The Self-Validation Practice Of A Recovering People-Pleaser
By Aly Johnson
The famous ice-breaker, “If you could pick any five people, alive or dead, to invite to a dinner party, who would you choose and why,” always leaves me so giddy because I can barely hold back the daydream: a meal with Brené Brown and a handful of other badass women I look up to (a whole story for a whole different time). I’d pick Brené because this woman stampedes past the fluff and finds a way to help you feel safe and courageous being your honest self with people who are worthy of seeing you in that state…and best of all, when you’re all alone. As she put it so poignantly in “The Call to Courage,”
Fitting in is assessing and acclimating. Here’s what I should say, be. Here’s what I shouldn’t say. Here’s what I should avoid talking about. Here’s what I should dress like, look like. That’s fitting in. Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth, telling your story, and never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are and that’s vulnerable.
The thing is, people-pleasing thought patterns are intimidatingly painful to dismantle, especially when they’ve directed so much of one’s life. For me, growing up with lofty expectations was normal. There were rules—some spoken and others silent—and I not only learned to associate my identity with the act of performing but especially with how well I performed. Merit was synonymous with praise while anything less was equated to disapproval. For me, this felt like never being good enough and learning to don the mask that I thought was more appealing than my real face. As time passed, I couldn’t remember who I really was. I couldn’t figure out how to stop striving and performing constantly. Even after all the spotlights and encores, I was only left feeling empty—like I needed to keep trying. When the lights came up and the audience left, it was just me and my thoughts that remained.
As I’ve gotten older, this dependence on validation still lingers. My tendency to become a version of who I think other people want me to be still creeps into some conversations and interactions. I’ll catch myself pausing to discern how others are judging me, and then letting my interpretation of how they feel inform how I feel about myself. Honestly, I may never fully detach from this thought pattern, but my confidence in handling it is changing. These days, I rely on a catch-all checklist—an arsenal of things I can do or read—to help me in moments I still want to downplay myself or apologize for literally existing in my exact way. Your list might be different.
MY SELF-VALIDATION HABITS
Pause and ask if this behavior supports the life you want. Whenever you first notice yourself seeking external validation or shape-shifting, pause and ask yourself non-judgmentally why. What about this moment is making you feel like you need to change yourself and be disingenuous? Does this support the life you’re trying to create? Within your power, adjust accordingly.
Map out your boundaries and set them. ‘No,’ is a complete sentence and you’re allowed to use it regularly. It is your right and in some cases, your greatest asset. You deserve to be treated with respect and it’s okay if others are disappointed or reactive to you making the best decisions for your own health and wellbeing. You can be kind and set healthy boundaries, and you will survive the discomfort of setting them.
Remind yourself that trauma isn’t the result of weakness. It’s the result of something (or many things) that has been so overwhelming for your body that your brain literally changed to adapt to what happened. You can’t just suddenly decide you’re going to feel safe when your body has been bracing for danger for so long. Ruminating and replaying memories is sometimes what our brain does because it likes to go to familiar places. Remember that you are doing what is best for you and that’s not always easy
Meditate for even five minutes and notice your breath. Notice your heartbeat. Notice your body. If you’re new to meditation or enjoy guided exercises, I recommend the audio library on sharingmindfulness.com. You can find recordings for anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes.
Dance shamelessly in front of the mirror. Or get moving somehow. Give your stuck feelings a way out and speak to yourself lovingly even on the days you don’t believe what you’re saying. Currently, Brynn Elliott’s “Tell Me I’m Pretty” and the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack are my soul grooves.
Let it out safely on paper or with people. Journal even for a few minutes in the morning or at the end of the day, even though you really do hate journaling. Nurture friendships you can rely on for emotional support (and good laughter) and don’t be afraid to lovingly prune too. Some people will treat you right without you having to lose yourself. Build your home team.
Celebrate: You are complete and you are safe in your body. As a recovering people-pleaser, even learning to trust your voice is an achievement. You are not full of yourself. You’ve had a lot of insecurities and low self-esteem, which you’ve worked hard to overcome and you are fabulous. You, sweet friend, are doing your best to be kind and gracious to yourself.
Keep asking yourself what you want and reevaluate your life. How do you spend your mornings? How do you talk to yourself? What do you read? What do you eat? Who do you surround yourself with? Where do you let your attention fall?
Give yourself permission.
Edited by Rachel Alvarado