Take care of yourself first
Our drive to please others comes from biology—our ancestors depended on others for survival. Even today, we still seek social acceptance and connection, and caring for others gives us a sense of purpose. But when we are too focused on pleasing others, research shows that we tend to neglect ourselves. “People pleasing can be a very detrimental way of living,” says Deborah Serani, PsyD, a psychologist, award-winning author of Living With Depression, and a professor at Adelphi University. “The trouble happens when you make others a priority and don’t truly tend to your own needs. Many people pleasers measure their worth by what they do for others, and never learn the value of who they are without the giving, doing, and pleasing.” So how can you break free from that cycle? “The first step in achieving better boundaries is believing that self-care is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Sherry Pagoto, PhD, a psychologist and professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “Imagine you are the driver for a Red Cross truck delivering food and water to hurricane victims. If you are in such a hurry to help every single victim that you don’t stop once in a while to refuel the truck, eventually you will be stalled on the side of the road helping no one. Think of the time you put into self-care as your fuel stops.”
Strike a balance
According to Mental Health America, a “co-dependent” in a relationship places others’ welfare before their own, losing contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self. This unbalance can develop as early as childhood, and can lead to people pleasing in adulthood. “Being raised in an environment in which love was conditional, caretakers were emotionally unavailable, or when even small mistakes were severely punished can lead children to develop a strong fear of disappointing others,” Dr. Pagoto says. “This carries on through our lives.” Recognizing these patterns can help you break free of them and tip the scale back in your favor, so your life isn’t solely about others. These are clear signs of a healthy relationship.