PEOPLE PLEASERS: Stop setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm

"Too many of us fail to fulfill our needs because we say no rather than yes and yes when we should say no.


William Glasser


If you’ve always been a people-pleaser, a relationship break-up is an opportune time to learn to stop setting yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

On the surface of it, being a people pleaser sounds like a positive trait doesn't it?

We all want people to like us, don’t we?

And, shouldn’t we do our best to make others feel valued, especially our closest family and loved ones?

Well yes, but …

If you’ve learned to value other people’s happiness and expectations over your own and have tried to be amiable for so long that you’ve forgotten how to stand up for yourself, now is the time to make amends.

You may have become dependent on accolades from others to feel worthy (be that your boss, your children or your ex-partner) but that leaves you vulnerable to plummeting into despair when you don’t measure up to expectations, usually your own.

When someone is angry with you or feels you’ve hurt them in some way (there’s a lot of that going on during separation), no matter how insignificant or fleeting their anger or pain is, a people pleaser will often feel crushed. You shouldn't.

You deserve happiness and to put yourself first sometimes.

If you do not stand up for yourself in a relationship, you will eventually start to show contempt for your partner in other ways.

Deep down, non-assertive people know this is true and when they are honest with themselves, they will recognise that they become resentful towards those they feel are taking them for granted.

Instead of expressing their resentment, often the non-assertive spouse in a couple will adopt a passive-aggressive behaviour as an indirect expression of their hostility.

For example, they might smile through saying yes to an invitation in public that they have previously told their partner in private they’d rather not accept, then silently make their protest by stalling and refusing to get ready in an effort to make their partner angry at being late.

If it’s not already too late for you in your relationship take note and try to make changes now as this type of behaviour is toxic and will lead to the eventual demise of your relationship.  If you are not in a relationship, you are in a perfect position to start practicing the art of assertiveness.

Either way, it’s time to rise to the challenge of learning to bolster your self-esteem from within, no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first.

Asserting yourself in conflict situations is healthier in the long run than avoiding the conflict.


Assertion does not mean aggression.

When you are assertive and speak up for yourself calmly and quietly, it means you’re honouring your needs, too. Instead of going to extremes trying to please others and getting resentful when it’s not appreciated (be honest, you do) creating healthy boundaries as to what you will and will not be a part of is actually doing you both a favour. If the other person can’t accommodate your needs, are you not better off elsewhere?


It might be uncomfortable in the moment.

Confronting someone, especially a friend or family member is never easy, and it can be even more difficult if that someone is in a position of perceived power over you, like a boss, or perhaps a controlling partner. It might make you squirm and feel terrible in the moment. You may even wear their wrath which can be upsetting. Perhaps you will end up leaving your job or your relationship but in the longer term, you will feel relief. Take the silent burden off yourself, so you can feel more peaceful in the long term. The positives do end up outweighing the negatives.


Look past your fear.

When the consequences of standing up for yourself might mean you are facing significant risks like potential unemployment or the end of a relationship, fear kicks into overdrive. Often the perception of the outcome is actually far more terrifying than the reality. It helps to look at the situation from an outsiders' perspective. If a good friend came to you with the same issue, what advice would you give and what solutions would you offer to their fears? Ask yourself,  "what is the worst that can happen and will I survive it?" If the answer is yes, in the end, it will be for the best, then take your own advice.


You can’t please all the people all the time

For people pleasers, this is a hard lesson to learn. You may have a deep desire for all the people you interact with to understand that what you do and say comes from a good place. However, this isn’t realistic. There will always be people who don’t like you or misunderstand your intentions. It is not your responsibility to make them feel differently about you; that’s completely up to them. All you need to is to treat people with integrity, kindness, and respect and let go of the outcome.


Confrontation isn’t about belittling someone else to embolden yourself

The ability to confront someone about issues that bother you ultimately comes down to an issue of your own self-esteem. If your self-esteem is lacking, you may have been trying to gain acceptance and love by meeting their needs at a cost to you. I like to think of it as setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm. You just wouldn’t do it but effectively, that is what you are doing every time you put yourself at the mercy of other people’s approval to feel worthy. 

In approaching someone to ask for your needs to be met, you are not asking them to do that to the exclusion of meeting their own. Nor are you saying you refuse to consider their needs. You are simply telling them what is important to you and how you feel about what is happening in that moment. It may be that they had absolutely no idea their behaviour was upsetting you. If they were already aware and continue to disrespect your wishes, then you have another decision to make.

Will you continue to tolerate their disrespect or will you respect yourself enough to take yourself out of their environment?


We are all worthy in our own right.

We are all lovable.

We should all spend time clearly defining our personal boundaries.

We should learn to be kind and assertive so as to respect our own boundaries and ensure other people respect them too.

Divorce in Australia

Published by, Christine Weston
Founding Director and Creator of Divorce Resource


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