CNM 039: Overcoming People Pleasing, with Brian R. King

Hello and welcome!

My guest today is Brian R. King. He’s a professional coach who does 100% virtual coaching on a variety of issues. I ask Brian why we people-please and how to deal with the urge. And half-way through the interview, we do a mini-coaching session, with yours truly playing the part of a habitual people-pleaser. So hang in there if you want to hear how Brian coaches me through this issue.

As a quick introduction, Brian has a master’s degree in social work, and is a former licensed clinical social worker. However, he has stepped out of that role to focus 100% on his coaching practice. Brian’s clients have good things to say about him, and I was actually referred to him by one of the listeners of this podcast who has worked with Brian.

So, I hope you enjoy this interview. Here’s my discussion with Brian R. King…

Interview with Brian R. King on Overcoming People Pleasing

Brian P:  Welcome to the show, it’s great to have you here.

Brian K:  It’s great to be here.

Brian P:  Thank you. I want to get right into the first question, and that is:

Question: Could you take a quick minute or two and tell us about the work you do, to help introduce yourself?

Brian K:  I work with a variety of people, beginning primarily with parents that have kids with either ADHD or Asperger’s. What drew me to that work is that I’m one of those people. I have three boys with ADHD and Asperger’s, and I have my own learning difficulties. I teach parents how to be much more resourceful and resilient, regardless of how difficult their lives can be (and they can be very challenging). I also work with a group of people that are just looking to be more mentally settled in their lives and have a better grasp on their own inner mind. They want to be more centered, mindful, and peaceful. A lot of those people tend to have issues with anxiety, depression, or a sense of overwhelm. I get a tremendous sense of reward with everybody I work with.

Brian P:  Great, and that’s why I was drawn to you. In fact, one of the listeners on our show recommended you. She works with you and said you are very, very helpful, so I think that’s the angle that I wanted to take with this discussion. There are a lot of folks in our audience who are struggling with anxiety, maybe some depression. The thoughts get jumbled in our minds, we have trouble focusing, emotion wells up in us, it’s hard to focus and we need to break the pattern. So, I thought it would be great to talk to you and see what you could bring to the table about this.

Question:  We often hear that codependency is an issue of toxic shame and is brought on by abuse or trauma a lot of times. And I’m wondering, do you think that’s always the case?

Brian K:  Well, it depends on how you look at trauma. It’s typically thought of as a singular event; an act of violence or abuse, or something terrible that was done to you. It may be one episode, or may be a couple episodes. But in this present age where we are in the 24-hour cycle, where we are bombarded with negative images (I mean, we can watch beheadings on YouTube for crying out loud), kids play violent video games every single day.

Research has shown that there can be this cumulative traumatic experience, where after twenty some years of doing this, you find kids that are hypervigilant, that are very anxious, or that have a hard time sleeping. When you look at their history, you find out that they’ve trained themselves to be more reactive to this negative, violent stimuli that their nervous system mimics, and in some cases looks like PTSD.

Question:  What about in the case of a child who is criticized over and over again, for example? Could it be as simple as that? What are some other types of things that happen in our lives that can cause us to have this sense of shame?

Brian K:  Bullying is one of them. I don’t know what it’s like now compared to when I was a kid. I was bullied mercilessly when I was a kid. But nowadays with the advent of social media, people are able to compare stories and share their experiences. So, it may look like there’s more of it happening. I hope to heaven that’s not true, but the bigger issue is that it’s still happening. And yes, kids can come out of that feeling so brutalized, so on edge, always looking over their shoulder, becoming paranoid somewhat. And that’s because there was this constant threat, and they learned to think of themselves as weak, vulnerable and in negative way, helpless. This absolutely leads to a sense of shame.

Question:  Okay. I want to talk about people pleasing a little bit as well. In a previous discussion we were discussing that parents can take this role of, ‘You need to be compliant with what I say’. And of course that’s something parents need to do and should do, but sometimes children develop a sense of, ‘I need to people-please, I need to placate my parents, I need to take on this role.’

Is that something that can cause these codependent tendencies in later life?

Brian K:  In general, with codependency you have somebody who is in power and somebody who is submissive. Often one person is very controlling, and they are attracted to somebody who lacks confidence in their ability to make their own decisions and wants to be led or rescued. So, a child that has learned to do what they’re told for their entire life is going to gravitate towards someone who’s going to tell them what to do all the time.

Question:  What is really at the root of people pleasing? Is it really an issue of self-love and self-esteem? It certainly surfaces in different ways, but at its core is people pleasing the same for everyone? What do you think?

Brian K:  Well, I’ve seen a common pattern in people pleasers, that is, the belief that, ‘I’m good only when you are happy, so I have to make you happy. You must be pleased, otherwise I’m not doing good.’

I’ve seen this in sibling relationships, I’ve seen it in parent-child relationships where one thinks, ‘I’m good if you’re good. I’m happy because you’re happy.’ And I actually see it with my eldest son right now. He and I are working through this.

Growing up, he was the first born grandson and people were always heaping praise on him. ‘Oh, you’re so smart, you’re so funny, you’re so cute.’ And he got used to this feedbacks by other people, and it almost got in the way of him developing his own internal sense of value in and of himself. He learned to connect, ‘I’m good because you said I’m good. I’m smart because you said I’m smart,’ He was getting so much good feedback all the time.

It’s almost like the pretty girl, ‘Oh, you’re so pretty, you’re so gorgeous.’ And they begin to think that, ‘You like me and give me attention because I’m pretty. My goodness, I better stay pretty!’

Question:  So, at its core is this need to people-please a self-esteem issue then? For example, do you feel as though your oldest son missed out on developing a really thorough sense of himself, and that he is now trying to find that in other people? What do you think is the real root issue in that situation?

Brian K:  He can decide upon his own criteria for feeling good about himself; that ‘I’m smart because I’m good at this, because I say so, because I value being good at these things.’ Or, ‘I think I look good and don’t need somebody else’s opinion on the matter.’ He didn’t develop that internal sense of his own worth.

A lot of people pleasers are missing that. They’re relying too much on external validation and feedback in order to feel good or happy, and the way they keep that bucket full is by always running around looking for people to please, so that others are always happy with them.

Question:  If someone comes to you and says, “I want coaching, I need help, I can’t stop people pleasing and it’s driving me crazy,” where do you start in order to help that person?

Brian K: I’ll ask him or her, “What is it that you are currently doing that you think is unsatisfactory, or is no longer tolerable for you?”

In response, I’ll hear such things as, “Well you know, I’m always going, going, going, and I have a hard time saying ‘no’ because people are always asking me to do favors for them, and I feel guilty if I don’t do it.”

Then I’ll ask them, “When did you decide you didn’t have the right to say ‘no’?”

And they’ll say, “Well, my mom raised me to think that if somebody needs help and you have the ability to help, then you are supposed to help them. it makes you a good person, and I want to be a good person.”

And I’ll ask, “Can you be a good person and say ‘no’?”

They’ll say, “I suppose I could be a good person. I feel guilty though, because I really want to help.”

I’ll say, “Well, if you are unable to help, could you encourage that person to perhaps find someone else that can help? Or do you have to be the one doing the helping?”

Then they might say, “I guess I can encourage them to find somebody else, but I’d feel bad that I couldn’t help them.”

I’ll say, “Why do you feel guilty because you can’t be all things to all people?”

…and that might be one of those times when they need to stop and reflect.

Question: Some of the people that I speak with are in situations where those around them are not abusive, but the person can’t help but still want to people-please and placate. That seems like the kind of situation you are mentioning now, and this would be great way to solve it or to get to the root of it. If they’re in safe environment, perhaps they need to a little bit of work on themselves.

However, there are also situations around abusive people, and they (people-pleasers) feel the need to people-please and placate just to say safe. If they were to stick up for themselves, they feel as though they would be alienating those people (the abusers), or basically asking for some sort of retaliation.

Question: How would you handle that situation differently? Or would you handle it differently?

Brian K:  That’s interesting, because you’re talking about somebody who happens to be very close to me. I’m coaching her on this almost daily because she wants to be a people-pleaser to me all the time, thinking that I almost require it, because the people who raised her required it. They could never be satisfied, could never be pleased. So, she was always trying to do everything; go overboard, go above and beyond in the hopes that this person would be pleased, and that never worked.

Now she realizes that she’s still playing the same game with these people. She still gets sucked in. ‘If I don’t please them they’ll be mad at me, but even if I do please them it’s not good enough.’ She has a hard time just saying “no”. So, when it comes to her relationship with me, I’ll remind her that my needs are not more important than hers. And when she tries to act as though they are, I will have to require her to do something good for herself (this is outside her comfort zone) and forget about anything that I need. It’s almost like pulling teeth, but I’m starting to see evidence that she is embracing this idea that it is okay to be good to herself. I’m starting to see how she lights up and gets really excited when she has that opportunity.

Question: For a person in this situation (where the people around them might react negatively to them asserting themselves or taking care of themselves first), I find that people have a difficult time setting these boundaries because, again, they’re fearing retaliation.

Do you think it’s possible to start using boundary-setting tactics right away, or do you find that there’s a need to build-up your ‘love of self’ before you can start to assert yourself, because there’s a temptation to buckle under the pressure if you don’t have a firm foundation under you?

Brian K:  You definitely would have to work on your own inner resourcefulness and resilience. Because, if so much of your self-worth is based on how other people approve of you, then that’s still what you’re fighting for – their approval. So, even if you start trying to set boundaries, you still have too much to lose if they don’t like you or they are not pleased with you. You need to build up that inner reserve of worth and value.

If they say, “I disapprove with you,” you can honestly look at them and say, “Okay, but I’m still good.” Because your bucket is full internally already. That’s why the people out there who don’t care about what other people think of them, and can genuinely say that – it’s because they’re not taking this daily toll of, ‘Whose happy with me today? Because if there’s a lot of people happy with me today, then I can be happy and call it a good day.’ But if you feel good enough about yourself, you don’t care about what other people think, because you know you’re in a good place.

Question:  Just briefly, what are some of the first things you recommend people do if they need to build up that resilience?

Brian K:  Well, they need to start looking back, do a bit of a life review, and look at the series of decisions they made that lead them to their current pattern. When did they decide that they couldn’t question what somebody else is asking them to do? ‘My parents were always saying, “ Do it because I said so. Don’t question me, I’m the parent. What I say goes”.’

Then we start questioning the truth of that. Was that a reasonable request? How old were you? Did you have any power to say no? Did you feel that doing what you were told was the safest thing for you to do?

And after reviewing that you see, ‘This was the helpless child that did what he or she thought they needed in order to survive.’ And now as an adult you can look upon that and say, ‘These decisions no longer suit me as an adult that has different skills, greater education, different opportunities. I can begin to replace those decisions with new and more empowering ones.’ So, that’s an important first step to take.

Question:  Before we move on to the next part, is there anything else you just like to add to this part of the conversation?

Brian K:  Oh goodness, I could talk about this for hours. But the important thing is to know the first step to take, at least get momentum in that basic direction.

Brian P: Excellent. We’re going to move on into what we’ll call a ‘lightning round’. We’re going to do a ‘laser coaching session’, where  I’m going to be a habitual people pleaser and you’re going to coach me through my situation. Alright?

Brian K:  Sounds good.

Example Coaching Session with a Habitual “People-Pleaser”

Brian P:  Hey Brian, thanks for the session today, I’m really having some problems. I can’t help but  people-please and placate, and it’s really driving me crazy.

Brian K:  So, when you say people-please and placate, tell me how you do that.

Brian P:  Well, my wife is a little controlling, I feel. And, you know, for whatever reason I always go along with what she wants to do. I make my own suggestions about what I’d like to do, where to go for dinner, or what to do tonight, and it seems like she doesn’t like my ideas. She never wants to go along with it. It’s really frustrating because I want to have a voice in the relationship, but I always let her overcome my voice.

Brian K:  Okay. So, why did you choose to do that?

Brian P:  You know, I guess it’s because if I don’t go along with her, she makes me feel about two inches tall, and I don’t like feeling that way. I feel almost ashamed when she treats me that way, and I really don’t have a good defense against it. The only thing I can do is go along with it or I’m in for a punishment.

Brian K:  So, when she punishes you and makes you feel two inches tall, do you agree with what she’s telling you?

Brian P:  No. I don’t.

Brian K:  And yet it affects you?

Brian P:  Yeah, very much.

Brian K:  Think about most recent time when she was being negative towards you. Can you give me a sense of what you were saying to yourself when she was insulting or criticizing you?

Brian P:  Now that I think about it, my answer to your last question was off. I did think to myself, ‘You know, she’s right. I don’t make good decisions. I don’t make the best choices. There’s always a better answer out there.’ I never feel confident in my suggestions because everybody has a different opinion and I never seem to win. I’ve always let her convince me that she’s right and I’m wrong.

Brian K:  I noticed that you use the words ‘never’ and ‘always’ a lot. She ‘always’ seem to win and you ‘never’ seem to make good decisions. Is that really true, or have there been times where you actually did make good decisions?

Brian P:  When I think back on it, certainly there are times I made good decisions all throughout my life. I’ve had instances of making good decisions (and bad decisions along with them), but I have made good decisions for sure.

Brian K:  Can you remember one?

Brian P:  Well, I thought about dropping out of school at one point, but I decided to stay in and  graduated. We wanted to have children and ended up having children, and that is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love my kids to death. And I could never regret having them. I’ve also been relatively satisfied with the career I’ve chosen. So yeah, I think I’ve followed my heart and I’ve made some good decisions.

Brian K:   Okay. So, you chose to stay in school, you chose to have children (a decision you made with your wife), you chose the career you have now. So, you are capable of deciding and making specific choices to take action and have very good results. Is that fair to say?

Brian P: Yeah.

Brian K: So, you’ve got a pretty good track record that you are not giving yourself credit for.

Brian P:  Yeah, that’s true.

Brian K:  So, why are you denying yourself the right to look at your successes and say, “Hey man, you are doing pretty good. In fact, you’re pretty reliable when it comes to decision making. Yeah, you’re not a hundred percent, but who is? But does not being a hundred percent mean that you should never permit yourself to have confidence in your choices?”

Brian P:  If you put it that way, yeah, it seems like I shouldn’t have a problem doing it. I guess my challenges is – I’d love to be able to do what you’re suggesting, and I feel like I could do it if I were in a vacuum. But in my life, there are people and circumstances that sometimes push against my inclinations. And I find it really hard to convince them that my decisions are good, or have them go along with anything I suggest. That seems to be my real challenge.

Brian K:  One thing that I want to point out to you, which is very important for you understand, is that you are not in the convincing business. It’s not your job to convince anybody of anything because they are typically very set in their own mind, their own perception of things. So, the way it begins shifting is that you need to begin planting seeds of your own competence. And would you like the idea on how to do that?

Brian P:  Sure.

Brian K:  One idea is, begin with anybody that tends to doubt you or poo poo your decisions (maybe your wife, for instance). When you come home at the end of the day, talk about your good decisions. For example, “Honey, I was at this new restaurant today for lunch, and I was going to have this, and I decided to have that instead, and I was really happy with it.”

Now, something like that may seem a little mundane. But what you are planting in your wife’s mind is, ‘I made a choice, I made a decision that had a good outcome.’ That totally contradicts her belief that your decision-making process can’t be trusted. And the more of those little things you plant, not only will you be telling her this, “Honey, my ability to make decision is good, its solid.” You’re saying this to her, but it’s not in an argumentative way.  

So, when she is coming at you saying, “We can’t go to that place. Last time we went there I got an upset stomach. I should never let you pick restaurants,” (or however she berates you), that is not the time to defend yourself. In competition like that, it’s, “I’m right and you’re wrong. I have the power, you have none.” Your job is just to sit there and be quiet and let me berate you. But if you do it in a much more casual way, you’re just talking about your day and the success that you had. You are feeling the power of declaring your own capacity to make good decisions. And you’re saying it to the person who berates you. So, that’s the way to start building up that inner confidence and resilience about your ability. Does this make sense?

Brian P:  Yeah, I think so. So, if I am in a situation where I feel like it’s a win-lose situation, I shouldn’t look at it that way. I should look at it not as ‘I win, you lose’ but ‘I can take an opportunity to show an example of how I can make good decisions’, and…

Brian K:  It’s also important for you to remember (because I asked you initially when you were telling me about this…) Why did you decide this? Why did you choose to let her talk to you this way? You need to remember that you are making a decision to participate in this dynamic. She can sit there and berate you, and you decide to agree with her. I get the sense that it isn’t that you disagree with her, instead that you wish you didn’t. You wish you didn’t agree with what she was saying to you, about you. But your willingness to stick your own desires in the background and allow her to get her way just to make peace – that is a decision.

As long as you remember that you are making choices and decisions even in a situation when you don’t like the outcome, that reminds you that there’s still that seed of competence, of ability to take action of some kind. Moving forward, you’re going to be working on taking new action in those situations to begin reversing that dynamic.

Now, I’m going to throw this out here just for consideration, because this is something I’ve noticed too. The person who seems to be bullying and berating, this is the person who, whether they realize it or not, actually wants you to step up. Part of their frustration is that they feel it’s ‘all on them’ a disproportionate amount of the time. But even though they want that, they may be scared of letting go of this world they’ve found themselves in because that’s what they’re used to.

Brian P:  I never thought of it that way.

Brian K:  But the first step is to build up your inner capacity here and your confidence.

Brian P:  That’s very helpful.

Brian K:  You are very welcome.

Brian P:  Great.

That was just a hypothetical mini-coaching session. And I think it’s a wonderful example of something that probably comes out a lot with the folks listening. I know I’ve had this come up in conversations I’ve had with people. So, thank you for helping us look at how someone could address that, and maybe something they can even ask themselves if this is the type of thing that they struggling with.

I want to keep moving along, and I just have a couple more questions for you before we wrap up. So my next question would be…

Question:  What would be your biggest piece of advice for a codependent person in general?

Brian K:  Well, keep in mind that codependency refers to both people. The one that has to feel in control, and the one that feels the need to be controlled. So, are we talking about one in particular or we are talking to both of them?

Brian P:  We’re talking to the person who feels that they are being controlled or that they need to placate.

Brian K:  The number one or the top piece of advice for that person?

Brian P:  Yeah.

Brian K:  Besides “stop it”?

Brian P:  Haha, yeah.

Brian K:  One of the top pieces of advice is, find a hobby. Find something that you can create. Whether it’s a writing poetry or haiku or building something with Legos, making paper airplanes – just start seeing the result of your own efforts in a concrete way. Until you see yourself as a creator, you are constantly going to be on the receiving end of life. You are waiting for somebody to tell you what to make, what to create.

This is difficult because it starts in school. ‘This is the topic you write your essay about. This is the math problem you are going to do today.’ You are always being told by somebody older than you what’s important, what you need to create. And the career could be the same way. ‘Okay, this is the building you need to design Mr. Architect. And Mr. Engineer, this is the dimensions that you need to create this thing for. Seldom does the person sit back and say, ‘What do I want to make, why do I get to create?’

So, the more you get a chance to take something from your own heart, from your own mind and bring it under reality, that’s something it’s important to make a habit of. So, start with anything and don’t worry about whether it’s good. That’s not even a criteria. The criteria is – did you make it? And you don’t need to show it to anybody. Nobody’s opinion matters. It’s not about the feedback of the outside world. It’s just you being satisfied that you created.

Brian P:  Thank you for that advice.

Question: Is there anything else you’d like to add to the conversation before we wrap up for good?

Brian K:  One of the biggest goals I have, not only for myself, but also for the people worked with, is ultimately embracing the beauty and the value of being human. Looking at all the warts and welts and cracks and imperfections and realizing that, that is just as essential to who you are as what you might call “the good stuff”. You can’t have an up without a down or a left without a right. You can’t have perfect moments without imperfect moments. So, learn to love all of it. I know it’s a work in progress, but keep in mind that is something that is possible, and worth pursuing.

Brian P:  Great. And finally, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you, if they wanted some help, where will they be able to find you?

Brian K:  You can go right to my website which is mindsetbeforeskillset.com or you can look me up on Facebook.

Brian P:  Wonderful. Thank you so much for being on the show. We appreciate you being here.

Brian K:  It’s been an absolute pleasure, Brian. Thank you so much.

Items Mentioned In This Podcast

We Want To Hear From YOU

What’s your story about people-pleasing? What did you learn from this interview? Anything else you want to add to the mix? Comment below!

3 Comments
  1. I didn’t realize until about 5 years ago that I was such a big people-pleaser (and have been my entire life!).

    This has manifested in many ways, and it wasn’t until my fiancé (at the time) called off our engagement and left me absolutely devastated, that I took a good, hard look at my life and realized the error of my ways.

    Here are my most notable observations about my people-pleasing life:

    Romantic Relationships

    From the moment I fell in “love” with my first girlfriend (at the age of 16), I longed for closeness, intimacy and connection with a woman. That relationship lasted about 2 years, and I was devastated when she broke it off before college. I was shocked, heart-broken, and it took a while to recover. I eventually pulled myself together, and in my subsequent relationships, took the approach of playing it ‘cool’. I had two somewhat lengthy relationships in college with girls who really like me, and although I enjoyed the attention and could even see myself marrying one of them, I broke off each of those relationships. On one hand, I loved the affection and attention from them (and would, in many ways, go along with things they wanted so they would be happy, and in turn I could be “happy”), but I never forgot the sting of my “first love” leaving me, and I didn’t want to get too close and risk that again.

    After college, I found myself in a sea of confusion as a young adult when it came to women. I could get dates even though it wasn’t always easy, but I was picky about who I would let myself get close to. It seemed that what I really wanted was attention and affection from the girls I tried to date without the risk of my heart being broken again. I spent most of my twenties trying to get validation from women, and using people-pleasing to keep them interested, only to have it fizzle out because one of us wasn’t interested enough to commit.

    Eventually this led to meeting a women to whom I got engaged. We eventually moved in together and started planning our wedding. But a few months before we were going to get married, she broke off the engagement. My worst fear came true, AGAIN! And this was even worse than my first real heartbreak in high school. It took months of questioning, grieving and wondering “what was wrong with ME”.

    At this point I stopped people-pleasing. But I overcompensated.

    I rebounded, hard. I started working out, got a haircut, and started living the night life. Now, I was a single professional, making good money, and a little older and more “mature” or so I thought. Now, I knew how things worked. i knew how to get exactly what I wanted from women with zero emotional risk or commitment, and I “played the field” very successfully for about six months…

    …That’s when I hit another block. I found myself getting the kind of attention I thought I wanted, but still felt empty and a little sad. I knew this wasn’t working and I had to make another change. I wasn’t being fair to the girls I was dating, and I wasn’t being fair to myself.

    I took an intentional break from relationships, took time off of work and did some major soul searching, introspection, and then a lengthy meditation retreat. I re-emerged with a renewed focus, finally an alignment and balance that could carry forward. During that time I found peace and contentment in myself. I maintained a practice of daily mindfulness and self-care. I got involved in activities in my community. In a few short months I made significant movement toward my goals. And as luck would have it I met the women who would become my wife.

    We maintained our relationship according to Dr. John Van Epp’s RAM (Relationship Attachment Model), and I’m extremely glad we did. We decided to marry, and I know I’ve found a wonderful spouse. And guess what – the people-pleasing issue disappeared when I got right with myself!

    Professional Life

    Around the age of twenty I discovered my ambition to become “successful” – to have the income and independence to enjoy life and have the option not to work hard until retirement age. This, combined with my people-pleasing tendency, ironically led to lots and lots of hard work – more than I ever imagined when I was twenty.

    I started working for a company right out of college, and within 2 years found a position with the company that I would stay with for most of my professional life in “Corporate America”. The problem was that in each of those jobs (especially the last one), I had a tendency to go above and beyond in my work.

    My first few positions were paid hourly, so it was relatively easy to draw a line with my work. If I wasn’t on the clock, I didn’t work. But once I took a job making a salary, life changed in a major way. In fact, work became life. I was motivated (and basically encouraged) to put in as many hours as possible. Even though I had a nice base pay, I was heavily incentivized with commissions based on my performance, so I had even more motivation to put in time and effort.

    But ironically, I realized at a certain point that it was no longer really about the money for me. It was about being patted on the back and told I was doing a great job. I got a great big thrill out of being recognized and applauded at work. I worked for a very lean and successful company (which was eventually acquired by a Fortune 500 company while I was still there), and I had the utmost respect for my upper management team. This was purely for their professionalism, intellect and business acumen. I was almost in awe of the talent I was working with and around. And when I could get recognized for an innovative idea, bringing in a big account, or even just hustling and putting in the extra hours, it made my month. It got me respect from the people I respected most. It was a thrill. I was a “yes” man and a people-pleaser to the max.

    I didn’t realize it at the time but I was also deeply triggered by my vice president who was very smart, demanding, and sharp with her tongue. I remember the first few tongue-lashings I received when I didn’t meet expectations. After that, I whipped myself into shape, put in even more time and effort, and made it my goal to win her favor. I eventually did and was promoted after long hours of work and exhaustion.

    My problem of “workaholism” came to my awareness, after years of doing it, when I was awarded the Strategic Award For Growth at our annual company awards dinner. I had spearheaded efforts to win more than $11 Million in contracts that year. It was one of few very prestigious awards in our company, and I felt more than honored to be invited to the event. While our COO was introducing me and stating all the reasons why I deserved the award, she recalled that when I was asked to leave my Thanksgiving vacation early to come help out on an account that desperately needed attention, I didn’t hesitate one bit. I said okay, and left the next morning with no questions asked.

    While she intended this as a compliment to show my work ethic and dedication to the company, the words struck me like a bolt of lightning. I thought, “I sound like the biggest people-pleaser the way she’s describing me. They say jump. I say ‘how high?'” This culminated in receiving a heavy piece of engraved marble and some applause from some people (who were also workaholics). This was the pinnacle of all my hard work and people-pleasing, and the next Monday it was “back to work”.

    After I traveled home from the event, I spent several days wallowing in the realization that I was chasing something empty, and I resolved to realign my priorities.

    This all happened around the same time as my realizations about my romantic relationship habits, and my time of introspection and solitude served to help me get right in both areas of my life.

    If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!

    I’d love to hear about your story of people-pleasing.

    (There doesn’t have to be a happy ending, you might still be working on it, anything goes).

    • This sounds so much like me! I, too, overworked myself for my company, damaged all my relationships, and burned myself out – all in the name of people pleasing. I was forced to pull back at work (very hard because I craved the recognition and connection) because I just couldn’t physically do it anymore. I was worn out! My self image went down the tubes because I wasn’t being admired and appreciated.

      When it was all said and done, I retired after 29 years with the same family-owned company I’d started with, having been treated as family until I started pulling back. Then I became an employee. A new generation took over the running of the business five years ago, not aware (or appreciative) of all the hard work of my earlier years! Very, very disheartening.

      I’ve been retired for three months and trying to find my own value. I’ve been people pleasing my husband for 42 years, as well, and I want to stop doing it.

      I appreciate this podcast for offering me some insight into my own behavior and choices. I’m hoping to learn to do better!

      • Thanks for the note Sus. Nice recognition of the problem, and all the best as you correct it!