Learning how we can meet our own needs
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
I have a long history with people-pleasing.
Happy Sunday, Soothers. People-pleasing is a condition I’ve dealt with for much of my life, mostly unaware of it happening. I would believe that other people’s emotional states were my responsibility; that belief, plus an uncanny ability to understand people’s actual emotional states despite whatever they were saying, plus some grade-A hypervigilance, left me scanning the horizon every second of every day for a shift in somebody else’s mood. And when I would sense that shift, I would go into action: checking in with them. Doing things for then that they hadn’t asked for. Making my own emotional states neutral and small so they wouldn’t be affected by them. Never asking for anything. Pretend everything was okay at all times.
The reality was, I was addicted to the emotional okay-ness of other people. And to some level, I still am. It feels very unsafe sometimes when somebody else is in a bad or sad mood, and sometimes, it feels unsafe when I am in those moods, too, because I assume another will want to leave me when I feel those things because I am making their experience less than optimal.
It’s a real head trip.
Resentment is a huge sign for me that I’ve gone back into people-pleasing mode. The people-pleasing resentment loop runs like this: “I’ve done so much for them; why aren’t they noticing it, appreciating it, or doing it for me?” Resentment. Then, I would feel needs or wants in my heart, but be too afraid to state them out loud, and get resentful for the other’s inability to literally read my mind, anticipate and meet my need without me saying anything, and manage MY emotions.
This is the tough reality that all of us must learn, though it sounds cruel when stated plainly: Nobody is responsible for our emotional states or meeting our needs but us.
“But isn’t my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/partner/friend/parent supposed to make me happy?” you might wonder. “What’s the point of being in relationship otherwise?”
I like to think of it like this: You have chosen to partner with somebody in some manner: perhaps a partner with whom to build a life; a friend with whom to laugh; a family member with whom to grow. They may be able to partner with you in some capacity around those needs and to help each other grow and learn, or raise children, or plan dinner parties, or caretake, or whatever: but your emotional experience of your growth along the way is completely up to you.
There is liberation in understanding that nobody is responsible for your emotions, negative or positive, though at first it seems impossible to understand. (There is also liberation in understanding we are not to be happy 100% of the time as a goal; the goal is to feel present to our emotions and our lives, in my opinion.)
When I need to gain clarity around a situation where I am feeling resentment or know I’ve slid back into people-pleasing, as with most stuff in my life, I turn to journaling.
If you struggle with people-pleasing too, try these prompts below. Keep them as a template. Pull them out over and over again as the situations of anger, resentment, disappointment rear their heads, as they will always do in a lifetime.
Try out these journal prompts, and report back if they gave you some clarity and comfort.
Journal prompts for people-pleasers
- Describe the situation as you might to a friend or therapist. What is happening?
- Do I feel a need arising for me in this situation? What is it? Name it as simply as possible.
- Am I expecting another person to meet this need for me? Why and how?
- Am I reading another person’s mind, or hoping they will read mine? How so?
- What is absolutely true about this situation: could be proved in a court of law, not your opinion. Facts, numbers, times, words said.
- What are 3–5 thoughts I am thinking or sentences in my head that are swirling around about this situation?
- What emotions do those thoughts cause in my body? Describe the physical sensation.
- When I think these thoughts and feel these feelings, what comes of them?
- What am I afraid of happening if I ask for what I need or want?
- Where might this fear stem from?
- How can I release this other person from being the one I expect to meet this need?
- What are 3 ways I can meet this need myself?