A group of Alissa and her friends hanging out on a boat.

People Pleasing is Selfish. Here’s Why.

inspiration relationships May 23, 2019

“You’re a people pleaser, huh?” Max commented as he hooked the clips of my harness to the zip line.

I was 60 feet in the air. I looked down at my coworkers waiting below, cell phones armed and ready to take a video as I zipped down the zip line.

I laughed in exasperation. I couldn’t believe he’d picked up on that about me in less than a minute.

“People pleasing is one of the most selfish things a person can do. Do you know why?” he asked.

Wait. We’re really having this conversation right before I’m about to go down a zip line?

I was caught off guard. I’d always thought of myself as a pretty non-selfish person. I felt attacked! I had to think for a minute. I read all of the self-help stuff, lots of articles… people pleasing is selfish? No, I don’t think I’d heard that one.

“No… I guess I don’t know why,” I answered.

“It’s selfish because it’s all about how you feel. Not how the other person feels. You’re pleasing others so you get a response that you’re comfortable with,” Max said matter-of-factly. “Read the articles about it. They’re fascinating.”

Then he pointed to a tree to his right.

“Jump out towards that,” he said.

Without a second thought, I jumped and zipped right down the zip line.

I landed, shaky with adrenaline. I high fived my coworkers, enjoyed lunch and the rest of our team building day at the ropes course, but I couldn’t get his comment out of my head. People pleasing is selfish.

Stop Apologizing

By the way, people pleasing is something I’ve been actively working on doing less of. I wrote a blog post about it a few months back. But this selfish thing is a different spin I hadn’t thought of.

I also want to note, I later learned Max, the man guiding us down the zip line, is actually a therapist. So, he knew what he was talking about which held more weight for me.

His comment was sparked by me apologizing for something small. I had misstepped and didn’t hook my harness clamp correctly. “I’m sorry!” I’d said quickly.

“You apologize a lot, don’t you?” he observed.

“Yes! But I’m working on it!” I said earnestly.

And, I am. If you follow me on social media, you may have seen the graphic I shared a couple weeks ago about apologizing less.

Knowing the facts is one thing, integrating them into your life is another.

For 26 years, I’ve been programmed to be an often-apologetic, people pleasing human. It isn’t an easy thing to unlearn, so patience with myself is key.

So, while I share what I know about this topic, keep in mind, fellow people pleasers, that I’m right there with you learning how to flex this new muscle.

Why You Should Apologize Less

When you apologize all the time, though you may think it makes you seem kind and considerate, it actually gives the impression that you lack confidence.

And when you apologize all the time, like over-complimenting, it eventually loses it’s sincerity.

Why is over-apologizing a selfish act? Because you’re doing it to avoid a reaction from someone. Let’s be real. Unless an apology is actually due, you over-apologizing is not really for the other person’s sake. You’re just padding yourself with the soft shield of sorry before they could ever possibly say anything you wouldn’t like.

Let’s break down the graphic I shared above.

  1. Apologizing for needing to pass someone. I don’t feel like I really need to explain this one too much, but I will anyway. In the Midwest, it’s common to say “I’m sorry” when passing someone. But why? What am I sorry for? Because I need to get through and you’re in my pathway? I used to apologize when people would be standing near my desk and I needed to sit down. Like what? From the outside looking in, that makes me appear meek. Like, sorry for my existence. A simple “excuse me” is perfect and polite.
  2. Apologizing for turning down plans. Sorry that you have a life? Sorry that your life doesn’t always fit into another person’s schedule? Come on! If you’re a loyal friend with good intentions; if you’re there as often as you can be, you don’t need to be apologizing for missing your friend’s wine and paint night. It’s okay. And while we’re at it, you don’t need to over-explain why you can’t make it either. You’re allowed to have your own life. You’re allowed to say no and you don’t need to elaborate. A polite, “No, I can’t make it this time but thank you for inviting me!” is just fine. It signals self-confidence because you’re willing to have boundaries and respect your own time.
  3. Apologizing for not being dressed appropriately. This happened to me a while back at an engagement party. Everyone was wearing cute dresses while I had on jeans and a top. My first reaction was to feel super insecure. And I wanted to apologize to the bride. She didn’t care! I would’ve been apologizing to get her validation that I looked fine; which really was about me, to make me feel better. So, I flipped a switch and thought of girls I’d seen rock crazy outfits. What I thought was cool about them was how unapologetic they were. So, I rocked it. I didn’t utter a useless apology. I socialized, had a great time, and allowed myself to feel good in my skin.

Speak Up

I’ve been on a mission to get more and more comfortable using my voice. I’ve been trying to take opportunities to speak up when I normally wouldn’t.

What does that look like for me? Well, it’s baby steps. I’m learning to flex a new muscle, remember?

  • Voicing my opinion at work and being open if I don’t agree
  • Giving a realistic timeline when I get a request instead of immediately dropping what I’m doing for someone else
  • Being open and honest on my social media accounts, despite anyone potentially being offended or judging me
  • Writing a bad Yelp review

My First Ever One-Star Yelp Review

You guys, a couple weeks ago I wrote the first negative Yelp review I’ve ever written in my life. I’m notorious for only reviewing places I loved and leaving five-star reviews.

If I don’t like a place, I never say it because I don’t want to screw some business over. No matter how crappy my experience was.

Now tell me, how’s that selfish? I’m doing that business a favor.

Here’s how it’s selfish. If this business treated me poorly but I’m still holding back my honest feedback, it’s not because I actually care about hurting these people’s feelings. I mean okay, maybe a little bit. But it’s mostly about myself. I’m scared of what kind of backlash I could get. Are they going to call and harass me? Are they going to think I’m a mean person? Are they going to write a mean comment back to me?

On top of that, not sharing your honest feedback isn’t being honest with other potential customers. Look, I’m not saying be malicious in the review. But it’s completely fair and reasonable to be honest about what you experienced.

For little ol’ me, this was still hard to do, even though I was mad.

Long story short, we called a pest control company to take care of the rodents we were hearing in our attic. We set up a time, Matt moved around his schedule, stayed home from work, they never showed.

We were pissed. He wasted his whole morning waiting for these people!

Matt’s great about speaking his mind which I’m thankful for because I’m able to take notes from him. So when he texted me that he wrote a bad Yelp review for this company and that I should too, I was nervous.

So dorky. Who gets nervous about that?

Anyway, I wrote the negative review and I legitimately broke out in hives. I kid you not. But, I felt pretty dang liberated after.

I spoke my mind!

And they did call me. A few times. I couldn’t even bring myself to listen to their voicemails, just deleted them right away. But hey, I wrote the review.

I Can Survive Being Unliked

It’s funny, on the way to the ropes course, I was listening to an episode of the Good Life Project podcast about using your voice.

In the episode, the host, Jonathan Fields, was interviewing a woman named Alexia Vernon who’s an expert in transformational speaking and women’s leadership.

Alexia was talking about the first time she got negative feedback after one of her speeches. She said,

I realized I can survive being unliked. There weren’t a lot of people who’d ever unliked me up until that point. But I didn’t know if anyone really liked me either because a lot of people didn’t really know who I was.

Alexia Vernon. The Good Life Project. “Stop Hiding, Reclaim Your Voice.”

That line was so poignant because I realized that’s what I struggle with the most. The fear of being unliked. Speaking my mind usually freaks me out. The potential backlash, the judgment, the possibility of confrontation. But when I hold back, I’m not being fully myself. I’m missing the opportunity to show others the real me. I’m just morphing my message into what I think people want to hear.

When I wrap that back to what Max said about people pleasing being selfish, it makes all the sense in the world.

I don’t want anyone to unlike me or dislike me because that would make me uncomfortable. In an attempt to avoid being uncomfortable, I do whatever I can to make people happy because it’s safer for me.

Sit With the Uncomfortable Emotions

I wanted to do my homework before writing this blog post so I listened to an episode of the Earn Your Happy podcast where Lori interviews a certified confidence coach named Amy E. Smith.

Amy talked about the guilt we feel when saying no to someone. For instance, a friend asks if we can help them move. We’re already so busy and overwhelmed, we know if we say yes, we’ll end up even more burnt out.

So, we say no and the friend says, “Aw darn, okay. You were the last person I was going to ask. I guess I’ll just do it myself.”

Immediately we feel guilt and want it to go away. This is when we usually cave and we’re like alright, I can help you move. Despite knowing we really cannot add one more thing to our plate.

Amy challenges us to sit with that feeling of guilt.

We build our resiliency when we sit with that feeling. When we listen to our gut and what’s truly best for us. Acknowledge there will be uncomfortable emotions with this and you can survive them.

Amy E. Smith. Earn Your Happy. “STOP PEOPLE PLEASING”.

Her message gave me so much freedom. I can survive the uncomfortable emotions.

And speaking our mind, saying no, can absolutely be done with kindness and grace. It doesn’t need to be blunt or harsh. It’s about respecting yourself enough to set boundaries and not taking on more than you can handle just to please others.

Sometimes you have to look at an issue from multiple angles. Looking at people pleasing from these different viewpoints helped me get a better grasp on why I do it and the steps I need to take to wean myself off of it.

Here’s to apologizing less, speaking up more, and being okay with being unliked.

Who’s with me?

With love,