I have always been a people pleaser, it’s simply ingrained in who I am. This doesn’t mean I don’t speak my mind, engage in conflict when necessary, and follow my own intuition and desires– it just means that my knee-jerk, automatic response is to make others happy and do/say what I know will please them. It has always been, and will continue to be, a constant work-in-progress to fight against the deep-seated part of me that wants to forgo my own needs and exist simply to help take care of others (here’s looking at you, fellow enneagram 2s).
Oftentimes, it can be hard to separate my own desires from the desires of those I love. Or even those that I don’t love– people that are in my periphery or are coworkers/employees/supervisors of mine. In my brain, my thoughts and feelings get jumbled together with theirs and when I ask myself, “Is this what I truly believe and want, or is it what I think they want and I’m trying to accommodate that?”, I sometimes genuinely don’t know the answer. And knowing the answer to this question is vital. When I’m living in the space of serving others to the detriment of myself, it’s going to cause me to live an inauthentic life and eventually become resentful of the people and projects I care about most. There is a way to care deeply about others and help others while not being a people pleaser. At least, this is what I’m told.
This knee-jerk people pleasing reaction has improved over the years, but there is still much work to be done. In an effort to continue working on my personal growth, specifically this people pleasing part of myself, I reached back out to the counselor, Ken, I saw ten years ago when I was struggling with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. It’s fun working with him again after so many years. I’ve changed and grown a lot and while I’m sure he has too, he still presents as the same exact coffee-drinking, witty, calm, brilliant, compassionate person who knows exactly the right things to say to rock my world. Since I am no longer gripped by the severe anxiety and panic attacks that plagued me ten years ago, we spend our hour-long Zoom sessions talking passionately and effortlessly about deep matters of the heart, of life, and of the human experience.
In reflecting on my recent conversations with Ken about how one becomes a people pleaser, how that manifests in daily interactions and conversations, and how I can stay present and authentic in conversation with others to not knee-jerk to a people pleasing mindset, I came up with a tool that has been working surprisingly well. So well that I can’t believe how simple and rudimentary it is. It has actually made me excited to engage in conversations where I need to be present, open, and honest, even if it means disappointing someone. Simply being aware of my people-pleasing nature isn’t enough to turn off that automatic response in conversations– I needed a tangible tool to keep in the forefront of my mind while I practice and train my brain to move through conversations and interactions differently. I call it the Me-You-Me. See? Told you it’s simple.
How it Works:
When in a conversation with someone and a response involving my opinion, needs, desires, or willingness to take part in something is required, I do a quick mental analysis of the following:
- What do I want [to say, to express, to share, to respond with, etc.]?
- What does the other person want? How do I think the other person likely wants me to respond?
- Again, what do I want?
Some surprising discoveries as I have piloted this tool in conversations over the past few days:
- It only takes a few seconds to answer each question. Initially I thought that in conversation, it would take too long to think through each of these before responding, but it actually is pretty fast and provides an appropriate pause so that I can answer mindfully and not automatically.
- I am suddenly able to more clearly differentiate between how I truly feel and my desires/thoughts vs how I think the other person feels and wants me to answer. They are no longer tangled.
- By differentiating these things, it allows me to acknowledge if and when my desires differ from someone else’s, and it is in a soft, non-judgmental or stressful way. It is simply a realization of a difference, there is no “good” or “bad” judgment placed on the differences between what I want and what someone else wants. I think that judgments sometimes come when you over analyze something. This is a quick analysis– you’re getting the most authentic and fast responses thrown towards the front of your brain since you’re under a time constraint.
- When I end the analysis on the “What do I want?” question, it becomes much easier to simply say that out loud as a natural next step. It doesn’t feel intimidating to speak my truth– instead it flows out of my mouth easily and confidently. After all, people pleasers are typically also over analyzers. With this tool, I have already analyzed it in my brain in the moment vs later on, so it makes it easier to speak my truth without second guessing it.
- Sometimes at the end of my Me-You-Me evaluation, my answer is, “I’m not sure how I feel about that yet, let me think about it.” This alone has been incredibly valuable. When I’m not doing this conscious evaluation, my auto response is “Sure!” and it’s only later after I process it more that I realize I may need to go back to the person and revise what I said, or what I committed to. If at the end of my few seconds of Me-You-Me evaluation I’m not totally clear on what my “What do I want?” answer is, I simply say that– “I’m not sure yet.” It suddenly seems so simple.
And boy do I have news for you other knee-jerk people pleasers and/or enneagram type 2s out there. Speaking my truth and not responding with the automatic smile + nod + accommodating answer that has been my trusty go-to for the last three decades has led to more comfortable, genuine, and engaging conversations. After all, people we engage with don’t want us to give answers and reactions that are inauthentic and people-pleasing-canned, they want the real deal. If they don’t want the real deal and prefer the people pleasing “yes man” answers– then you are likely not in a healthy, trusting, reciprocal relationship with them anyway. Get out, or get help.
The Me-You-Me tool is likely helpful for anyone trying to figure out how to live and speak more authentically. It is not a fast pass to ignore the needs and desires of people around you. Initially I worried about that when thinking of this tool. I wondered, “What if this makes me into a selfish person who only does things that will benefit me??”
Then Ken’s words from 10 years ago rang through my ears; we were discussing the problems with always caretaking and accommodating others and not ourselves. I worried that consciously trying to think more about myself and my needs would make me narcissistic and selfish. He leaned back in his well-worn chair said, “I have been doing this job for 30+ years. In that time, do you know how many clients who are naturally selfish and have narcissistic tendencies have ever worried that they are being selfish and narcissistic?” Ken laughed out loud at this point. “Zero. Zero of them have ever wondered about or worried that they are being selfish.” Point taken. I don’t need to worry about coming across as selfish.
And it’s true. This is where self-trust comes into play. I trust that I will know when it’s right to speak my truth and potentially disappoint someone vs help someone out when in need, even if it’s not my ideal scenario. Someone I’m close to asks me to donate money to a cause I am not particularly passionate about, but it would mean the world to them? My Me-You-Me evaluation will lead me to say, “Thanks, but I’m going to pass.” Someone close to me asks me to pick them up from the airport even though it’s late at night and is a hassle to get there? My Me-You-Me evaluation may lean towards “I’d honestly rather not”, but my actual answer would probably come from my trusty inner-wisdom. The part of me that cares about my relationships, wants to help people in a time of need, and knowing that they would do the same for me. The Me-You-Me evaluation isn’t about always getting what you want and refusing to compromise or do things for others, it’s about evaluating each situation you are presented with to determine, “What is my most authentic and true answer or action here?”
I suppose that for people who struggle with the opposite problem– maybe speaking too bluntly, oftentimes responding automatically with their own needs before considering the feelings and needs of others, or those accused of being habitually selfish, you could reverse this. You could do a You-Me-You evaluation– I wonder how that would hold up.
Something important to note is that the Me-You-Me tool is not an attempt to change who you are as a person and take away that caring, nurturing, caretaking side of you. It’s simply to help you be more communicative and in touch with the parts of you that may be automatic in nature, and you would like them to be more conscious.
After all, consciously doing nice things for other people and responding truthfully in the moment feels a lot more rewarding than doing them out of obligation and because your automatic response signed you up for it. The conscious, mindful approach will benefit you and the other person equally time and time again.