Getting out of the People Pleasing Trap


Eagle Awesome strength 3386693324It's time to free yourself.

Eating disorders develop over time and create their own internal environment that becomes a full internal world with set pathways and few options. This means that you live your life based on the rules, routines, habits, perspective, thought processes and behaviors established by your eating disorder.

People pleasing, a well known phrase in the eating disorder community, becomes a way of life. You please others to get support, make them like you, avoid criticism, feel important and valuable because you are needed. 

People pleasing behavior becomes so ingrained you do it automatically and even seek out opportunities to please others.  It becomes a major aspect of how you perceive your identity. 

Isn't it time to fly, based on your own agenda?

One of the major problems with people pleasing for a person with an eating disorder is that you, unknowingly, will binge on people pleasing.  You can wind up living an exhausting life where you are busily saying yes to other people’s demands and requests.  You even anticipate their needs and doing your best to fulfill them at great cost to the quality of your life.

Learning to say no, to parse out your time and resources carefully, seems the way to end this exploitation.  For someone who has dropped into a bad habit of saying yes continually to others’ request, this is a reasonable way out. You make a to do list of what you will do and give yourself a list of coping mechanisms that help you say no or set reasonable limits.

But that doesn’t address you inner landscape, does it?

If people pleasing is well established in your psyche then you experience as very real and constant flow of demands and criticisms in your own mind. A to do list won’t stop them. That onslaught has been building over time and is the eating disorder’s way of creating a template for your life. If you rush about trying to please and live up to the expectations of your inner demands you will find yourself not only exhausted but also unfulfilled.

Trying to live up to the demands of those inner voices keeps you in a perpetual action phase where you must please those voices or suffer severe punishment in the form of devastating self esteem criticism and assaults on your self worth.
You have become a slave to the eating disorder regime within which is never satisfied.

Simple revolution, saying no or never again doesn’t get you very far.  Mustering your courage, your rage and your indignation to fight back may give you hope and even a moment of respite.  But then what?  Your inner landscape hasn’t changed.  Your identity as a nice person who is generous and is always ready to help others hasn’t changed.  Your need to protect yourself from criticism and the lonely despair that accompanies it hasn’t changed.

So the slave’s revolution is temporary and then, not knowing how to live on your own and being frightened without people around you depending on you for services, you slip back into the slave role and fit into the inner eating disorder landscape once again.

There is a way out of this.  Look at any successful revolution.  The rebels don’t just say no to the dominating regime. That leaves them with nothing.  Successful rebels say no to the dominating regime in order to say a more full yes to what they care about.  And that’s where your authentic life is and where you power to live it comes from.

If you weren’t following the people pleasing orders in your mind what would you be doing with your time and resources?

Instead of looking over your shoulder at the whip ready to crack on your back, what if you looked through the bars of your prison at how other people live and begin to recognize opportunity?
Suppose you pushed the boundaries of your eating disorder defined inner world and then transformed the entire landscape?

For example, you go out exploring, looking for what interests you and catches your imagination.  This  means you give yourself regular time to wander about observing. This means that you honor this time. You walk in your neighborhood, look in shop windows, watch people on the sidewalk or in the park. You go to museums, art galleries,hardware stores, toy shops, furniture stores.  You browse the UCLA extension catalog and  Your only purpose is to take note of what appeals to you. Keep a notebook.

Eventually you’ll want to take another step in the direction of your interest. It doesn’t have to make sense, fit in with your current lifestyle or be agreement with what anybody else thinks. This is for you. 

Your first surprise is the joy you feel as you tentatively make your move toward what touches your heart and your imagination.

Your second surprise is that you will discover new people who welcome you into this new venture of yours. 

You’ll find that you become at ease and confident when you say, “Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got another commitment.” When your inner people pleasing demands come through you’ll see how weak they become.  You won’t need to obey them for security and to maintain your identity as someone who follows orders.  You’ll be getting your security based on your authentic identity that gets stronger as you honor what you genuinely care about.

Your eating disorder mental landscape fades. Your inner landscape reconfigures and transforms to reflect the real you.

Starting Questions:

  1. Where will you browse to discover what you care about?
  2. What are old dreams that you left behind but still are dear to you?
  3. What physical objects do you keep in your home as momentos of what you care about?
  4. What are the books you’ve always meant to read?
  5. What are the hobbies you’ve always meant to pursue?
  6. What are the causes you want to support?

This article was inspired by a reader comment:  "Managing external and internal demands."

* pix awesome strength, Dawn Huczek, U.SA. Creative Commons


0 # Thank you!shh 2015-06-02 06:23

Thanks for this Joanna, it made me cry, as I realise that 2-3 years ago, I had started to uncover the answers to a lot of these things, I felt like I was flying, and it was wonderful, but they have become either no longer practical, lost, or buried under the upheaval of divorce and adjusting to that new life - and I do need to start seeking them out again!

I'm a little bit pushed for time, so I shall write more later, but more than anything it reminded me that changing ingrained beliefs and habits takes time and perseverance, sometimes it feels impossible, but it's not. I can remember a few years back, posting on here about feeling like I was a bad, worthless person - that I could challenge it and knew on a rational level that it wasn't true, but it still didn't stop me feeling it inside, my core belief was still that I was inherently bad. I don't have those feelings anymore, my core feelings about myself are that I'm a good person and equally deserving of things as everyone else on this planet, I don't have to stop and take time out to remind myself of that, it comes naturally, and is a part of who I am.... so that shows me, that if I can change those beliefs and thought patterns, then I can change the internal people pleasing ones too - I just need to remember that it's a reiterative process, but that it will come with time.

0 # letting go of old plans and making new onesshh 2015-06-03 03:05

After saying I'd come back to this and write more last night, I actually felt a very strong resistance pulling me back from re-reading what Joanna had written, something about me couldn't do it and wanted to give it a wide berth, but having noticed the resistance, I've been forcing myself to figure out what it's about and re-read what I had initially felt was a very helpful article and set of questions.

I figured that what it comes down to, is feeling "blocked" in the things I want to do, and had previously been pursuing. I wanted to pursue a career in clinical psychology, but I knew that the training for that would be very full on, and too much for me in my current situation (even prior to the divorce), it wasn't going to be practical until my girls are older, and ideally I could relocate - so I planned to get myself the pre-requisite qualifications, ready for when the time was right, so I spent 3 years doing another bachelors degree, and planned to side step into counselling until my girls are older. I did my first counselling qualification, which then permitted me to work for 12 months within a counselling organisation, but then at the end of that year, I was required to begin the more advanced level qualification, I applied and was offered a place at a university which would involve a reasonable amount of travelling, but is the nearest to my home....around the time I was offered that place was when things had become really difficult around the marriage break-up - I didn't know where we'd be living, how I would cope financially, and obviously I wasn't in a great place emotionally - so I decided it was the wrong time to embark upon that training, and the university were fine said they would notify me when they were interviewing for the next cohort and that I'd be guaranteed an interview, which they did, earlier this year. I was excited, I was ready to take up that challenge, but when I looked at the fees schedule, I realised that there's just no way I can afford it - now that I'm sorted out and settled on my own with the girls and I know where my finances are up to, I don't have anywhere near enough money for the travelling, childcare, tuition fees, personal therapy and supervision that it entails ...and so it seems like everything I want to do is "blocked" in some way or other.

I don't think I've really come to terms with having to shelve that (I can tell I haven't by the tears that are falling as I type this) ...I'm still looking for ways to build relevant experience, for ideas for how to sidestep those interests yet again into something else feasible, it's still where all my spare energy goes, and it's still met with brick walls, usually financial/childcare/location ones.

I tell myself to stop the fruitless searching and to use my spare energy on my girls and my home, and enjoying being a mum - and I do enjoy being a mother, but it feels like I need a bit of something that is for me, and I don't really know where to find it.

I think having had a cry as I typed this, has helped ...I'm just not sure whether it's really time to let go and move on, I'm scared that if there is a way or there is something I could be doing, that I just haven't discovered yet, that if I let go and move on, then I will miss out on it - if I move on and I'm happy, I guess it doesn't really matter, I suppose I'm scared of never finding anything else that's the right thing, and having regrets. I've spent over 4 years pursuing these dreams and goals, I worked hard doing my first lot of counselling training and working as a volunteer counsellor alongside my degree - it's hard to just let go of it and start looking for something else.



0 # re-finding myselfshh 2015-06-10 15:40

I have had a stressful 10 or 11 days recently, problems with the my hot water supply and problems with my car too, and both have turned out to be those 'not as straight forward as it first seemed' repairs, and both are dragging on and haven't been successfully completed yet. I'm not exactly financially well placed to pay for it all either, so it is challenging keeping my ED in check at the moment.

I've not been able to get out and about as much whist my car is being repaired, but I have still managed to make some in-roads towards re-finding myself. I have been carrying a pocket notebook and jotting down things that come into my head or things that I see where I think "ooh I want to try that" or "ooh I'd like one of those". I bought a copy of a magazine that I used to buy regularly, but haven't looked at for 10-12 years - I wasn't sure whether I'd still be interested, but it turns out that I am, and it almost feels like I've been transported back into the person I used to be when I read it regularly.

When I look at the things I've jotted down, a lot of them are forms of self-care - the getting used to a regular (earlier than at present) bedtime, make time to file and paint my nails, buy myself a nice new scented foam bath, start swimming again, spend more time in the garden etc

Providing my car is fixed by then, I have decided to start swimming again on Monday, my plan is to go 3 times a week,and gradually build it back up, so that I can swim a mile again - I'll be lucky if I can swim 50 yards thesedays.

So that's me for now!

Thank you for posting the original blog post Joanna!


0 # ThanksGuest 2016-06-04 17:52
This article made me realise that I am a people pleaser.

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