I am, or have been at least, the queen of people pleasing. I think it’s just naturally ingrained in us- you’re either a people pleaser or a taker. Both are great qualities, both can also be disastrous. There’s this funny little thing I’ve learned about being a people pleaser- while it does make everyone else’s life easier, it doesn’t make my life any easier. If you’re not careful, it can get the best of you.
There was a long season, I’d say about age 18-25, that I was a people pleasing disaster. At one point, every time I uttered the word, “yes,” my gut felt like someone punched me in the stomach. But I’d say it anyway, show up with a smile on my face, and get the job done. It became my “called duty”, or so I thought, to take on everyone else’s needs and at 25 years old, I had enough.
There were a few areas in my life where I really struggled in this. One of those was that I would feel responsible for how other people felt. Their burden became my burden. I remember when my sister was going through her divorce, and she needed someone, like really needed someone, and of course being her sister and closest confidant, I quickly began taking on all her pain, hurt, and hopelessness. I was at her beck and call whenever she needed me. Needless to say, everything in my life took a back seat. Including my marriage. It was easy for me to justify because, What else was I going to do? She was my sister, right? She needed me.
What I didn’t realize is that my entire life was crumbling around me. My marriage was struggling, I gained a significant amount of weight, and I didn’t have time for myself. I know most of you are thinking How selfless, she should be proud she was there for her sister when she needed her. And trust me, I am, and I was. But, as my own life was suffering the consequences, for the first time, I realized that even those closest to me, the ones who need me the most, still need boundaries in order for me to not lose myself in the process of helping someone else.
I also struggled with feeling uncomfortable if someone was mad at me. It’s like I would walk on eggshells, apologizing often, and always found it difficult to say no. I’m not just talking about with my sister, this was the case with friends, family, and co-workers. I had become the ask Samantha, she’ll do it person. And because people pleasers have a hard time expressing their feelings, I would end up with a pile of obligations and commitments that benefit everyone besides me. Sound like a recipe for disaster? It is.
The hardest truth I had to learn was that it wasn’t about anyone else, it’s all about me. I always recommend the book, “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, to anyone I meet who struggles with the same things I have struggled with (insecurity, doubt, guilt, shame, validation, fitting in, and acceptance). That book changed my life, it was my first step into freedom. But, the recommendation comes with a personal disclaimer: reading Boundaries was the first time I had to really take a hard look at myself in the mirror, and it forced me to deal with my own issues and take accountability for my own actions, thus forcing me to grieve the old version of myself to step into the woman God really created me to.
Here’s the thing I already knew, but had to accept as I learned to set healthy boundaries in my life, God wants me to see myself the way he does, and in order to do that, I must value myself as much as He does. Where did that start for me? Learning that every time I say “yes” to something, I am saying “no” to something else. Learning to lean on the Holy Spirit for wisdom on when I should say yes and when I should say no. And finding confidence in whatever my response is.
What’s important to understand here is that I am a work in progress, and what I just shared above has been a 5 year work in progress. There’s an indescribable amount of guilt that comes with saying no when you’ve always been saying yes, especially with those you care about most. The enemy will pry at that weakness harder than anything else in your life. Know your weakness because the enemy already does- Can I get an Amen?
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
There are many pieces to overcoming unhealthy people pleasing, but you only have to take it one step at a time. If you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or suffocated it’s probably time to start saying no. The first step is awareness and there are so many incredible resources to help you step into freedom, including your community here of sister warriors!