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  • Pamela Carey

How to Stop People Pleasing and Set Boundaries

A golden retriever puppy carrying a rose

In this blog we are going to discuss 3 ideas to help with people pleasing. Let's just get right into it.

The first thought is a question I want you to pause and genuinely ask yourself:

Do you love yourself more than you care about what they think about you?

Notice, I did not say, do love yourself more than you love them. That's where people think, “I can't put myself first because that's selfish. I love others just as much or I want other people to be happy just as much.”

Often when we're people pleasing, we're afraid of putting ourselves above or in a place where we're better than other people or putting ourselves first.

No, usually we do the opposite, we put ourselves below or underneath others. When in reality we could all be equal.

An example in my own business is that I have not raised my rates in 15 months. I hate doing it. I get terrified to do it because I don't want people to think that I'm selfish and not want to work with me anymore. But in the last 15 months, there's been quite a bit of inflation. Despite it being the fair thing to do, it still did not feel right to me. I believe this is because when we people please we put our needs underneath those of others, devaluing ourselves.

So I was telling myself this mantra, that I posed as a question in the beginning: “I need to matter to myself more than their opinions matter to me.”

The crazy thing is too, is you can't read other people's minds, so you never even really know what's in their mind! Not only are you putting yourselves below other people's opinions, not even them, but their opinions. On top of that, you don't actually ever even know what those opinions actually are. We cannot read their minds – so these are imaginary thoughts. I've heard this before. I think a lot of people have talked about this idea and that last part is not my own idea.

Let’s recap before moving on to a story.

  • It's not even about saying you're above someone else. It is further down.

  • It is not about saying you all are equal in terms of what you deserve. Further down.

  • If is not about putting yourself below someone else. It is further down.

  • It is not about putting yourself below someone’s opinion of you. Still yet, further down.

  • It is about putting yourself below what you imagine they may be thinking of you. And that is what you are sacrificing, your love for yourself and your own life and your happiness for.

On one level, it really doesn't make sense that we do this. Though one could go into evolutionary reasons for this behavior or trauma. And of course, there's that. Yes, please get therapy, journal, meditate, and do all of that. But sometimes we also just need to call it out, see it black and white, plainly as it is. That's the point of this blog and accompanying video is to jar you out of that thinking.

Here is a brief story about a friend of mine to make this situation more applicable. I know someone who was working ridiculous hours because they did not know how to sign off on their computer at even 11 PM or set boundaries at the company they worked for. They really were not making much money and they would work all night sometimes because they just didn't know how to say, “I will get to this tomorrow” to someone. Other people at their work would sign off whenever they needed, but they would not. They would skip meals often and not do certain things to care for themselves when they needed to.

person working laptop, black and white photo

Because it was a global company, work really never stopped, it would come in at all hours. And because they lack boundaries in their own life, when it came to work, it was even worse due to the fact that it determines one’s livelihood. That can make things even more blurry. I know that some of you might be thinking, “Well, some workplaces really do treat people terribly.” Absolutely. They really do. And another rebuttal may be that some jobs are overnight jobs and require work all night on occasions or regularly. But this job was not an overnight job. And this person's job would have been completely fine if they just said, “I'm going to sign off at 9pm,” even something still really unreasonable for the salary that they were making. Everything would have been fine. It was their perception of that reality. Their perception of what other people would think.

Which, first, yeah, maybe people would get pissed off, but oh well, because the goal is for you to value yourself more than you value their opinions. Secondly, they might not have gotten pissed off because signing off at 9pm when you started at 7am when you're not making that much money and it doesn't justify it and it's not a job where actually people are really depending on you, and you would not get fired – yeah it's totally fine. Maybe those people would have realized that and respected it. So again, this is about the imaginary opinion of others.

To the second point, if you are someone very giving, very loving, very nurturing, which a lot of these people pleasing types sometimes are, ask yourself this: Would you let your dog, your cat, your grandmother, your sibling, your mother or father, your child, or your best friend, be treated this way? Or would you not let this happen to them?

To this person that I thought was in a pretty bad work situation, I said, “You would not let this happen to your pet. You would not let him go all day without eating. You would not let him go all night without sleeping.” Often, it's a lot easier to spot mistreatment, or to spot situations that need to change, or spot areas that we need to take up a bit more space, or ask for something, when we externalize that and say, “Oh, I really wouldn't let a loved one go through this.” Or “I wouldn't let my dog or cat be treated that way.”

While the two prior examples in my life and my friends had to do with work, that was a total coincidence. Probably one of the main reasons you clicked on this blog is because you have issues in your personal life with people pleasing. I think that the solutions, the questions, and the ideas posed in this piece apply to both work and personal life though. So, you can ask yourself both of those questions posed so far, for whatever situation you are struggling with boundaries or people pleasing:

  • Do you love yourself more than you care about what they think about you?

  • Would you let a loved one be treated this way?

The third point is that often there really is no threat. Not always, but sometimes it's something as silly as who's going to pick the restaurant. “Hmm…I don't know. It's fine. You guys choose.” It’s not wanting to say your thoughts on a certain musician, show, or idea, first until you know their opinion so you can mold to the situation, not rock the boat, or look weird. It's just not feeling safe being ourselves. Now this really, does pertain to trauma because if you were raised in an environment where you did not feel safe being yourself, then you wonder why you may always be some sort of watered down version of yourself around other people socially. That's not even really people pleasing in the sense of just going along with what everyone wants. It's also just not even expressing what you want in the first place. Or not being yourself in the first place. And that's a really uncomfortable place to be in.

But part of the reason why I am doing this article / video about stopping people pleasing, is that I think the world will be a so much more interesting place if we have more people being their true selves to the table, especially a lot of these very fearful people.

The first step is to experiment in places that are safe and comfortable for you. For a lot of people, that's just with those very few people that they do feel comfortable around. Those first safe relationships, if one has never had one before, can be so transformative. They literally are transformative. That is one approach to therapy, is the therapist being that first safe relationship. But that doesn't always have to be in therapy. It can also be a healing relationship found some other way.

It can be a form of discovery or even archaeological – what was there before? Who were you before you started changing to please other people?

You can find little ways to be more of yourself in all sorts of ways. I personally find creative expression a wonderfully safe space counterintuitively, I think some people find creativity scary, but as an actor, if you're a little crazy, who cares? You're, you're a character, right? I think Jesse Eisenberg said in an interview that he felt uncomfortable in most situations not acting. Because I don't know when you're an actor, you have a script. And while I digress here, I just think artists are given more license to be a little kooky, to push the boundaries a little bit.

A photo of Pamela Carey acting on set with Christian Prins Coen
photo on set playing a character, Sherrie

So, what is a safe place for you to be a little bit more of yourself or take up more space? We mentioned in therapy, with close loved ones, in creativity, but it could be other areas of life. Share in the comments if you’d like.

While these topics at the end may seem disjointed from the beginning one, that is another aspect to this idea of wanting to please others. It is instead of being ourselves again, and authentic, rather than becoming this diluted version of yourself, this mousy, agreeable, person. While there's nothing wrong with being agreeable, some take it to a point that they are not even letting any uniqueness or authenticity out. We want to stop that ish. And we want to see more of you. So that's why I say, please stop people pleasing first and foremost, for you. But if it helps, also for those around you too. Because I think the world is a much better place, and you can connect more fully, and be fully alive, when you are you.

Oh and both of those two stories have a happy ending. First, I raised my rates and not only were my clients supportive, but one client was even happy that I was raising my rates because he felt that it was time for me to do so. I lost zero clients, and all were kind. Even if they weren’t though, I realized that I had to do so to treat myself properly. The win was sending the email, not how it turned out.

The friend of mine that I was discussing having issues setting boundaries did start signing off from work at least slightly more reasonable times or when he needed to put work aside, he did. His job was also fine.

It doesn't mean that everything's perfect or that it's always easy, but I just wanted to share a couple instances because maybe there's an instance where you were really, really nervous to stop people pleasing in an area and set a boundary and then you did. And you realized that everything was fine. It was fine not because everyone reacts perfectly accepting as a result all the time, but because you did what you needed to do for yourself. You ended up ok after.

Maybe we can even share some of those down in the comments below if you feel comfortable sharing so that we can support each other and then also later come back down the line and realize, “Hey it's still been okay.” Because we're having to retrain ourselves with this new skill set. It really is learning a new skill.

Finally, be with yourself in your emotions when you do something that's uncomfortable. Standing up for yourself, sending the email, asking for something, or even if it's something as simple as signing off the computer. Be in your emotions when you do it, don't try to escape them due to the discomfort in the moment, because otherwise you'll keep running away from not only that feeling, but what you probably need to do.

As always, sending you love. ❤️ Especially you! Yes you! Hope you send yourself some too, as with the theme of this week’s post.

Video version of this post is here. These go live Fridays at 2 pm. See you next week!


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