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Self-Care vs. Codependency: Exploding the Myths about People-Pleasing

Many of us grow up believing that other people’s opinions of us are more important than just about anything else.

What will the neighbors think?” was a common refrain in my childhood home – and I always had mixed reactions to that every time I heard it. I often wondered why I had to care more about what the neighbors thought, while at the same time I was scrambling to be that ‘good girl’ those same people would approve of. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of our neighbors were doing some untoward things behind their own closed doors – while I was twisting myself around trying to get them to like me.

Very confusing messages for a child!

Contrary to popular belief – and definitely contrary to what I was taught by my own parents – we don’t need to be everything to everyone all the time. The reality is that we can’t sustain that for very long anyway, no matter how hard we might try. But far too many of us erroneously believe that when someone doesn’t like us, we are totally at fault for this – and depending on our level of people-pleasing, it can feel like the end of the world.

Why Do We Allow Bullying?

In an effort to stay ‘safe,’ a lot of people-pleasers befriend and support those who bully. Think about the bullies, in all walks of life, who taunt and shame others regardless of whether they are children or adults. What we know today is that almost all offenders have been offended, that people who were abused can develop into abusers – which means that when someone acts in a callous way, it is about them, not about us. But in order to be an offender or an abuser, a ‘victim’ is required – and those of us who have developed into people-pleasers can sometimes be the most accessible victims for a bully.

No one ever deserves to be victimized or exploited, especially people who are doing their best to behave in ways that serve the world and help others. I am reminded of the Republican debate last year, when candidate Donald Trump verbally decimated every opponent on that stage with him. In my opinion, that happened for two reasons:

  • Trump is a very insecure man who desperately needs to feel that he is ‘above’ everyone else.
  • Everyone around him was allowing him to get away with that kind of bullying behavior – and as of this writing, he continues this behavior now, as President of the US. Let’s face it, bullies bully because they can, because they are allowed to. But the others on that panel with him may well have felt that it must be their own fault that this was happening to them and were worried that if they stood up to Trump, he – and other people – might not like them.

People-pleasing can be a devastating addictive behavior to deal with, but I am living proof that we can get over it!

The Importance of Liking Ourselves

In order to be able to do that, we need to understand that there is something far more important than having other people like us – and that is to like ourselves.

I believe that self-respect is the most important thing we either have or don’t have. The only way to have self-respect is to do the next right thing for ourselves, and then the next right thing after that. And it’s not a case of being selfish – it’s actually about being self-caring. Without that feeling of self-respect – which can be simply defined as the way we inwardly feel about ourselves at 3 o’clock in the morning – many of us will not only try to be all things to all people, but we will also think that others’ opinions of us are more important than how we see ourselves. This is not an advantageous way for us to live and will cause nothing but problems in the long run, because we will believe we have to meet everyone else’s needs before we ever think about our own.

For those of us who have been raised to be people-pleasers, it will be imperative for us to make a paradigm shift if living well holistically is our goal. We will need to deeply understand that healthy boundaries are essential for relationships that are positive in nature, and that being self-ish is not the same as being selfish. Most of the time, the best thing we can do – for us and for everyone concerned – is to make sure we are taking good care of ourselves, so that we don’t allow the bullies of the world to torment us. Contrary to popular belief – we DO have a choice about this!

Caring for Ourselves First – Can I Really Do That?

Think about it – when we are on an airplane and the flight attendant talks about the dreaded turbulence that could occur and what to do when the oxygen masks come down, what is the message we’re given? Put your own mask on first – we’re told to do this even if we’re traveling with a child or someone who is elderly or infirmed. That is because if we can’t breathe, how are we going to help someone else breathe?

I think that is a great analogy for living life. How often have you tried to take care of others, while you were running on empty yourself? How has that worked for you? If you are like most of us, it didn’t work very well over the long run because of the feelings of resentment that built up when we gave and gave, while feeling like we weren’t getting much in return. When this is done on a continual basis, it is a recipe for disaster in our relationships – and it turns our precious self-respect inside out.

The people who are “keepers” in your life will still love you if you say no when you need to – in fact, those wonderful people will be happy to see you feel happier! Those who have an investment in you continuing to put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own are not the people you will have healthy relationships with for any length of time.

Did you know that both scientists and spiritual teachers have discovered that taking naps can be a very healthy habit to develop? What could feel more luxurious than sinking into your couch in the middle of the day, closing your eyes, and allowing rest and relaxation to envelop and rejuvenate you?

So when you’re finished with your day of helping others ‘breathe’ and you feel like you can’t do one more thing – stop! Take that nap, or meditate for a while, or take your dog for a walk, or melt into a bubble bath, or eat a piece of delicious dark chocolate – definitely one of my favorite things to do. Whatever it is that helps you reach for that better, self-caring feeling – do it!

Remember that you really are not supposed to be all things to all people and that everyone has their own journey. Take the best care of yourself that you can first – and give to others with whatever’s left over. Once you make this self-respectful change, you’ll find that other people respect you more as well – and your life will become much more enjoyable.


Images Courtesy of iStock

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