You want to go see a movie, but your best friend wants to relax at home so you hang on the couch. Sound familiar? It’s a minor example, but a reminder that sometimes you sacrifice your own interests to please others. While being considerate is a positive quality, remember that your happiness is also a priority. It may feel like you’re being selfish, but there’s a difference between selfish and self-preservation, says Ann Dunnewold, PhD, Dallas-based psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. “Nobody is going to put you first but yourself.”
This is especially tough if you’re a crowd pleaser. Dunnewold gives a common scenario: Your group of friends schedule dinner but can’t decide on the restaurant and you don’t chime in with your input. You may genuinely have no preference (or may be craving Greek food), but shy from speaking up in fear of disapproval from your peers. “[A crowd pleaser is] somebody that underneath has a lot of anxiety. They don’t trust their own judgment,” Dunnewold says. “It’s a fear of failure, fear of messing up, and being rejected.” So how do you transition from trying to make the group happy to thinking about your needs and interests?
A study on wedding planners in Vietnam who had less-than-easygoing clients shows that even extreme cases have a happy medium: Go for “harmonization,” meaning leveling with others without discounting your preferences. Remember that your self-interest benefits others, too. “Learn to pay attention to what you want and know that it’s valid,” Dunnewold says.
Your Game Plan
Take control with these solutions from Dunnewold:
- Reflect on it—literally.
Write an inspiring message on your mirror with a dry erase marker, Dunnewold suggests. “Like songs on repeat in our heads, we have to be downloading that new positive phrase,” she says. Some suggestions: “Raise your words, not your voice.” – Rumi; “Never apologize for being correct.” – Gandhi.
- Ask questions.
“Crowd pleasers don’t stop to think what they want or to have an opinion,” Dunnewold says. Instead of going, going, going, come up for air. In potentially confusing situations, ask yourself: “What do I want here?”
- Make a memo.
On the “reminders” setting of your phone, input a helpful phrase to carry with you such as, “My preferences matter.” Add fresh mantras to the list each week and check it out when you get stuck.
- Fix it with your parents.
For some, parental criticism can lead to crowd-pleasing tendencies. If that’s the case for you, have a conversation with your parents. You may find that they were tough on you to motivate you to do your best, which is a popular parenting style, she says. Talking it through will help you gain clarity as to why they were critical and loosen the reins in your adult life.
- Think like a kid.
“When we’re really little kids, we don’t have a fear of failure,” Dunnewold says. Revive your childhood mindset and know that some healthy selfishness is beneficial. Kids have a knack for being candid, even when it may not be agreeable. Speak up, question, and be assertive when you know it’s best for you.
The Bottom Line
It’s really easy to fall into trying to please others and forgetting about what you want. Realize that it’s okay to have an opinion and put “you” first, Dunnewold says. “What other people think matters to many of us way more than what we think. We tend to not realize that there are all those shades of gray in between.”