Image Source: Screen Shot from TED Talk
The Magic of Not Giving a F*ck Ted Talk by Sarah Knight Link:
Warning: Use of the word f*ck used many times in this talk. If you don’t like profanity then please skip this blog, no hard feelings here. But if you're cool with an F-Bomb or 16, watch the video (12 minutes) and read on!
Ah, the magic of not giving a fuck. I will be very transparent in saying that I needed this dose of tough love yet emotional weight clearing advice myself (sometimes we teach what we need to know ourselves, right? Right!). Even as a therapist who KNOWS what proper boundaries look like, I find myself slipping into that guilt ridden, people pleasing mode from time to time, and good doesn’t always come from that. I absolutely loved this TED talk, but the issue is a little more complicated as simply deciding to “not give a fuck”. Let’s dive into people pleasing in more depth.
I want to address the more serious side of giving a fuck first. Sometimes, that people pleasing mode is our means of survival. People pleasing can become a natural defense when we feel threatened by someone who is in a position of power over us- it could be a supervisor, a teacher, a parent, a more dominant romantic partner, a law enforcement official, and so many other types of people. In these cases, it makes sense to people please so we don’t rock the boat if we feel like our life or our mental health is more at risk if we stray from pleasing. In these cases we may acknowledge or recognize the dysfunction, abuse, or discomfort of the situation, but we may not know how to move past it without people pleasing. How to navigate these cases could be a whole different blog and varies on a case by case basis, but to address it quickly can include leaving the scenario, improving communication, engaging support systems to ensure safety. It’s not as simple as that previous sentence sounds, and I don’t want to take away from the seriousness and complexity of these situations.
Those super serious circumstances aside, it’s common to slip into people pleasing for plenty of other reasons. While the following examples may not always be crisis or dangerous situations, they still can have a negative effect on your well being if they aren't addressed. Let’s unpack a few of them individually. If you find yourself people pleasing…
1) Maybe it’s because you have manipulative people in your life. I see you, this is super hard to navigate. Have you heard of a thing called gaslighting? It’s an extra powerful form of manipulation when someone makes you feel that you are crazy for a mistake that THEY made. For example, if your significant other cheats on you, and you freak out, and they yell back at you “Why do you always freak out about everything?!” (instead of just apologizing for their mistake) as a way for them to try to shift the blame off of themselves. Not fighting back with this kind of person means hopefully less manipulation headed your way, and avoiding more mental-health-breaking insults from the other person. Victims of gaslighting can rack up a bunch of mental health symptoms like learning to feel helpless, feeling like their autonomy is taken away, or developing self doubt and low self esteem. This example CAN turn very dangerous, as gaslighting is a particular trait of perpetrators of domestic violence.
2) Maybe it’s a cultural thing that you aren’t allowed to not give a fuck. I’m sure that a lot of us have seen that people and families from different cultures have different expectations regarding independence, spending time together, holiday attendance, etc. and a lot of guilt can be thrown your way if you don’t keep to tradition, expectation, or the status quo. Learning to set boundaries can be even more challenging in these cases, because it’s your own family putting on the pressure, and a lot of us don't want to disappoint our family.
3) Maybe you struggle with the idea of not being liked by someone else. Part of our psychology as humans is that we need to be liked by others, as we are social animals that for the most part benefit from forming community with other humans for safety, basic need and social connection reasons. We feel if we are unlikable, we might not reap those benefits, so why risk our likeability? But the truth is, it’s okay to not be liked by everybody. Just to put this into perspective, between 7 to 8 BILLION people live on Earth, and if only 1% liked you, you would still have 70-80 MILLION friends. And I think that would be EXHAUSTING to manage (but maybe I’m exposing myself as a natural introvert here?). So basically, you can reap all the benefits of social connection with no where near close to most people considering you their thing. That last sentence should be read with a sense of relief, not judgment. With that said, if you feel like you have to people please to keep someone in your life, why hold on? You won't have to do that with everyone you meet.
4) Maybe you just don’t know what the healthy boundaries that protect us or strengthen us look like. As humans we learn by being around other people, whether we mean to or not. Being around others teaches us what normal behavior looks like in society, or even just in our household. This starts all the way at the beginning of life with tasks as simple as learning to eat messy foods with utensils, then grows into learning from others about more complex social behavior. If we have a dysfunctional teacher (ie: the people we have surrounded ourselves with intentionally or not), then who could blame us for our dysfunctional behavior? To be fair, those dysfunctional teachers usually had dysfunctional teachers themselves, it's a cycle. I say all of this with love, not judgment or blame. We may not have been able to control what we learned from others, but we can control whether or not we let unhealthy behaviors continue. We can always learn proper boundaries and break that cycle!
5) Maybe it’s leftover patterns from one of the more serious scenarios listed above where there was abuse or a power differential not in your favor. When such powerful circumstances shape our behavior to help us survive, sometimes those behavior patterns become our default behavior setting that we take into new situations where we don’t necessarily need them (ie: defaulting to defensive behavior with new people who haven't hurt us yet because old people screwed us over). It takes time to recover and learn new patterns, even if we have already exited the scenario that was abusive or where we felt powerless. It takes time to realize old patterns aren’t needed anymore, and drive our new more healthy patterns into mental and emotional muscle memory.
6) Maybe it's because people pleasing masquerading as charm does legitimately seem to work for a lot of people from the outside. Do you charm others into promoting you at work, dating you, being your friend, or doing other things for you? A common example of this is the “sugarbaby & sugardaddy or sugarmama” dynamic where people lead with sex, money, or extravagance. Sex, money and extravagance aren’t bad things in and of themselves, but they become problematic for mental health when they are used as bait for connection instead of authenticity. Unfortunately though, some industries and other individuals seem to thrive off of this type of behavior in order to “level up” somehow, which can influence you to match the energy thrown at you (for example: have you ever heard someone say, "Who did they have to sleep with to get that job?"). A side effect of leading with charm or bait can be feeling like you are living a lie, or feeling like you have to put up a front or play games in order to be accepted. You may, even subconsciously, try to hide your authentic self because your authentic self begins to feel “not enough” because it's your charm or bait that is getting you what you want. Over time this can put so much wear and tear on your mental health.
So circling back to the video linked above. What this TED talk and Sarah Knight has created is a way for you to take ownership of your boundaries and begin to utilize them, leaving people pleasing behind. You may feel guilty at first for setting the boundaries, but over time the hope is that they become second nature. Like Sarah said, once you learn these boundary setting skills, you will have more time, energy and money to devote to what you do give a fuck about. With new boundaries, newfound confidence in navigating your world can follow. You learn to ride the wave instead of being sucked under into the current. This learning curve may come easily or may be more difficult for you depending on your specific situation. But no matter the situation, the first step to change is to take a moment to recognize how this people pleasing behavior has helped you, because that will help you to clarify what you need to move forward into healthier patterns.
I know this blog post is more about identifying the issue rather than how to solve the issue because everyone’s “how to” guide for fixing people pleasing is going to look different. I would love to talk to you about your specific circumstances to give you individualized feedback that works for your specific situations that need a little TLC and your personality style. But it’s more than likely that your personal how to guide will include things like learning to set boundaries effectively, increasing your self esteem and assertiveness skills, processing any guilt that may come from asserting yourself, and learning to not take someone’s poor reaction to your boundary setting personally.
People pleasing is not an easy habit to kick, but it is definitely possible to move past it into healthier and more confident behavior. Peace of mind is on the horizon!