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are probably a people pleaser.  Don’t worry. I’m a natural people pleaser too. The good news is, the first step to change is awareness.  Now that you are aware, you can work to change people pleasing habits. It was possible for me and it is totally possible for you to step into your power, be a kind person, and have boundaries that allow you to love without sacrificing yourself to the point of exhaustion and internal frustration. 

How do we become people pleasers?

Many of our behaviours are learned from the family systems of our childhood. Unhealthy family systems tend to be closed and rigid, featuring multiple unspoken rules about how family members should interact with each other and with the rest of the world. Some of these rules may be about hiding negative feelings, keeping problems within the family, and putting others’ feelings first. In families like this, it is often unacceptable to say “no” to someone, to openly disagree, or to make choices based on your needs rather than those of others. Much of the time, people pleasers start off their lives being parent pleasers—attempting to manipulate an emotionally unavailable parent into providing nurturance. For example, the daughter of a depressed mother may have to devote a significant amount of emotional energy to caring for her parent, rather than the parent being able to care for her. Through the act of being her mother’s caregiver, she receives attention and approval. Over time, however, the daughter finds that providing emotional care to her mother is not a relationship dynamic that allows the daughter’s own developmental needs to be met. Only by being a “good girl” and focusing her attention on her mother’s emotional needs can she receive approval from her mother.

In families like this, authentic emotions and behaviours are discouraged. Instead, the family focuses on looking normal and okay to outsiders. A child in this type of family is often told to “put a smile on your face” regardless of how the child is actually feeling. The message to children in these families is that they are valued for their ability to keep up appearances, rather than for their actual value as individuals with unique needs and desires. Living with an emotionally unavailable or narcissistic parent teaches a child that the only way to earn acceptance is through people pleasing behaviours. Thus, in adulthood, people pleasers tend to assume blame for any problem that occurs in order to maintain the love and approval of the other person.

How to Draw Boundaries

1.  Balance your solar plexus chakra. 

The solar plexus (manipura or 3rd chakra) is responsible for self worth, willpower, and vitality.  When balanced, the solar plexus allows you to move forward with your goals through action oriented steps, make decisions, and follow your intuition.  

3rd chakra imbalance may show up as the following: indecisiveness, low self esteem, fatigue/low energy, codependency, anxiety, depression, obsession with other people’s problems/path.  

To balance the solar plexus wear yellow/gold, eat yellow foods, and chant the mantra ram.  Visualize golden sunlight radiating out of your navel point in all directions. Close your eyes and envision yourself strong, standing in your power, standing up for yourself, and feeling energized.  Connect to that feeling. Practice yoga postures that strengthen your core. Allow other people to have their process and detach from the need to “fix” them or “make” them happy. (Each of us is responsible for our own happiness.)

2. Do you.

Another indication of a balanced solar plexus is a healthy sense of self.  A balanced solar plexus will help to connect to the energy needed to verbalize and/or make actionable boundaries. 

What are the things you like to do? 

What are the things you don’t like to do? 

What are your values?

What brings you joy?

When do you feel most alive? 

Once you get in touch with your identity and the things you like/dislike, you can better connect to decisions that are in line with this healthy sense of self.  If someone asks you to do something that is not in line with your values or desires, you can lovingly respond in a way that is. This helps dissolve self betrayal and foster self trust. 

3.  Embrace the power of “no.”  Aka, stop saying yes to shit you hate.

Does the following scenario sound familiar?  Your friend asks you to go to lunch with them, which you are happy to do.  After lunch you plan on going to a coffee shop and spending some time working alone.  But your friend says that they also want to come. You know your friend will be a distraction, but you say yes because you don’t want to upset her.  She joins you at the coffee shop, and talks your ear off. At the end of the day, you feel resentful, hurt, exhausted, and frustrated that you didn’t get your work done.  

Newsflash: this is the perfect opportunity to grow and to practice saying NO.  

By saying yes to something you don’t want to do, you betray yourself and compromise your integrity.  

NO might look like:

“I’d love to continue spending time with you, but I need to be alone and get some work done.”

“No, I’m not going to make it to the party.  How about we get together 1-on-1 next week?”

“I love you, but no.  I need to do what’s best for me.”

“I have some work to do now. I’ll see you later.” 

Often when people pleasers are learning to say no, they move from one extreme to the other, from quiet and passive, to loud and blunt.  If this happens, practice unconditional compassion for yourself and know that it is OK to make mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time.  In each moment in time we are all doing the best we can with what we know. 

4. Speak with love, but be clear and direct. 

As a people pleaser, you already have a huge heart and care for other people.  Combine the energy of your heart with your solar plexus energy and use that to respond and act in a way that is loving and strong.  Do not assume that other people know what you are thinking or feeling.  All of us are living with different perceptions of reality based on our past lives and our upbringing in this life. 

Think of the following: your friend tells you a joke they think is funny, but is actually hurtful to you.  You keep quiet, and don’t say anything. The next week they tell the same joke in front of a larger group of friends.  You are fuming, but don’t say anything. You friend will continue to tell the joke or act in a similar way unless you are clear, direct, and say something about it.  If your niece/nephew hits you, do you allow it, or do you let them know they are hurting you, and that it’s not ok?

Examples of boundaries:

“That joke hurt my feelings, and it would mean a lot to me if you didn’t tell it anymore.”

“I value myself and I’m not ok with you treating me this way.” 

“I want to be friends with you, but I won’t tolerate you bullying me.” 

“I like spending time with you, but I need time alone.  Please respect my wishes.” 

Clear boundaries let other people know how we want to be treated and what is/isn’t acceptable.  In the long run, your relationships will be more fulfilling because of the boundaries you have set.

Was this helpful for you?  Let me know in the comments below!  I’d love to hear from you.