Freedom from the Destructive Pattern of People-Pleasing

Natalie Mills Portland Oregon Psychotherapy and Coaching PDX, Portland Oregon Counseling PDX, Portland Oregon Therapy PDX, Portland OR Therapists PDX, Portland Oregon Therapist PDX, Portland Oregon Couples Counseling PDX, PDX couples therapy Portland oregon, PDX couples therapist Portland Oregon, PDX EMDR therapists Portland, PDX EMDR therapist in Portland, PDX EMDR therapy in Portland, PDX help with intimacy therapy Portland Oregon, PDX help with intimacy Portland Oregon, PDX help for depression in Portland Oregon, PDX depression treatment Portland Oregon, PDX anxiety treatment Portland Oregon, PDX help for anxiety Portland Oregon, PDX anxiety treatment Portland Oregon, PDX addiction treatment Portland Oregon

Those of us who have lived through relational trauma typically have a challenging time setting healthy boundaries for ourselves. We’re either too rigid or too flexible.


In my work with clients, I hear a lot of things like, “I do so much for her. She would never do for me what I’ve done for her.” Or “Why am I always the one bending over backward for everyone?” And “Everything is always up to me. Why doesn’t anyone offer to help me get things done or make decisions?”


We do a lot. We do for others, hold things down at work and home, support our loved ones, and take care of our responsibilities. We’re in weddings. We go to baby showers and birthday parties. We make sure gifts have been wrapped, and cards have been sent.


We also have days when we can’t seem to pull ourselves out of bed to make into work on time. Laundry piles up. Our budgets are neglected. It takes us forever to get out the door because we’re slogging through a million things and can’t seem to cross the threshold to the outside world.


A lot of us feel overburdened and underappreciated at work, at home, or in our relationships. Sometimes this is because we’re tired and vulnerable. Sometimes it’s because we’re doing too much. And some of us chronically do too much, give too much.


We say yes too often, take on too many responsibilities, do too many favors, caretake, and neglect our own needs. We give gifts, make trips, invest ourselves in finding solutions to problems, accommodate, and excuse behavior. None of these behaviors are inherently problematic, but too much too often and with the wrong intention makes us feel imbalanced and resentful.


If I’m constantly trying to find ways to accommodate coworkers, clients, friends, and family members, anticipate peoples’ needs, and please everyone all the time, I’m probably going to find myself wondering when people are going to offer me the same in return. I’ll be waiting a long time, though.


That’s kind of how this works.


In psychotherapy, we look at schemas. A schema is a framework for how we live and relate. It’s information we’ve accumulated from life and stored in our brains and bodies. That information helps our brain decide what it believes, how we should respond to our beliefs. It helps us have expectations. To our human brain, assumption equals truth. It’s an “If this, then that,” process. Most of our schemas were programmed during childhood.


Those of us who habitually over-accommodate and people-please often have schemas that tell us something like, “I have to overextend to get love. I am not ok as I am.” We believe that we’ll lose relationships if we don’t constantly give to and please others. And we usually bring this attitude to work, our relationships, and our homes. At that rate, we’ll feel resentful and exhausted in no time flat.


We do these things because we believe we have to, not because we want to. Sometimes it’s mixed; we enjoy seeing the look on someone’s face when we do something nice for them but we also need to do something that elicits that response for us to feel good about ourselves, loved, and worthy. It’s a lot like getting a fix.


Once we find out what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and that it doesn’t work for us, we feel kind of trapped. The whole point is to keep overdoing it so that we’ll feel lovable and worthy. The compulsion is to keep doing more and more and more. How could we ever imagine pulling back and doing less for others?


It’s not an easy transition to make. Like any new habit, it feels awkward and uncomfortable at first. What’s worse is that it comes with flawed logic that, for so long, has felt like truth. Chances are, we don’t know why we feel this way. We probably don’t, “I do too much. I give too much of myself in order to keep my relationships and feel loved.” We probably think, “I do what I’ve always done.”


Some of us have moved hundreds or thousands of miles away from our triggers only to find that they have followed us, a sort of “the call is coming from inside the house” situation.


We find ourselves in similar situations and relationships to the ones we left. The scenery has changed, but the narrative is the same.


We’re bending over backward for people and not considering our needs. We feel underappreciated and taken for granted. We store our resentments, and they leak out in other ways.


And whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve defined ourselves by our people-pleasing behaviors. It’s been our way of relating to our world for a long time. Mourning the loss of this identity will come with its own process.


So, what do we do?


First, we should approach our transition out of over-accommodating and into healthy boundaries slowly and deliberately. When faced with an urge to caretake or accommodate, we can ask ourselves, “Who is this for?” It will feel a little clunky at first. The question is a great start because it reminds us that we have choices in our interactions.


Our first answers to this questions will probably be something like, “It’s for them! They need something, and I can make it happen.” We might think, “It’s for me. I love to help people.” While these statements might be true, beneath the surface lies a whole world of expectation- that the person will do the same thing for us, that they’ll love us more, that they’ll see how irreplaceable we are, that we’re special.


We can also ask ourselves, “What do I want from this interaction? What am I expecting from the other person?” Running through this a few times is a great exercise in self-awareness and mindfulness. It also teaches us to consider ourselves, an act of self-care.


We can follow up with running through a previous scenario with the same person. “How often have they met my expectations before this situation? Am I expecting a brand new behavior from them because I want it or because they’ve taken legitimate steps toward that behavior?”          


Be prepared to be uncomfortable. When we’re used to getting our self-worth from acts of service, performing fewer of those acts will be anxiety-producing. (And somehow, simultaneously, a relief.) Reconditioning ourselves is slow-going and scary.


If we’ve found ourselves saying, “This person would never do for me what I’ve done for them,” there is probably wisdom in that. And more than meets the eye. If someone wouldn’t do for us what we’ve done for them, why not? Do they value their time more than we value ours? Are they selfish? Are they better at prioritizing where they give their favors? Could we learn from their boundaries?


If we consistently find ourselves in relationships where we’re giving more than the other person, we need to look at a) who we’re forging relationships with and b) our beliefs and patterns of behavior in relationship.  



When we’re caught in a pattern of people-pleasing, the language of over-accommodating spins both ways. We believe that we have to do more than we can do to be lovable and maintain the relationship. We also believe that others should over-accommodate us if they really love us. If they don’t, it means they don’t love us or that we’re not as important to them as they are to us. This is pretty hard to live up to (especially if the other person isn’t aware of the rules).


If people-pleasing is our love language, we’re going to have no trouble finding people who would love for us to please them. We will have trouble finding people who will put up healthy boundaries for us.


If you want to talk about your struggle with people-pleasing and are curious about how you can establish healthy boundaries for yourself, I’d love to talk with you!


Love and Be Loved,


Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

I am a licensed mental health professional serving Portland, OR. 97205.

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