The People-Pleasing Trap
How differently would you show up to ask for help, work, or money if you didn't have the need to please people?
My bet is that you'd be bolder, braver, and as a result, better paid.
I have a lot of experience with the people-pleasing trap, because I'm a recovering people-pleaser.
In this episode, I explain how this fear of displeasing others holds us back from asking, receiving, and thriving.
- Why and how the life-long training to please others started
- Why our brains confuse other people's displeasure as a threat
- Why it's impossible to please others with who we are, what we say, or what we do
- Three ways we can get triggered to sabotage our outcomes
- Three ways we can work ourselves out of the people-pleasing trap
- Five of my recurring stressful thoughts around pleasing people
- How I turn these thoughts around to instill a new mindset of growth, appreciation, and confidence
Come check out www.jamieleecoach.com for details on Small Group Mastermind, private coaching, and speaking services.
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to Episode 41 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I am your host and coach, Jamie Lee.
I find it really auspicious that I’m recording Episode 41 on November 1. I like that number and it reminds me to renew and refresh my commitment to delivering and creating exponential value to those who come in contact with this podcast, with my workshops, with my coaching.
And I also have been thinking about numbers a lot because there is now exactly two months or eight weeks remaining to 2018. I am going on vacation at the end of the year and I realized there’s only about 40-something days before I leave and having that very concrete deadline, the numbers are motivating me to create things of value, to deliver more value, to be focused so that I can become bolder, braver, and help people become better leaders.
How about you?
What is helping you become bolder, braver, and better leaders or better paid? Those things can be synonymous, I think.
As we are nearing the end of 2018, soon we will be talking about 2019 goals and what do we want to achieve in 2019, so I think this is a really exciting time for us to be working hard towards our goal while also thinking about what else is possible in the future.
So, with that in mind, I have created a small group mastermind to support those who want to set powerful intentions and wild and improbable goals for 2019. People who want to surprise themselves with what they achieve in 2019. And if you are thinking about being supported in this way while also being held accountable to take concrete action and to start the year in high gear with high momentum, please reach out. I’d be happy to talk to you about what that is going to be like and how you might benefit.
You can also come to my website: jamieleecoach.com. I’m also continuing to book 2019 speaking engagements and private coaching clients, so it is all happening. It is all happening.
We are born to thrive. I believe that. And I believe that negotiation skills are leadership skills that can help you thrive.
The thing that holds us back from doing what we’re born to do is so often fear. And today, I want to talk about a very specific type of fear: the fear of displeasing people. The fear of losing the approval of people, especially those in a position of authority.
Think about going to ask for help, asking for work, asking for money, and if you have the fear that your ask might upset the person who has the authority to say yes or no, how likely are you to go for it? It just takes more courage. It takes more thought-work, I think.
And yesterday, I was exchanging emails with a client. I let him know that the homework assignments that I give this person, it’s not intended for him to please me. It’s not about me, coach Jamie. It’s about serving the needs of the client and the client was shocked. He was like, “Woah, how did you know that I have this need? I’m really curious how you were able to get out of this mindset, this pitfall of needing to please others because I see that it’s holding me back.”
And I wish there was a shortcut.
I wish there was a quick “fix-it”.
But there isn't. There isn’t. I don’t believe there is.
I believe I’m gonna be working through this myself for the rest of my life. But I’d be honored to tell you how I think about this need to please others, how I experience the pitfall of needing to please people, and how I am working through it so that I can still ask for help, ask for work, ask for money, and still show up bold, show up brave, and get better paid.
So, I want to say, first of all, that the need to please others, when I reflect on my life, it started from the very first day of my life. The first day, my parents met me and they said, “Oh, you’re such a good girl!”
I was trained from a very young age. I was fortunate to be trained from a very young age to please my parents, to be good, to listen, to behave, to make mom and dad proud.
I was very fortunate because my parents trained me for a really good reason. They trained me to seek their approval, to please them for a very good reason.
They trained me this way to keep me alive.
When I was one, when I was two, when I just started to gain my bodily functions and be able to walk and talk, that’s when I was most vulnerable to hurt myself.
Don’t play with knives, you’ll hurt yourself. Be good. Don’t go into the woods with strangers. Those are the kinds of things my parents told me and they told them to me so that I would survive. I would continue to live and continue to grow. That was their number one objective.
So, they trained me to please them for a really good reason. This is not bad parenting. However, in my very young, impressionable brain, I interpreted these lessons in this way: that pleasing others, especially those in a position of authority is essential to my survival and safety because without my parents I cannot survive as a baby, as a toddler, right?
And this served me really well when I was a very small, very young person. The problem is that I have now outgrown the situations where making that mistake of playing with knives or going into the woods with strangers would cost me my life, would potentially cost me my life.
I have outgrown those situations but my brain didn’t outgrow the groove that was created when this lesson was repeated over and over to me for my own good. And so, what happened was that my brain - the not-so-evolved part of my brain - is associating the risk of displeasing others with the risk of my own survival.
And when my brain thinks that my very own survival is at risk, this triggers this primal fear or the amygdala hijack and, as discussed in previous episodes of this podcast, what can happen is that it can trigger either the freeze, flight or the fight response.
And when those responses are triggered, that’s when I end up sabotaging my own outcomes.
So, let me give you some examples.
Freezing because I’m afraid of upsetting people. I encounter this when I’m networking with very successful people and this not-so-evolved part of my brain is frozen with the fear of not being good enough or displeasing these new people who are more successful and therefore in a higher position of authority. At least that’s how my brain is interpreting, right?
And so what happens is that I freeze up. I kind of get really awkward, I get weird, I say the wrong things and then I go home and I’m like, “Ugh, why did I say that? Ugh, that so awful!” And I didn’t get to make the ask that I wanted to ask.
Number two is flight. Basically, when I avoid speaking up, avoid asking out of fear of making people around me unhappy. It’s something that I’ve had a lot of experience with and I know some of my clients experience as well when they have this irrational fear that if they make their ask, they’re going to make people upset.
Now, this is rooted in the misconception that I can cause people unhappiness. It’s simply not true. Now, I know that when you hear this, you’re like, “What?! Of course it’s true! My parents told me that I made them upset and unhappy over and over again.” I mean, I’ve heard it, too. Believe me, I’ve heard it too.
Most people have the misconception that somehow you can cause other people’s unhappiness or that you can displease other people. But I’m here to say that is a myth. That is simply not true. Why is that? It’s because people are displeased not because of what you are or what you do. People become displeased because of the thought they have about what you do or what you say.
I think about how when I was dating this person, this particular person, I did not tell my mother that I was dating the person because I was afraid of displeasing my mother. So, even though I was, in fact, dating this person, my mother did not have the concept that I was dating the person and so she was not displeased particularly about this topic, right?
And then when I did tell her, it wasn’t until she had the thought that this would not be a good match for me that she was displeased.
It wasn’t because I was dating this person. I mean, I had been dating this person throughout the time that she didn’t know, right? It was only when she had the thought that this wasn’t a good match for me that she was displeased.
So, the point I’m trying to make here is that when we avoid making the ask out of fear of displeasing people, we are genuinely confused about the cause of people’s displeasure. The cause of people’s displeasure is not what you do or say. It’s what they think about what you’ve done or said and that’s something that you cannot control. That’s on them. You cannot change how people think.
So, in other words, when you avoid making an ambitious ask out of fear of displeasing people, you are essentially giving up your power because you’re saying, “I’m giving you all the power to make me feel safe in my brain.”
It’s funny, right?
Okay, so the third response is fight. And I’ve done this. I’ve talked about in this podcast how early in my career, I bungled my salary negotiation and then I felt resentful at my employer because of the thoughts that I was thinking and then I got adversarial with my manager instead of taking a collaborative, problem-solving approach and that adversarial approach, when I just went into the office and I said, “I demand a reimbursement,” it completely backfired.
And I took this adversarial approach because I was reacting from the fear of making people upset. I reacted by doing the very opposite thing that my brain wanted me to do.
So, watch out for these pitfalls. The pitfall being that you either freeze, you flight or you avoid, or you pick up a fight when the best thing is to approach this conversation in a calm and collaborative way.
So, now let’s talk about how to get out of this pitfall. Like I said at the beginning of the podcast, I do not believe there is a quick fix to this.
We’ve been trained from day one, from the very get-go to please our parents and to associate the pleasing of people in authority with our own survival. And so this is something that is deeply rooted. There’s a deep groove in our brains associated with this thought pattern. When I please people I am safe. When I please people, I will be able to survive and be okay, right?
It’s just that this thought pattern no longer serves us. In order for you to brave uncomfortable and difficult asks, you have to be willing to risk them thinking whatever they think when you make that ask. You have to be willing to risk rejection. You have to be willing to risk no in order to get to yes.
So, how do we get out of this? There are three parts.
Number one: Just notice. Raise your self-awareness around your own need to please people.
Number two: Deliberately decide that you are going to create a new mindset - a brave mindset that will help you make the ask.
Number three: Practice this new mindset with intention, focus, and diligence as if you’re learning a new language. Practice like you’re learning Japanese.
So, number one, notice. Just raise your self-awareness around your need to please others.
I notice that I get weird. I get awkward. I get needy. I get nervous. I get anxious. And I also notice that when I’m triggered by my need to please people, I am constantly checking email.
Do you hear me on that? Can you relate to that?
And I realize this because, for me, when I get an email from somebody, there’s like this dopamine hit in my brain and I’m addicted to that. And so I keep checking my email over and over again and I keep wondering, why? Why am I doing that?
It’s because I want to hear from people who want to work with me or from clients or opportunities and I associate those emails with approval and that I have pleased people and that I am okay.
And I also notice that when I am triggered by my need to please others, I often feel resentful because I want them to give me something that I can’t give myself. And so I’ve created this manual in my head that they should respond to my email. They should acknowledge me. I need this person to say thank you. I need this person to write me back immediately. I want this person to do x, y, and z so that I can feel happy, so that I can feel acknowledged, so that I can feel safe.
And so, number one: raise your self-awareness. Just notice when you get triggered like I do with the email checking and the neediness and the resentment.
And then write it down on paper. It’s so easy to overlook this part and I think it is possibly the most important part of raising your self-awareness. Just, when you notice that this is happening, write down the stressful thought or the problem that you think you have.
I did this the other day and it was so interesting what I wrote down because I realized it was all coming from this need to pleasing, this need to get approval.
I wrote down, “I’m scared of looking bad.”
I wrote down, “I’m scared of getting fat.”
“I’m scared of being disliked by people I don’t actually know or like all that much.”
“I’m scared of disappointing people.” (In other words, displeasing them.)
“I’m scared I won’t be able to produce good work, so I can be liked and respected and comfortable with myself.”
I wrote them down. And I realized that every time I think I have a problem, it’s almost always a variation on one of these stressful thoughts. I’m scared of looking bad. I’m scared of disappointing people. I’m scared I’m not good enough, basically.
So, number one: raise your self-awareness. Just notice when you are triggered and be compassionate. Be kind to yourself. This is a lifelong training that we’re trying to undo here.
So, number two: Now that you’ve raised your self-awareness, you want to deliberately decide on a new mindset. In other words, deliberately decide the new thoughts, the new beliefs that you want to have.
Belief is simply a thought that you have over and over and over again.
If you were free of your need to please others, if you were free from the fear of disappointing other people, what thoughts would you have?
Perhaps you would think:
I am good enough just as I am.
I am lovable just as I am.
I am safe as I am. I am worthy as I am.
I am powerful.
I create value.
And if those thoughts are not yet quite 100% believable and easy for you to say, “Yep! That’s me. I’m completely free of the need to please other people,” then you can also explore some thoughts to bridge the gap.
And I start with:
I am here.
I am simply here.
I am okay.
Except for my need, except for the stressful thoughts that I have in my head, I am always okay.
I am human.
Here’s another strategy: Once you have written down your stressful thoughts or the problems you think you have, you can also think about, okay, what is one reason to be grateful to have this problem?
This is a tip that I took away from an article written by James Altucher who is a writer and entrepreneur. He wrote this phenomenal article in 2011 about how all the successful people in life and in business are grateful. That’s the number one commonality they all have. They’re always grateful and that gratitude is the ultimate miracle.
And he talked about how you can develop a gratitude muscle and one of the things that he suggested you do is write down the problems you have and then think of one reason why you’re grateful for this. It’s kind of bonkers but it twists your brain and it makes you see your so-called problem, your perceived problem from a new perspective.
And so I did this too. I wrote, “I’m scared of looking bad.” And I realized I can be grateful for this because I get to be seen by people. How awesome is that? And I get to allow people to judge me, judge my Asian face, my open bite or whatever shortcomings that people project onto me. It’s a great opportunity for people to have their own thoughts. It’s a great opportunity for me to simply be and be seen, so I’m grateful for that because, at the end of the day, people will judge. It’s fine. That’s up to them. I am not in control of that and it’s the way things are and so I get to allow things to be the way they are. It’s great.
Number two: “I’m scared of getting fat.” It’s this irrational fear that gets triggered every Fall because in Fall things become more delicious and I want to have more sugar. And I am grateful for this because, hey, this means I have a body. I have two arms, I have two legs, I have two healthy lungs. I have a body, I have muscles, I have fat, I have organs, I have a brain. I have everything that I was born with and I still have them all...well, except for my baby teeth.
That’s pretty cool.
Number three was “I’m scared of not being liked by people I don’t actually know or like all that much.” And I can be grateful for this because this shows me my own neediness for approval, right? I was talking about how you need to raise your self-awareness and so this problem, ironically, is helping me because it raised my own self-awareness. And it helped me realize I still have this attachment to a random concept, to the misconception that somehow I can cause other people’s feelings. And just noticing it is half the battle, so I’m grateful for this.
Number four: “I’m scared of disappointing people.” I’m grateful for this because...GOOD! I get to disappoint people! What a privilege. The more I get to disappoint, the more I get to learn about how to serve. The more I get to learn about how to become better. The more disappointment I create, the more and deeper my learning is.
So, I’m grateful for that.
Number five: “I’m scared I won’t be able to produce good work so I can be liked and respected and be comfortable with myself.” And I’m grateful for this because I get to ask myself why do I want to be so liked and respected and comfortable? And when I ask myself that, I realize, hey, I tell people that the key to mastery, negotiation mastery, is losing the need to be liked, to be respected, and to be comfortable.
And so then this helps me realize, wow, I still have a way to go before I fully walk the talk that I give. This gives me a ripe opportunity to learn, to grow, to stretch myself, and to see how hard it really is to walk the talk that I give. This gives me a deeper sense of appreciation.
So, this helps me, ironically, listing my own problems, my own stressful thoughts and then being grateful, finding ways to be grateful for these, help me instill a new mindset of growth, learning and appreciation.
So, number three is to practice with intention the new thoughts and some of my new thoughts are:
I walk the talk that I give.
I have a body.
I am here.
It’s a privilege to disappoint people.
Yes lives in the land of no.
And I am okay no matter what.
What I want to say about this is I think it really helps to be future focused.
I talked about my goals for 2018. I talked about how I’m starting to think about new goals for 2019 and it’s really motivating to think about how I want to feel at the end of 2018. How do I want to feel on December 31st, 2018 while I’m on vacation, when I look back on the progress I’ve made, when I look back on the brave asks that I made over the next coming two months?
And I realized I want to feel proud. I want to feel accomplished. And all of my clients tell me this as well. They want to feel proud. They want to feel accomplished.
So if you are feeling proud, who have you become? What are you thinking? What have you done?
Think about how you can please your future self. Make that a priority rather than pleasing other people which is an impossible task, right? I mean, think about how your parents have these mile-high expectations, if they do and it’s an impossible task because at the end of the day, it’s not what you do or say that pleases them, it’s what they think. It’s what’s in their mind which is out of their control.
So, instead of setting yourself up for failure and disappointment by trying to please other people, what if you tried to please your future self? What would be possible then?
My bet is that you will become bolder, braver, and better paid.
I look forward to speaking with you again next week and I wish you a marvelous week.