“People assume you are always available when you prioritize them but they fail to recognize that you often make yourself available to them.” I recently came across this quote on social media and it really resonated. How many of us are out here prioritizing others before ourselves? How many of us feel taken for granted for being available and accessible to those we care about and love? Have you ever felt guilty because you could not show up for someone because you decided to show up for yourself instead?
As someone who practices and preaches holistic wellness, I recognize my struggles with being a people-pleaser, making myself available to others, and setting boundaries. I belong to a collectivist culture where family, friends, relationships, and community are everything. In order to maintain peace and harmony, we are taught to be there for others whenever they need it, no matter the cost. There have been times when I was called selfish because I chose to prioritize myself over others. I did not want to be known as someone who is selfish and thinks only of myself. So, I internalized it to a point where I became a people pleaser without even realizing it. I went out of my way to help and support people around me sometimes at the cost of my own well-being. I struggled with saying no and setting boundaries. I found myself getting lost in other people’s lives and in my relationships. I disconnected from my own hobbies and interests and took on other people’s interests as my own just to maintain a connection and have quality time with them. I called it “going with the flow” and being flexible because it was easier than using my voice to have a differing interest and convince others to do something I wanted only to be faced with rejection. There is, of course, a difference between “going with the flow” as a people pleaser versus “going with the flow” out of consideration. In the former, you rather be doing something else and want to do something else while, in the latter, you genuinely want to do what the other person wants because it is important to the person and you know they would do the same for you.
Being a people pleaser also comes with the feeling that people around you sometimes take advantage of you. I gave more importance to all my relationships than to my relationship with myself. I remember I was in my second semester as a freshman in undergrad and my best friend at the time was attending a different university, about 45 minutes away from me. We remained close even after leaving high school and tried to see each other and spend time together, generally on the weekends. One Friday afternoon she contacted me to ask me if I was free. I assumed it was to meet up and go out in the evening since she just asked me to meet her at her dorm at 5pm, so I made myself available. When I got there, she had a laundry basket filled with clothes ready and said “can you drop me to my parent’s so I can do laundry and go have dinner with them?” I felt angry. The anger came from a place of feeling hurt. She asked me to drive 45 minutes to come pick her up and drop her off at her parent’s house when her dorm was 15 minutes away from their house and she could have been picked up by one of them or her sibling. She could have even asked one of her friends from college to drop her off. I felt used. Due to valuing quality time with friends and making myself available to them, I did not realize that I may have people around me who do not value me or my time. I get calling someone to pick you up if you have a flat tire and are stranded on the side of the road, but this, this just did not make sense.
Then, there are people in your life who reach out only when they want to vent, talk about themselves, need something or ask for help but do not check in on you while expecting you to check in on them. Some of you may have people like this in your lives. You know, the ones who disappear when they do not need anything from you. You may have wondered, why do I continue to make myself available for this person when all they do is leave me feeling drained? You may ask yourselves, do they even know me or what’s going on with me? Perhaps, you reflect on when was the last time they asked you how you were doing or what’s going on with you and realize you do not remember because it has not happened recently. You feel you’re being taken advantage of or used. Yes, there are times where one person may need more support than the other but relationships, no matter what kind, have some reciprocity and balance. If a person gets upset when you do not show up for them, but has excuses every time they do not show up for you, you begin to wonder.
The need to be there for others, no matter the cost, is draining. The drain leaves you feeling exhausted to a point where you may start noticing it impacting your mental and physical health. When you finally realize how a situation or relationship is impacting you negatively, you decide to act.
As I had increasing experiences with people taking advantage of my time and availability for them, I began moving towards the other extreme of saying no to things and people as a way to detach and avoid feeling used. I, once again, found myself in the space where people around me created a perception of me being unkind and selfish. However, this time the people who were saying this were people who struggled with getting used to my boundaries. They are the ones who are not able to respect your boundaries will find ways to leave you feeling guilty. They recognize that your kindness will cause you to cross your own boundaries and give them the same access they had to you before you placed the boundaries. They manipulate you to believe you are doing something wrong when you are focusing on yourself. On the other hand, there are those who really know you and are able to see and experience the soft interior beyond the tough and hard exterior. They recognize who you are and value your presence in their life by validating you. They understand and respect your boundaries because they too value self-care and wellness. They take the time to know what is really going on for you so that they can support you in the same way that you support them. They do not minimize or dismiss your feelings or cause you to second guess yourself. Healthy dynamics are possible once you recognize your people pleasing tendencies and establish realistic boundaries where you are not only taking care of yourself but also making time for those that are important without losing yourself in the process.
So, how do you go from being a people pleaser to having healthy boundaries?
Transitioning from being a people pleaser to establishing healthy boundaries is a positive and empowering journey.
Here are some steps to help you make that transition:
Reflect on your needs, desires, and values.
Identify instances where you’ve overlooked your well-being for the sake of pleasing or being there for others.
Define your values
Clearly define your personal values and priorities
Understand what is truly important to you, and use this as a foundation for setting boundaries.
Learn to say no
Practice saying “no” in a respectful and assertive manner. For example: “No, I can’t have dinner with you today” or “No, thank you for asking”.
Understand that saying no doesn’t make you selfish and it’s a necessary skill for maintain your well-being. You are not rejecting the person, but rather the request.
Avoid overexplaining your reason for saying no. No is a complete sentence.
Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your routine.
Set aside time for activities that rejuvenate and energize you, whether its exercise, reading, journaling, painting, or spending time with loved ones.
Express your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and assertively. Being assertive means being honest and direct with your communication without intentionally trying to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Use “I” statements to communicate your boundaries, emphasizing your own needs rather than making it about the other person.
Avoid using “always” and “never”.
Understand that setting boundaries is not about being selfish, but rather about maintaining a healthy balance in relationships.
Develop empathy towards others while still prioritizing your well-being. You can still be kind and nice without overlooking your self-care.
Limit people-pleasing behaviors
Pay attention to situations where you feel the need to please others at the expense of your own needs.
Challenge the belief that you must always meet others’ expectations, especially when those expectations are not realistic.
Share your journey with friends, family, or a therapist.
Surround yourself with people who understand the importance of healthy boundaries and can offer support and encouragement.
Learn to tolerate discomfort
Understand that setting boundaries may initially feel uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary step for personal growth.
Practice sitting with the discomfort without immediately giving into people-pleasing tendencies.
Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements in establishing and maintain healthy boundaries.
Recognize that it’s a continuous process, and be patient with yourself as you make this positive shift.
Remember, developing healthy boundaries is a skill that takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and do not be afraid to seek professional help, if needed. It is not your responsibility to make everyone happy nor can you save everyone by being there for them any time they need you. It is your responsibility to be there for you and value yourself so that you can make time for everything else that’s important to you.