Wanting to make people happy in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. But valuing someone else's happiness is different than people-pleasing, or constantly twisting yourself to accommodate other people. Kati Morton, LMFT, says that people-pleasing is something many of us learn growing up, but it's a behaviour that becomes toxic if we aren't vocal about our own needs, too.
"[People-pleasing] can help us to fit in more easily and make new friends, but in the long run we need to make sure our relationships are balanced, and we know we can speak up and be heard," she says. "If we find ourselves being the only one giving in, compromising, or considering the other person, then it might be a good time to consider whether that relationship is healthy and happy."
Not that you should be keeping a scorecard, but relationships should be 50/50, and Morton says that you should be able to remember the last time you got your way in a situation (like, say, you and your friend went to the restaurant you wanted to go to instead of the one they picked).
"When we are always the one going along with other people and trying to make them happy, it can leave us feeling very unhappy, and possibly depressed," she says.
If you've begun you feel like you've been giving too much of yourself in relationships and you're unhappy about it, it's not too late to start asking for what you want. But you do have to do the work to be honest and clear about your needs.
"Figure out what you are okay giving in to and what you would prefer to get your way on," Morton says. "Are there certain situations where it’s harder for you to give in, or [where] you try to get out of making that specific decision? Are you upset easily afterward? Start paying attention to these signs and they will guide you towards figuring out what you want to stand up for."
Not that you should be keeping a scorecard, but relationships should be 50/50.
There's no one way to stop being a people-pleaser immediately, but Morton says there are a few things you can do to put up boundaries that will help you get a little more balance in your relationships.
"The work starts within with positive self-talk," she says. "Usually when we are giving in to others constantly, we don’t think very highly of ourselves. So spend some time at the beginning and end of each day and come up with 3-5 things you like about yourself and your situation at that time."
And yes, you can speak up for yourself without feeling like a mean or a terrible person. If you're worried that your mission to stop people-pleasing will come off as harsh, Morton suggests letting your friends and family know that you're trying a new thing and working on putting yourself first.
"You don’t have to tell them exactly what you are doing, but you can just say that you are trying to communicate more clearly," she says. "This will help them better understand why you are sticking up for yourself more, rather than giving in all the time."
So the next time you're faced with a one-sided conversation where your friend talks constantly and won't let you get a word in, maybe you gently let them know that you'd like to talk about something on your mind, or something that happened to you that day.
"Change is always uncomfortable at first, but if we speak to those we love about it, and give them a heads-up, they won’t be offended as easily, and we can keep trying to stick up for ourselves," Morton says.
The key thing to remember is that you're breaking an old habit, and as they say, old habits die hard — it's going to take time and work, but making sure you're valued in your relationships is always worth it.