“Stop!” I yell at myself with my very loud and often critical inner voice. “Stop doing that! I have been working so hard to be in my authentic self. I work daily, writing in my gratitude journal, reading all the self help books I can find, listening to podcasts, and despite all these efforts I find myself STILL engaging in my very strong people pleasing pattern.”
In my twenty years as a psychologist, I heard some version of this story thousands of times. In my new approach to transformation as a wisdom coach, I think I may have uncovered the answer to what keeps us stuck.
The simple answer is connection. Some people call this belonging. We are hard wired for connection or a sense of belonging. Humans are social creatures and no matter how independent and self reliant we become, our need for connection with others will trump everything. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that those of us who are the most self-reliant are the ones who are most strongly in need of a sense of belonging. Even those who seem to do everything in their power to push people away are in need of a feeling of connection.
If it’s that Simple, Why is it so Complicated?
It is simple and it is complicated at the same time. Because we are hard wired for a need for connection, we will do a lot to create that experience for ourselves. We are born connected. Our first moments of life create for us an experience of moving from connection to disconnection through the cutting of the umbilical cord. In those brief moments right after birth, we go from being fully taken care of and fully connected to our mother to having to breathe for ourselves and find ways to communicate for ourselves. Our needs stop being implicitly taken care of.
Some would say that we might spend the rest of our lives looking for that kind of connection again. I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Once born, we are never again in need of someone to breathe for us or feed us in the way that we have those things done for us in vitro andwe also have a natural impulse to grow. We spend the rest of our lives traversing our need for connection with our need for independence and growth. How utterly confusing! We have two very natural and innate impulses within ourselves that are pulling us in entirely opposite directions.
The Balancing Act
We spend most of our time trying to find that balance between connection and independence. And in the process we will often overdo it in either direction. There will be times when we seem to pursue connection at all cost, even to ourselves and then there will be times when we seem to disconnect and to travel the road of strong and unwavering independence. In the process of trying to find that sweet spot where we can simultaneously experience both, we will often err on the side of too much of one or the other.
This struggle is what causes us distress. It is so difficult and at times even terrifying to stand inside of the truth of one’s own knowing of self and experience a feeling of connection with other from that place. Most of us have been given very strong messages from a young age about the value of getting along with others. And there is truth to these messages. Getting along is a good thing. What we have often failed to discern is that getting along does not have to mean going along. Going along is at the root of the people pleasing syndrome. The inner messages that perpetuate the people please pattern are ones that say, “It’s easier to agree than to say what you really think”, “no one wants to know what you really think/feel”, “they won’t like you if they got to know the real you”. Any self messages that invite you to not only deny your own experience, but abandon yourself are messages that communicate to you two things:
- Going along with others is more important than anything else.
- Getting along with others requires you to go along with what the other says/wants/does.
Let’s pause here and consider how dangerous these inner messages are to us. These are messages that invite us to abandon our self worth. These are messages that tell us that our only value comes from going along with others. These are messages that make us believe that we have nothing to offer.
We can spend days, months, even years trying to figure out where we got those messages. The short story for that one is they are rooted in family, gender, and culture. We get those messages everywhere!
What makes more sense is to get really good at balancing so that we develop the wisdom and skills to create a different pattern for ourselves and for the generations to follow. Even as I write these words, I feel exhausted. The first image that comes to my mind when I say “get really good at balancing” is an image of myself on a tight rope in the sky, swaying from side to side as I try to keep a whole bunch of china cups and saucers from tumbling to the ground. Is that what getting good at balancing is going to be like?
When I pause for a moment, I realize that balance is also something else. Balance is shown to us everywhere in the natural world. There is a type of balance between bees and pollen that allows honey to be created. There is the balance of day with night, the balance of activity with rest. In many ways balance is natural and has nothing to do with a tight rope.
So maybe the key is not to get good at balancing, but to get in tune with what balance is and what it feels like inside of myself.
Connecting with Me First
The truth is that we all need others. The other truth is that it is only when we are connected to ourselves first do we feel a true connection to others. Connection in that people pleasing way creates an experience of anxiety because we are living with the pressure of having to get it right for fear of rejection.
The idea of Connecting with Me First is simple and profound. It starts with a few very simple premises:
- I am curious about what I really think/feel.
- True harmony exists when there is room for everyone to have a voice
- My worth is inherent to me, not in what I do or say.
- I can only connect with others if I am connected to myself.
I know that you are thinking “Easier said than done.”.
The pattern of people pleasing can be very strong. Remember that it comes from being too far out of balance in one direction and that the process here requires you to journey home to yourself. The premises of Connecting with Me First are universal truths. We cannot be in balance or harmony with others if we are not in balance or harmony with ourselves. We cannot truly connect with others if we are not truly connected to ourselves.
So these are the steps you are going to take to help you to journey home to yourself and to learn how to Connection with You First. You are going to watch your people pleasing pattern – not in a judgmental way, but in an investigative way. You can’t change something if you don’t know what it is you are changing. You are going to be kind and forgiving towards yourself that you have developed this pattern and you are going to understand that before this very moment you could do nothing but the pattern that has been modelled to you in so many ways and in so many places.
Once you understand the pattern and the way you are living it, you now have the power to change it. You do not need to pull out your self help books for this one. What you need to do is remember the four premises above and realize that true and transformative change can only come from changing a belief system, not just a behavioural system. When you observe someone else embedded in their own people pleasing pattern, you can invite that person to share what she really thinks/feels. You can learn to hold space for others in this honest and authentic way as you are learning to hold space for yourself.
If you understand that old ways are resting upon old beliefs, you can chip away at those old beliefs with very strong intention and mindfulness of what you are replacing those beliefs with. As the wisdom of the universal beliefs become integrated into you, your behaviours will change all by themselves. You will stop feeling like you are on a tight rope and start feeling like you are in the harmony of balance.
About Dr. Daya
Dr. Roshni Daya began her career through the study of law completing her legal education at Osgoode Hall Law School. Knowing that her true passion lay in studying people and how to make positive and meaningful change happen she returned to university completing a Masters Degree in Education and a Doctoral Degree in Applied Psychology.
In her extensive work with people she discovered that there is a universal need to feel loved, accepted, and connected/sense of belonging. In the process of creating transformative change within herself and her clients for over 25 years, she observed that this innate drive for love, acceptance, and belonging is what binds humanity and at the very same time is what can create unhealthy and life denying patterns. It is at the root of people pleasing behaviours, over responsibility behaviours and self denial and self diminishment behaviours.
Dr. Daya also observed that all people encounter Brave Moments in their lives. These are the moments in which time stands still and everything gets crystal clear. She had developed tools and strategies that are designed to assist individuals in grabbing hold of Brave Moments and making those moments the marker of the beginning of a transformational process that brings the individual to self love, self acceptance and self connection. In this way, that which binds humanity together also allows us to evolve as a whole.
To get in touch directly with Dr.Daya email her at