I experienced my first anxiety attack in the summer of 2014 while locked in the bathroom stall at my corporate fashion job. At this point, I had been living in New York City for a little over two years, but it felt like a lifetime.
Up until that point, I had experienced severe digestive issues—I actually thought it was normal to unbutton my pants after every meal—and had itchy, dry spots on my eyelids, cheeks, and elbows. My body was continuously stressed out because of having too much coffee, too much wine and Tito’s, too little quality sleep, and not enough vegetables. Not to mention, I was uber-stressed at my job on most days, leaving me feeling exhausted and ready for another glass of wine (and a pint of ice cream) by the time I got home.
I now recognize all of my physical symptoms were attempts to tell me where I was getting lost and where my boundaries were being violated. The stomach aches and sleepless nights were piling on top of each other and becoming my new routine.
See the thing is, my whole life I had been told I was too emotional and I took that story on as my truth without question. I eventually convinced myself I was a big basket case full of emotions, and that to be a “good person” I had to bend over backward to make everyone happy.
Deep down, I felt like shoving my emotions and throwing myself into everyone else’s problems would somehow make me less emotional. Over time, the less sensitive I forced myself to be, the unhappier I became. Not to mention, the significant blow-ups in my personal relationships that left me feeling like an absolute crazy person.
I felt trapped in this endless cycle of frustration, resentment, and people-pleasing. It always ended the same way: me, burnt out and feeling like shit.
If you’re nodding in agreement, chances are you’re a fixer, feeler, an over-giver, or a straight-up people-pleaser. It’s okay, we’re in this together. I provided a few ways as to how you can change your people-pleasing habits and actually stop living your life for others and find the courage to live your life for yourself.
How I Changed My People-Pleasing Ways
It wasn’t a simple process, as you probably already can guess.
I started my journey to recovery the moment I dumped my boyfriend in early 2014. As most people-pleasers do, I had poured myself into a relationship that wasn’t supporting the best version of myself. I was continually trying to fix someone that wasn’t ready to change (I now realize it was entirely not my responsibility) and got frustrated when I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved.
After that breakup, I shifted my focused and gave every ounce of my time and energy to myself. Going to the gym in the morning took priority over happy hours, and I found myself unintentionally changing my diet. Food slowly became my friend, not something that I used to numb my frustrations and dull my mental stress that was always on my mind.
The realization that I was a people-pleaser didn’t happen overnight. It took me some time to figure that I was someone too scared to say “no” and too quick to say “yes.” I had lost touch with who I was and what I wanted.
I think the biggest thing that changed is that I re-wrote the story I had always told myself about my emotions. With time, I came to realize that being empathetic and intuitive were actual powers I possessed, I just needed to learn how to harness these skills and communicate my emotional needs.
Also, I finally took the time to understand who I am and what I truly wanted. It took stripping back the layers of who I thought I was supposed to be (all developed while living for others) and getting vulnerable with my thoughts and feelings. It was so freeing to finally say, “this is who I am, and this is what I want out of my life. If you’re not supportive, I will find someone who is.” I quickly realized that this sentiment applied to just about every facet of life and began making changes.
After this entire process—filled with a lot of self-development books, yoga, meditation, and personal reflection—I am a proud recovering people-pleaser. Someone who is not afraid to say “no,” but more importantly, I am someone who is no longer afraid to say “yes.”
I’ve finally regained control of my power and anxiousness and to please no longer defined me. Instead, I love harder, I say no more often, and I make sure that, in the end, I am taken care of because I am worth it.
And so are you.
As a recovering people-pleaser, every day is filled with new challenges that will test my boundaries just to make sure I’m still paying attention and living a life aligned with my values. What’s different now is that this life feels a lot more grounded and flowy, and a hell of a lot less anxious. My sleep has improved, my digestive issues disappeared, my skin is glowing, and I finally have a hold on that subtle anxious gnaw I used to feel on a daily basis.
When All You Know is People-Pleasing
Most people-pleasers are so used to catering to the needs of others, they forget what they truly want. Over time, you might lose touch with what you value and forget how to communicate what it is you want.
People-pleasing is a vicious cycle of seeking affirmation and positive feedback from those around us, which we usually receive by obliging to their wishes. After living that life for months, you might find yourself harboring resentment for those you’ve been so quick to help in the past. You might even convince yourself that they’re the rude ones and can’t understand how other people can be so ignorant.
As hard as it is to hear, in most cases, it’s not the other person’s fault for your unhappiness. It all comes back to common people-pleasing behavior and lack of communication, low self-esteem, and fear of rejection. It’s important to remember that you are worthy of happiness and saying “no” to things that don’t bring you joy doesn’t make you a bad person.
Remember what your values are and reassess what you’ve been prioritizing as important. Self-care is a tool that can help you move away from your overly-pleasing behavior and move into the life of a recovering people-pleaser.
The woman who is tired, stressed-out, and way too hard on herself: stop pouring your precious energy and resources into clothes, happy hours, men or women, and work in search of the life you crave. You are worth more, and you are supported indefinitely.
Feature image via Vanessa Granda