Overcoming the Disease to Please

I struggled with the disease to please others for most of my life. It almost killed me.

This condition travelled with me through a traumatic childhood, two divorces, a broken relationship with my mother, and – finally - two bouts of cancer by the age of 45. That was my breaking point. I was dying inside.

Recovering from the shock, my career in tatters, I began a radical journey of change. I sought relief in various forms, from reiki and reflexology to gurus and mushroom journeys. It took me from family peacemaker to wild and free adventure seeker. And in all the mess, and all the searching, I found my own healing.

During my healing process, I thought long and hard about how I became a people pleaser and how many other women just like me are suffering. I realised that I was one of many who suffer in this epidemic of people pleasing. Why? Because I wanted to be liked and loved, accepted, and to belong. We all want this. Often, we seek it from other people - and at what cost?

On my healing path, I realised the price I had paid for years of people pleasing, and that - in fact - self-worth and self-confidence come from ‘pleasing’ (or honouring) the self.

If your self-worth is at rock bottom or close to it, you may do what I did, and almost sell your soul in a desperate attempt to find some form of approval or love. This can end up in a relentless erosion of self-worth due to compromising what is true for you by violating your own values - just for a little validation and affirmation through your relationships with others.

Self-worth is the essence of our being and our birth right. It is the foundation on which we build our lives, and is determined by the choices we make. It is how we perceive ourselves, and the value we place on ourselves. These perceptions (both positive and negative) are formed in the very early stages of our development and become unconscious patterns of behaviour that can sabotage our lives.

The main reason self-worth is fragile is that human conditioning has disempowered us through the various influences and people in our lives. Many people find this world to be a lonely place, where we feel that we “don’t fit in”, and are left feeling that there is “something wrong” with us.

We are often expected to uphold family traditions, follow societal norms, and live according to the “scripts” of others and “the right thing”. These expectations guide the inner dialogues that conflict inside us between who we are and who we think we should be, based on our stories of the past and the people who have influenced our lives. The result is an innate fear of being our authentic selves.

The consequence of living your life on others’ terms is that you dim your own light and learn to look outside of yourself for validation and reassurance, relying on others for answers, approval, and direction.

Few people have the clarity, confidence, and courage to stand independently for what they believe in and who they truly are – fearlessly. The majority of us would rather “fit in” than “stand out” because we fear rejection or some sort of repercussion - loss of face, losing favour or popularity, or loss of relationships.

The biggest loss, of course, is losing ourselves in other people’s scripts because we fall into the trap of creating a persona we think will be likable and acceptable. We don’t feel safe to share our thoughts and inner struggles, and the fear of standing up or speaking out is very real.

These are some of the commonly shared struggles and pain I have witnessed over the past two decades through the thousands of people I have coached and mentored, from graduates to CEOs across all industries and walks of life.  I, too, have walked a long and painful road “wearing a mask” and hiding who I am so that I could be loved and fit in…only to find out, at the age of 50, that this was not where my true worth resided.  

It has become my passion to take my lessons learnt and pay them forward, so that the experiences, knowledge, and insights I have gained can offer comfort and inspire courage in others to awaken to the life that awaits them.

Suppressing or hiding who we are directly impacts our self-worth and ultimately our overall well-being – mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is vital for us to take ownership of our lives - to find our own direction and True North so that we don’t find ourselves trading our individuality for conformity.

Becoming aware of what is constantly showing up in your life that is not serving you or is holding you back is the first step towards transforming your sense of self. It is important to understand, nurture, and reinforce our self-worth and stand strong in who we are, particularly when the tides of life crash against us. There is no-one to rescue you except you.

Read more in Fearlessly Free to Be Me: How to Overcome People-pleasing in 7 Easy Steps by Jo Marsh. Published by Black Ink Books and available online.


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