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Are you ready to be your authentic self?

How people-pleasing affects your confidence

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People-pleasing and confidence do not go together. Trust me. I know. I am still unpacking the childhood traumas that brought me here and while doing so, I am grateful that thanks to some therapy, I am in recovery. When you constantly prioritise the approval of others over your own needs, values, and authenticity you are setting yourself up to fail. Here are a few reasons why:

Depending on external validation: People-pleasers often rely on external validation to feel good about themselves. Their confidence becomes contingent on the approval and acceptance of others, making it vulnerable to fluctuations based on external opinions. I vividly remember a few years back during a crucial project presentation, despite receiving positive feedback from colleagues beforehand, my manager raised challenging questions, which shook my confidence. That one moment overshadowed all the other positive comments I received. I walked away feeling inadequate. Thankfully I took a step back to reflect and I realised the importance of balancing external feedback with internal validation. This shift allowed me to approach my work more confidently, understanding that professional growth involves both external input and personal conviction.

Fear of disapproval: Confidence built on approval can be fragile and easily shaken. Constantly seeking to please others may arise from a fear of rejection or disapproval. Individuals may avoid expressing their true opinions or feel the need to maintain harmony, but this avoidance can lead to a lack of confidence in asserting oneself. I once found myself in a position where I strongly disagreed with a unanimous decision that was being made and it was obvious that my concerns had not been considered. I was new to the team so my fear of disapproval stopped me from voicing my concerns. As a result, I reluctantly went along with the majority, suppressing my thoughts. Later, when the consequences of the decision became apparent, I realised the price I paid for prioritising harmony over being real and honest. The fear of disapproval had hindered my ability to contribute meaningfully, and I felt frustrated at my lack of confidence in asserting my true opinions.

Inability to set boundaries: People-pleasers may struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. The fear of disappointing others can lead to an inability to say “no” or assert personal limits, which can erode one’s self-confidence over time. This is true in both personal and professional settings and I have had my fair share of experiences. Being a yes-woman who would go over and above for everyone even to my detriment not only took a toll on my wellbeing, it also eroded my self-confidence. I felt stretched thin and questioned my own capabilities, wondering if my inability to say “no” was a reflection of my competence. I soon learnt that setting boundaries is not a sign of weakness but a crucial aspect of self-care

Lack of authenticity: Confidence often thrives when individuals embrace their authentic selves. People-pleasing, on the other hand, involves adapting behavior to meet the perceived expectations of others, potentially leading to a disconnect from one’s true identity and a subsequent lack of confidence. I am big on being my authentic self unapologetically at the moment but that has not always been the case. There was a time in my life when I felt the need to mould my identity to fit into various social circles. I was constantly adapting my behavior to meet the perceived expectations of others instead of just being me. I remember being in a gathering with a group of friends who had different interests than mine. Wanting to be accepted, I suppressed my genuine preferences and opinions, engaging in conversations that didn’t resonate with my true self. I felt so uncomfortable and completely disconnected from myself. Now, I prioritise authenticity in every aspect of my life, understanding that true confidence stems from embracing and celebrating one’s unique identity. It’s a journey that continues to bring fulfillment and a genuine sense of self-assurance.

Burnout and resentment: Constantly prioritising others’ needs over one’s own can lead to burnout and resentment. This pattern may result in feelings of being taken for granted, which can undermine self-esteem and confidence. There is also the issue of struggling to set realistic goals which is something that I have actually struggled with. When you are passionate about your work, you sometimes run the risk of wanting to be everything to everyone. I have been guilty of this. When I started in my current role I kept saying “yes” to every request, fearing that declining might make me seem less committed or valuable to the team. As the workload piled up, I began to feel the weight of exhaustion and frustration. One day, after working late into the night to meet a tight deadline, I realised the toll it was taking on my mental and physical health. I felt a deep sense of burnout and, unexpectedly, resentment towards my colleagues for not recognising the strain I was under. But it was not their fault because they had no idea what my conflicting priorities were. This experience forced me to reevaluate my priorities and to try to set more realistic goals and boundaries for myself.

Difficulty handling criticism: People-pleasers may find it challenging to handle criticism or negative feedback. The fear of disappointing others can make you feel hypersensitive to critique, affecting your ability to learn and grow from constructive feedback. I can give several examples of this. I often have disagreements with a close friend about a decision I took. When they offered some constructive criticism, I immediately felt a surge of defensiveness and a fear of disappointing them. The criticism, intended to help me grow, triggered an emotional response rooted in my deep-seated need to please. Instead of engaging in a healthy dialogue, I found myself becoming overly defensive and emotionally distant. The fear of disappointing my friend overshadowed any potential for personal growth from the feedback and it strained our relationship. These days I try to handle criticism more gracefully. Constructive criticism is not a rejection of who I am but an opportunity to learn and do better.

I think it is important to note that being considerate of others and seeking healthy connections is not inherently negative. However, when people-pleasing involves sacrificing one’s own needs, values, and authenticity at the expense of gaining external approval, it can potentially undermine the development of genuine confidence. Striking a balance between being considerate of others and staying true to oneself is crucial to building lasting confidence.

I’m learning the invaluable lesson of pausing before committing. Taking a moment to stop, breathe, and think before saying yes has become my way of navigating the balance between being kind to others and being kind to myself. This reflective pause allows me to evaluate whether saying yes aligns with my values and personal well-being. This ensures that my choices are driven by a genuine desire to contribute, rather than the fear of disappointing others. In these moments of being intentional, I find the space to prioritise myself and cultivate a deeper sense of confidence rooted in self-respect and authenticity.

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