Understanding Your Need to people-Please

Do you ever struggle with the weight of guilt from saying no? Glance at your phone to see an incoming call from someone who drains your energy but pick it up anyway? Maybe you’ve been reading a lot about boundaries but you’re finding them hard to implement. It’s not as simple as just setting boundaries, first we need to examine the part of us that is wounded, the part of us that feels like our connection to others can only be maintained through your ability to people-please and caretake. 

To explore this part of ourselves;

We need to start from the very beginning. As children, we are vulnerable and depend on our caregivers for our survival, therefore connection to our caregivers is crucial. Connection, however, can often become strained due to several factors. Caregivers who suffer from addiction, unprocessed trauma, or stressful life transitions will often misattune to their child as their focus is set to their own pain. Unable to get our needs met through authentic connection, we get creative. We unconsciously ask the question, “What do I need to do for you to take care of me?” 

Imagine the following scenario:

You grow up with a very busy caregiver.  They work often and when they get home feel exhausted from the hours they’re putting in trying to keep the family afloat. You approach your caregiver with tears in your eyes wanting their comfort, but they snap at you. They tell you they don’t need one more thing to worry about and send you off to your room. In that moment, and reinforced with moments like it, you begin to learn that your needs create an additional burden. So, you work to lighten the load in the hopes that you can eliminate the barriers to connection and you do that by:

  • Making yourself “small” not talking about your emotions or issues with your caregiver
  • Avoiding trouble at school or becoming an overachiever 
  • Taking on more responsibilities at home like “parenting” younger siblings
  • Being agreeable with your caregiver, not expressing your opinion or “rocking the boat”
  • Emotionally supporting your caregiver

And after engaging in this behavior for so long, a belief becomes wired in your brain that meeting the needs of others is the only way to experience connection in relationships. This belief promises, “I’ll be happy when everyone around me is happy.” You notice that you become anxious or fearful in interpersonal relationships because you are constantly trying to anticipate what the other person wants from you. Your estrangement from your own needs causes you to feel resentful in relationships, unable to get what you need and unable to ask for it. 

The good news is;

This belief is not hard-wired into your brain. Neuroplasticity gives us the ability to recircut, to change beliefs and ultimately behavior patterns. I work with my clients using Brainspotting to notice and release negative emotions associated with getting their needs met. Through Brainspotting, clients are able to recognize and appreciate the part of themselves that worked so hard to be loved while cultivating the belief that their needs do matter. To begin the process of healing this wound, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions:

Growing up:

  1. What were the spoken or unspoken stressors in your family of origin? 
  2. In what ways did you tiptoe around your caregivers?
  3. What was it like to approach your caregiver with your emotions or problems?
  4. What was the result of voicing your opinion?
  5. Was there a dynamic of one caregiver caretaking/people pleasing for the other? What did that look like?

As an adult:

  1. In what situations do you notice yourself prioritizing the needs of others?
  2. Where in your body do you notice the discomfort of saying no?
  3. What is underlying your fear of setting boundaries? 

Additional resources:

Abdi Assadi expands on childhood wounding and caretaking in his podcast. I especially appreciate his differentiation between caretaking and caregiving. 

Kaitlin Cary-King, APSW

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