Years ago, I was hosting a retreat. I was teaching the attendees about decisions and commitment.
Now, we had spent many hours over our three days together getting clarity, setting intention and identifying next steps and big dreams.
I said that in my experience, intention is only the beginning of the movement and the shift. At some point you have to ground your intention with decisions and commitment and action.
Jeannie, a vibrant woman with wild curly hair and a constant smile, looked up and said, “But wait…”
She began listing all the reasons why it was so hard for her to make clear decisions or to commit to any new direction. Suddenly, she sighed. She concluded by saying, “Oh, forget it. It’s just hard to run a business well when you’re a people-pleaser.”
There were “amen’s” all around. Many of the women nodded their agreement. They too knew the pain of being a people-pleaser.
I interrupted the moment of martyrdom.
I asked Jeannie: “Are we really people-pleasers? Or just approval whores?”
It was one of those moments we coaches have occasionally. You know the ones. Where you want to take back what you’ve just blurted out… where your own inner approval-whore wishes you’d be “nice” instead of being a coach.
Which meant that there were two directions this could take:
Jeannie could be livid. Or she could have a great big “Ah-Ha!” moment.
Jeannie’s giant burst of laughter told me it was the latter. “Oh my God!” she shrieked. “That’s so true!”
Often, we think that we’re being nice girls and oh-so loving when we’re constantly making sure everyone else is okay.
But what we’re really doing is giving away our energy and power to get approval from anyone who will give it to us. We’re ensuring that we will never have to face the discomfort of having desires or dreams (or preferences!) and acting on them. We want to make sure everyone will like us first. Then we will be okay, albeit deeply unhappy. And often unsuccessful.
Martha Beck aptly names it “being an approval whore.”
All during the retreat, I’d hear snippets of conversations that went, “Well, you can’t just stop being her friend!”
“You can’t just set a boundary with a client who pays you THAT much!”
“You can’t just not move your father-in-laws’ furniture!”
“You can’t just uninvite your family over for Thanksgiving!”
You just can’t always do this AND have everyone like you at the same time.
And this is the big trap for an approval whore. It makes her panic. Who am I without their love and approval?
It’s a question SO worth asking. And SO worth finding out the answer to.
In Martha Beck’s words:
Anything we do solely to please others, in the absence of either real desire or moral necessity is a way of selling ourselves, our lives, our energy. Ask yourself whether the dose of approval you expect to gain from this behavior is worth losing a piece of the real you. I’d be the last one to judge you if the answer is yes. All I ask is that you be aware that this is prostitution, not virtue.
The impact of this behavior on your business is devastating. You discover that you’ve set yourself up to make too little money, not charge enough, take on non-ideal clients, not take the risk to create that new program, never invest in yourself or your growth, and make never-ending excuses for why you can’t believe in yourself.
And the truth is that it’s about your refusal to be aware and conscious of this needy side of you. It’s not bad. It’s just an old survival pattern that no longer serves you. The good news is that you can take action to shift it.
So share your advice with others please. What’s one step you’ve taken to stop the “people pleaser” pattern?