How I Stopped Being a People Pleaser, Lost Weight, and Reclaimed My Life
A friend and I were walking up our neighborhood hill after a Saturday morning chat at the coffee shop. As I trudged along, my breathing became loud and labored. I got so embarrassed and tried in vain to stifle it, but that just made it worse. It felt like I was about to have a heart attack. I was 49 years old and in terrible shape, physically and emotionally.
During the past 18 months, I had gained over 20 pounds as new onerous responsibilities got placed on me at work. Plus, there were obligations at home – two kids, one with autism, a husband, and an aging mother. Like many women who are People Pleasers, I had put everybody's needs before my own. I had stopped exercising, stopped eating right, stopped caring about my appearance, stopped doing things that brought me joy such as writing, gardening, and listening to music.
It was time to accept my people pleasing ways had led me to this point. My life needed a total overhaul. These are the five steps I took to restore my health, lose weight, and bring me much-deserved peace:
1. I Made My Health a Priority.
I grew up with an overweight mother who never exercised. Two years ago, she suffered a stroke but still refuses to take care of her health. Her doctor said walking is great for her, but she doesn't do it. Her occupational and physical therapists gave her daily routines, but she ignores them. Instead, she drives her friends to and from their medical appointments, spending hours a day sitting in her car. She's a People Pleaser and it's going to kill her. But it won't kill me.
I was heading down the same path as my mom but, fortunately, took a detour. I finally realized I was nothing to nobody if I didn't take care of myself. I started walking on the treadmill, lifting weights, and spending more time outside. Exercise is now the number one priority on my list, not the last. I think about impressing myself, not impressing others.
I give myself the gift of time, which is necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle. In addition to exercising each day, I spend time shopping for fruits and vegetables at our local Farmer's Market. I no longer skip lunch or eat fast food it in the car while driving from errand to errand. I actually sit down and have salads, something I would never do in the past because they took too long to prepare and eat. For the first time in my life, I like me enough to take care of me, and it feels great.
2. I Acknowledged My Painful Childhood.
I've been on a lot of diets through the decades, losing weight and then gaining it back plus some. I just knew my middle-aged body couldn't take the yo-yoing any more without serious consequences. I also realized my weight had less to do with my love of food and more to do with unresolved childhood hurt. I had stuffed my emotions with food since my teen years. Now I was finally ready to stop.
My mantra became: “You can't heal what you don't feel.” I finally decided to deal head-on with the wounds of long ago when my father called me names and my mother turned a blind eye. I acknowledged what my parents did. I thought about it. I wrote in my journal about it, and I talked to my sister about it. After forty years, we finally compared notes and realized we both were deeply hurt. It was a huge relief and I felt lighter in spirit as well as body as the pounds slowly started to come off.
3. I Quit My Job.
My people pleasing ways at work had always been on overdrive. There was nothing I wouldn't do to satisfy my boss and clients. I took on extra duties, worked longer hours, and never said “no” to anything asked of me. I wanted people to like me, respect me, and think I was doing a fantastic job. Like most People Pleasers, I wanted to avoid conflict at any cost. From an early age, I learned that disagreements were bad so any hint of problems caused me great anxiety.
Not surprisingly, my boss wasn't happy when I finally got a backbone and started sticking up for myself. She behaved like a spoiled little brat whose mom finally decided to limit the goodies. She couldn't accept the new me and I couldn't go back to the old me so I packed up and left, vowing to never play the people pleaser role at work again. Instead of getting the appreciation I wanted so much, I had just been the chump that everyone took advantage of and held in low regard.
4. I Pledged to Make My Loved Ones a Priority.
A hallmark of People Pleasers is they put more effort into satisfying acquaintances and strangers than loved ones. Without a doubt, I had done that for years, giving my family the short shrift. I'd volunteer in my sons' classrooms and do anything their teachers wanted me to do. But at home, I was often short and sarcastic with my boys and not as sweet and loving as I should have been. I always had time and energy to help co-workers but was often out of steam when my husband wanted to go out for dinner or have sex. As a People Pleaser, I had gotten my priorities discombobulated and now I needed to set them straight.
I stopped saying “yes” to acquaintances and strangers and stopped saying “no” to my husband, to my sons, and to myself. I realized I was putting too much effort into making people like me – people who weren't significant in my life, people who didn't care about me, people who wouldn't be there for me if I needed them. I was exerting too much energy on my public persona – trying so hard to look nice, helpful, and enthusiastic. I was always acting fake, never being the real me, and that left me exhausted...and unhappy.
5. I Began Dealing With Conflict Head-On.
I began to exam my relationship with my mother, a People Pleaser to the extreme, and realized there was nothing between us. Our relationship had dissolved over time to mere pleasantries, superficial talk, and lots of awkwardness. That's because, as a People Pleaser, my mom had avoided disagreements for decades and nothing ever got resolved. Hurts just piled up until they were no longer manageable. They got pushed aside but were never forgotten.
Until recently, I thought the absolute worse thing in the world was to have a conflict with someone. The very thought of it would give me tremendous anxiety. However, I now realize that disagreements are normal and natural. When you care about someone, you want to face a problem head-on and reach an understanding. You don't need to reach an agreement, but both sides need a chance to speak and get heard. Through this process, the relationship grows stronger as you go through turmoil together and come out the other side.
I understood now I was overeating, in large part, to avoid conflict. I was avoiding situations where I might have to act strong, voice a dissenting opinion, and stand up for myself. I was putting myself only in places where I felt safe. I didn't feel that I could handle any kind of battle – no matter how minor. I realized that stemmed from my childhood where my parents squelched my emotions and silenced my thoughts. I now had to make up for lost time, speaking out for what I believed and no longer fearing the fallout. After failing to lose weight and keep it off for so many decades, I discovered that finding my voice and ending my people pleasing ways was what I needed all along.