Did you know that people-pleasing behaviors are fear-based?
And most fear-based behaviors have roots in trauma. People pleasing can definitely stem from trauma.
Nobody chooses to be a people-pleaser. Listen to find out what it’s all about, where it comes from, what to do about it and what to if you’re not ready to accept if you might be a people-pleaser.
Today is the beginning of a series on mindset. We’re going to explore a lot of different ways that the mind works and how our thoughts, are what create our feelings, and how that creates our actions and behaviors — both good and bad.
This is an important series because so much of what’s involved in fitness, nutrition, and changing any habits surrounding those things is very hard to do. And for some people, it can feel harder than it is for others. Why is that? It really all comes down to mindset as well as our personal experiences that impact our mindset. And if you’re a listener of this podcast 1) thank you 2) you’re the kind of person who I know is intelligent, cares about your health, cares about doing better in all areas of life and you’re trying to be a better person overall so not only will this series pertain to your habits in regards to fitness or finding ways to eat healthier, but this information is also going to carry over into just about any aspect of life. After this series, we’ll get back to more topics on how nutrition impacts health and energy.
I’m going to share some of my experiences that I’ve had the last few years as my own personal growth (mentally) has (in my opinion) gone full throttle. Not to brag, but I think my personal growth over the last 4-5 years has been exponentially bigger than I ever could have imagined and a lot of that is because I made a very conscious effort to DIG DEEP in finding out why I had certain repeated patterns and really investigating my own behaviors — mostly the ones that I really hated about myself and the ones that I knew were holding me back. And that’s not to say I’m done. I really feel that I’ve only just begun. Who knows, maybe 3 years from now I’ll look back at these episodes and think, “oh honey, you still didn’t even know what you were doing” but as for now, I think I have some insightful things to share with you.
I’ve also coached clients on these things in the last couple of years and I’ve seen them make progress in having mindset breakthroughs in their lives as a whole, which then had lasting positive impacts on how they approach fitness, training, and relationships with their bodies and food.
Let’s Dig Into People Pleasing!
Women are unfortunately more socially conditioned to be people-pleasers from the time they are very young girls than boys typically are but a huge shout out to all of the young parents out there who I see doing the hard work to change this harmful cycle for the next generation—I truly love to see it!
If you’re a man who’s listening right now and you don’t have a problem with being a people pleaser, that’s great but that doesn’t mean you should skip this episode — quite the opposite — you all need to keep listening too because it will help you to better understand people in your life who are people-pleasers. For others of you listening (or reading), you might already know that you are one but you’re not sure what to do about it, and others of you out there might not have ever thought about it so keep listening to find out exactly what it means to be a people-pleaser.
Think about traditional, heteronormative social conditioning. When I was a kid and generations before, it was normal for little boys to get an emphasis on things they outwardly achieve (“Look him, so fast and strong”) but with little girls it was oftentimes focused on their inner being, like “Look her being so nice” or “That wasn’t very nice, go apologize” or “give your Uncle a hug” (when it was clear sometimes that maybe she didn’t WANT to give someone a hug).
A lot of us were encouraged to be self-abandoning in these ways. We got positive feedback for overgiving, for sacrificing bodily autonomy and things like that. Maybe you still experience that currently.
I’m quite vocal about how these things are no longer socially acceptable because they don’t enable young kids to feel like they have bodily autonomy which certainly sets them up for not only being PEOPLE-PLEASERS throughout life, but it also sets people up to grow detached from their bodies and their feelings and when that happens, over years and several decades, it most certainly sets people up for more trauma, danger, not knowing how to leave abusive relationships, not knowing how to stand up for themselves if they are sexually harassed, verbally harassed, and as I’ve talked about many times these things absolutely cause an overloaded nervous system. That will set people up for being at much higher risk for autoimmune diseases down the road.
The people-pleasing tendencies — no matter the age at which they develop — are fear-based.
Whether it’s instilled from relatives, teachers, or friends, or instilled by ourselves, it develops when there are circumstances that prove to us that we get more validation — and therefore more love when we put others first — even if it’s at the expense of our own values, boundaries, convenience, morals, comfort or safety. It’s a belief system that sneakily develops and most people don’t even realize it. Or they’re not willing to admit it to themselves unless/until it gets so out of control that are forced to re-evaluate life choices.
For people like me, I didn’t even see how much being a people-pleaser and lacking boundaries was causing me to have all sorts of problems in life that created a painful amount of emotional grief. I was doing it totally out of fear — fear of not being ENOUGH. Patterns in my life had reinforced this idea that I was NOT enough if I didn’t do certain things for approval or to make other people happy. It was a belief system that I allowed to run my life at times and I DIDN’T. EVEN. KNOW IT!
What does people-pleasing look like?
If you’ve never stopped to ask yourself this, let’s talk about some examples. One very common thing for me and my former people-pleasing tendencies is my fear of dogs. Yes, I know many of you think I’m weird for that, but part of me learning to STOP being a people pleaser was learning to STOP APOLOGIZING for this, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES people will say insensitive things like “What? How can you be scared of dogs?” or “He won’t bite you, he’s really friendly”, or “Oh, you won’t be scared of MY dog, just pet him!”.
There were countless times in life where I’d play along. I have a true FEAR of dogs my whole life. The number of times throughout life I forced myself to try to act like I was not having sheer panic inside being at people’s houses if they had a dog — people-pleasing.
I cringe at my past self for doing that. I was such a people-pleaser that there a point in life where I even paid a hypnotist to hypnotize me out of it because I carried so much shame because of the way other people reacted to me when said I was scared of dogs. I’m disgusted with myself that I didn’t value myself enough to not even consider paying for that. Now as a reformed people-pleaser, if someone wants me to be someplace where there will be a dog, I can unapologetically say “I’m scared of dogs so I won’t be there.” The end. I also have firm enough boundaries now that if they start to attempt to convince me otherwise (invalidating my reality that I’m scared of dogs) then I know they are someone I cannot trust because they didn’t even really hear what I just said and I’ll let them know.
Now some people might say “Oh, that’s so rude, I could never just tell someone that. We have to be nicer”. Nicer for what? For someone else’s comfort? No. That is how we are socially conditioned in a way that affects our nervous system which leads to autoimmune disease. This stuff is backed by science and you can refer to some of my other episodes for more information on that — just look for the trauma episodes.
Being nice vs. being kind
People-pleasing is often based in this false idea that we “need” to be “nice”. I don’t remember where I heard it, but one of the trauma experts who I regularly learn from taught me that being “nice” is NOT being “kind” and it also can make you a liar. Have you ever thought about this? Being nice is often about a facade even if it’s at the expense of your own comfort…so that’s why it can make a person a liar. Being kind is done with authenticity. Realness. Honesty.
One very specific example of people-pleasing is apologizing all the freaking time! It has to stop. I know a lot of people who are into self-development and are actively working hard to break this problematic behavior pattern. Excessive apologizing is people-pleasing. I used to WAY over-apologize. But I have worked very hard on changing that — even still being surrounded by others who do it all the time. It develops out of fear. Fear that someone will be mad, or think we are rude, or inconsiderate.
I’ve really started to note the things that men will do and NOT apologize for that women most definitely would have. I recently had my heart broken — it was extremely painful and the reason I had not put out a lot of episodes in Nov-February. And when I confronted this person with the ways he had hurt me, NOT ONCE did he apologize. He was full of reasons and excuses, but not a single apology. Until about 6 weeks later when I pointed it out to him. But anyway, getting to those of us who were conditioned to OVER apologize when it’s totally not necessary, start trying to break the people-pleasing tendency. It’s time to take back your power. Consider it a form or self-care. Start to notice every single time you say “I’m sorry” and ask yourself if it’s truly necessary to say or if you’re just saying it out of habit. Notice I’m asking you to ask yourself if you really mean it — because people pleasers will definitely say “oh yes, I mean it every time I say I’m sorry” but that’s just the fear of talking.
Things to STOP apologizing for: (to stop being a people-pleaser)
• Showing up 3 minutes late to a Zoom meeting for work when someone is literally that late every single day with the same people. No need to apologize.
• For not wearing makeup! It’s your face. It’s who you are. You are no less worthy of someone’s presence because you are in your natural state! Think about how ridiculous this is! Fear-based. People-pleasing. A total waste of energy because you are worth of taking up space in your natural state no matter what.
• Maybe it’s chores around the house when you’re already thoroughly exhausted because of X, Y, Z: whoever you’re apologizing to probably already knows why you’re exhausted and therefore there’s no reason to apologize. Save yourself that little smidge of energy by not uttering the words “I’m sorry”. Now if it’s a circumstance where you totally did let someone down by not doing something that you promised to do, then maybe an apology is necessary, but if you’re apologizing because you didn’t wipe off the countertop when nobody even cared, then stahhhhhhhp apologizing.
People-pleasing is bad for the soul. It really is. It disturbs your peace. It’s an energy zapper.
What else does people-pleasing look like?
Saying I’m sorry for crying or being mad. Apologizing for emotions is unnecessary. This was a big one for me. I have had to work hard to break this harmful people-pleasing habit. I have big emotions. I feel deeply. People have always made me feel “less than” for it, so as a defense mechanism as a fear-based attempt to not feel like the world was against me, I started apologizing for crying, or being mad, or hurt, depressed, or anything less than happy, really. Until I got sick of it and the resentment built up for being able to simply BE. And I began to realize this was a co-dependent, fear-based, trauma-based people-pleasing issue that needed to change.
All of these things about mindset aren’t really going to give you concrete solutions — I wish I could, but those have to come from within yourself. When you’re ready. If you’re hearing this stuff and rolling your eyes like “Pssht whatever Kelly, you’re full of it”, that’s okay. You simply know that you’re not ready to make these types of mindset changes and it can’t be forced. When I started to make these types of changes for myself just a few years ago, I had already been through decades of denial. But when I was ready — I WAS READY — and suddenly I couldn’t get enough of this type of thing. So if you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down right now, I’m thrilled that you’re ready and I’d love to hear about it!
Hopefully, you’ve listened to past episodes, and I’m going to once again reference the series I did on trauma in the middle of 2020, where I talked about trauma and our fight/flight/freeze responses. There’s another part to that which I had left out previously, which is FAWNING… FAWNING as a trauma response.
To put it very simply for now, something traumatic happens, the body’s going to respond by fighting, by taking flight (running away), by freezing, or…fawning… Fawning can be innocent or it can be a way that we respond to trauma and one way of FAWNING is…people-pleasing!
So when I say that people-pleasing is fear-based, it might not mean that you’re fearful in the moment, but it could mean that something traumatic happened to you in the past and how your brain and body have chosen to deal with it subconsciously is by FAWNING. By exaggerated affection, adoration or… people-pleasing. There are endless things that can happen in life but I think I’ve probably said enough for you to connect the dots on how it can relate to your own life if you’re a people-pleaser OR someone you love.
I hope this isn’t coming across like I’m pointing a finger, like “Hey you over there people-pleasing, stop it because you shouldn’t be that way”. I realize it’s not that simple. What I AM hoping to accomplish is awareness. Because once I simply had the awareness of everything I’m telling you today, it truly opened a door for me to make changes within myself and my behaviors that made my life easier all around. It helped me to find my voice. To be comfortable with saying a firm NO, when someone else wanted me to twist my arm into some kind of thing that I really didn’t want to do. And stopped caring that anyone would be mad if I did say no. It feels SO DAMN GOOD to not care whatsoever if my “NO” hurts someone’s feelings. I know within myself that if I say no it’s the best decision for ME and that’s all that matters.
Another big reason that was able to make these mindset changes was when I realized all of the unhealthy behaviors I had that were co-dependent. It’s not healthy to be co-dependent, right? People-pleasing is one of them. Co-dependency is caring so hard that it hurts and making decisions based on what someone else wants or expects. Co-dependency is putting someone else’s needs, wants, problems, feelings ahead of your own. When I realized all of this stuff a few years ago I began to make some drastic changes in my own behavior in LOTS of ways, and I’m not done yet….but yeah, people-pleasing is a co-dependent behavior.
Maybe it helps to hear it worded that way as it helped me.
In case you’re this is stirring up some new thoughts for you, you might be saying to yourself “but Kelly, I care about EVERYthing so deeply that it hurts”. Believe me, I get that too. And that’s called being an empath. But empaths aren’t exactly born…we end up being empathic because of a whole lot of trauma. When the body goes through tons of prolonged periods of heightened states of emotions and having to sense them in others out of lack of safety, we get really good at truly detecting how others are feeling without them having to tell us, and all of that leads to people-pleasing too. This is exactly what I mean when I say it’s fear-based… so being over-accommodating, people-pleasing, being an empath, and if you’re a person who has endured a lot of trauma of any kind at any point in life — it’s alllll intertwined.
Another angle of this: you might be listening and thinking, but what if I really, really, LIKE to put others first. This is a gray area. (slow) DOES it truly bring you joy though? Or do you choose people-pleasing behaviors all the time because the fear of behaving otherwise is too great to face? If someone would have asked me 8-10 years ago if I was a people-pleaser, I’m very certain that I’d say I absolutely was NOT. ….oh, but I absolutely was. Very much a people-pleaser. And it caused me a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, a lot of inner turmoil, and resentment because I didn’t have the language for identifying these unsettled, incongruent feelings I had over certain interactions with people.
When I was that person it most definitely had a strong impact on everything relating to fitness, the gym, my health… because I constantly felt guilty for making time for those things. The self-talk in my head back then 90% of the time I was at the gym because I very much wanted to be there, was overloaded with self-talk while I was there with things like “you’re a terrible person because you could have let so-and-so come with you when they asked” or “you’re a terrible person because instead of using this hour at the gym, you should have used it to reply to that 7th person this week in your Facebook inbox asking for free fitness advice” or “you’re a terrible person because you could be spending time with family right now….look at how selfish you are.” ….PEOPLE. PLEASING, co-dependent, fear-based, trauma responses — all of it.
For me personally, I think it developed from the time I was VERY young. I did not have much confidence as a kid at all. So that lack of confidence meant repeated days of fearing that people wouldn’t like me. That constant feeling of not being “enough” simply as I was. And that really did a number on me…because it only snowballed over the years into what I just explained to you. Not good. Not healthy. And it’s so liberating to now be mostly free from all of that.
It took work. A lot of work. A lot of getting brutally honest with myself in a way I had never been before. And I would not have been able to do that if I had not FIRST found the language through coaches who shared…basically what I’m sharing with you today.
So I truly hope that this gives someone out there the language or the open door to start to see that even if you’re a people-pleaser, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person for that. People-pleasers are quite genuine people. They truly DO want to do all of these things for others, but when it’s co-dependent — putting their feelings, comfort or safety behind someone else’s expectations, that’s when it’s harmful. And allow yourself to know that it’s not your fault! Nobody wakes up and says “I’m going to be a people-pleaser! Overgiving sounds like a great way to expend my energy”. Obviously, nobody says that. Nobody chooses it. Because it develops from trauma — either little T trauma or Big T trauma…. it develops from fear. Often from childhood experiences. While nobody chooses it, you can UNchoose it as a way to better your life with some dedication to changing your behaviors.
I hope that you found this useful and if you did, share it with a friend!
I’m Kelly Wilson, owner of fitfizzstudio.com and I’m a personal trainer, nutrition coach, behavior change specialist, autoimmune disease educator and I’ve worked in the health and fitness industry for over 25 years.
I’m here to help you ditch the gimmicks, finding strength through your struggles, give you the knowledge for making the smartest choices for your own health and to remind you to celebrate victory all along the way.
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The information shared is for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be interpreted as an intent to diagnose, treat, cure, heal or prescribe.