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If You Think People-Pleasing Is Being Kind…

“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.” ~Plutarch

People-pleasing can seem Iike a way of connecting with others. We believe that if we keep people happy, then they’ll like us and want us around. While it may be true that pleasing others will win us approval and a place in their lives, changing and editing ourselves can’t create the connection we long for.

We confuse people-pleasing with kindness. After all, aren’t we, as people-pleasers, described as too nice? People-pleasing can be seen as giving of ourselves to put others first, but people-pleasing isn’t the kindest way to treat ourselves or the people around us.

Honesty is Kinder than People-Pleasing

My friend, Amy, would occasionally invite other people to join us without letting me know. I’d arrive at the park or the coffee shop and find myself unexpectedly part of a group.

To Amy, this wasn’t a big deal. She was generous about introducing me to new people and for her it was genuinely the more the merrier. I, however, prefer one-on-one interactions to groups, and I really dislike being surprised in social settings.

The thing is, she never knew it bothered me because I never told her. I was so worried about making sure she liked me that I pretended to be happy about these surprise additions to our outings. I told myself I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

Unfortunately, the result was that I resented the other people and didn’t give them a fair chance to see if we might also become friends. It undermined my trust that Amy really saw me and valued my friendship. It reinforced my belief that I wasn’t good enough for someone to want to spend time with just me.

When I wasn’t honest about how I felt, it wasn’t kind to anyone involved. I knew Amy to be a caring and thoughtful person. Most likely she would have been glad to let me know when she was extending additional invitations and to check in about what I wanted for a particular meet-up if only I’d been honest about how I felt.

When we people-please, we say and do things that aren’t really true for us. We may accept an invitation that is inconvenient or agree to do a favor we resent doing. We might claim to want to eat at a certain restaurant or do a certain activity even though we’d actually prefer something else.

We may keep our opinions and beliefs to ourselves unless we’re sure they line up with those of the person we’re trying to please. We might base our decisions—from what clothes we wear to what jokes we laugh at to what career we pursue—on what we think will win approval. We may hide how the other person’s actions are impacting us.

None of these things are honest. We’re not being kind to others when we try to manipulate them into liking us instead of letting them really see us.

We get tripped up because honesty can feel unkind if we think it will disappoint someone or make them unhappy. Of course, honesty can be used in an unkind way. People will say intentionally hurtful things and then justify their cruelty under the guise of honesty, but we can be honest with kindness.

When we are honest in our relationships, we give others a true representation of who we are. We are clear about what we will and won’t do, what we do and don’t want. When we are honest we build trust with others that they can take us at our word and learn to see ourselves as a person who can be trusted.

Presence is Kinder than People-Pleasing

When I spent time with Amy, I worried a lot. I watched to see how many cookies she ate before helping myself to another. I worried about whether she was offering tea just to be nice or whether she’d actually be disappointed if I didn’t want to try the new blend she’d been sent as a gift.

I avoided conversation topics where I wasn’t sure we’d agree. I was cautious when answering her questions about what I was up to. I’d offer only a glimpse and then try to gauge her levels of interest and approval before sharing the next little bit.

The thing is, I wasn’t able to relax and just enjoy spending time together. It was obvious to her that I was trying to do things the way I thought she wanted me to. She tried to reassure me that it was okay to be myself, which was embarrassing for both of us.

I appreciated Amy’s ability to ask thoughtful questions and how encouraging she was about anything I did share with her. The main things I remember about the time we spent together, however, don’t tell me much about who she is. I remember more about what I said and did because my focus kept turning to how I was measuring up.

When we engage in people-pleasing behaviors, we watch the people we hope to please for cues about what they want and need and who they expect us to be. It can seem like we’re being very present with them because we’re paying such close attention.

Too often, however, our attention is strategic—we’re using it to meet our own ends instead of really engaging with them as people. We watch for how each thing we do or say is received and use that data to continually adjust ourselves to be more pleasing.

What if, instead, we approached our time with another person with curiosity—seeking to know them for the joy of knowing another human being? Curiosity requires presence—being open and welcoming to what is there instead of what we expect to find. One of the kindest things we can do for someone is to set aside our expectations and see them for who they are—and that includes ourselves.

Trust is Kinder than People-Pleasing

It didn’t matter how kind and encouraging I believed Amy to be, I didn’t trust that she would want to be my friend if I ever let her really see me. I didn’t trust that relationships could survive disappointments, differences, or disagreements. I struggled to believe that anyone really wanted to know me and that I would deserve their friendship if they did.

When I didn’t trust that Amy would want to be my friend unless I went out of my way to please her and I didn’t trust that I was worthy of her friendship, it made for an uneven relationship. I saw her as better than me and was trying to control her perception of me so I could keep a place in her life. Our interactions were based on my striving to please instead of on two humans seeing and supporting each other.

People-pleasing is characterized by a lack of trust. We people-please because we don’t trust that we are good enough to be wanted just as we are. We don’t trust others to see the value in us and treat us well unless we always give them what they want or stay within the parameters of who they expect us to be.

A kinder approach is to cultivate trust. As we unhook from people-pleasing, we build trust in ourselves. We develop trust that we can meet our own needs and that we can express our preferences with kindness. We learn to trust that we will be okay if not everyone likes us and that there are new opportunities even after disappointment.

There is also kindness in trusting others. When we choose to trust someone, we give them a chance to see and support us. We open up the possibility for a mutual relationship.

Trust others and trust yourself to build a relationship that is genuine and satisfying for you both. Some relationships will not survive if we cease people-pleasing, but those relationships were not built on true kindness to either person. Invest in relationships that are based on kindness instead of control—where you can know and be known.

Consider your closest relationships. Are they a space where you are honest, present, and trusting? If not, what gets in the way? How can you bring a little more honesty, presence, and trust into your relationships this week?

About Johanna Schram

Johanna Schram is a certified life coach and writer who supports fellow humans to stop the people-pleasing and start trusting themselves. She helps people recognize their inherent worth, express themselves with courage and integrity, and connect deeply in relationships. Learn more about Johanna and get access to the free self-trust library at johannaschram.com.

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The post If You Think People-Pleasing Is Being Kind… appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

How I Overcame My Relationship Anxiety and Doubts

“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in my life is to risk nothing.” ~Leo Buscaglia

It was the day after my boyfriend proposed and I felt sick with anxiety. I couldn’t understand this feeling. I loved my boyfriend; we were living together, and I didn’t want to break up with him, so why was I so anxious?

I googled furiously in search of answers. I worried this was a sign that the relationship wasn’t ‘right,’ and this made me feel even more anxious. I worried that it was my gut instincts speaking to me and I would regret it if I didn’t listen. But there was another part of me that didn’t want to leave the relationship. That was very confusing.

“Maybe I am just afraid to be alone,” I thought.

However, as someone with a tendency toward anxiety I also wondered if this was just another expression of that. Finally, after about a month of sleepless nights, worrying, and googling, I came across a forum that mentioned relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD) or relationship anxiety.

What is ROCD?

“Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which the sufferer experiences intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts about the strength, quality, and ‘true nature’ of their love for their partner. Obsessions in ROCD include a preoccupation with a partner’s appropriateness as a mate, overall level of attractiveness, sexual desirability, or long-term compatibility, and often arise in otherwise entirely healthy relationships.” (Center for OCD Los Angeles)

It gave me a huge sense of relief to know that what I was experiencing was indeed anxiety-related and I didn’t need to leave my lovely fiancé.

I took a relationship anxiety course and it was of enormous help to me. I learned so much about myself and am now able to enjoy my relationship again. I want to share what I learned in the hope that it will help someone else.

The Difference Between Anxiety and Gut Instincts

My main concern before and after learning about ROCD was “What if this is actually my gut instincts telling me that I need to leave?” This is a scary question, and a very common one for sufferers of ROCD. There is also no definitive way of answering this question, which is frustrating. Anxiety hates uncertainty.

One thing that helped me was to remind myself that I have worried obsessively about lots of things for most of my life. For instance, when I was single, I wanted to know with absolute certainty that I would meet someone and be happily married one day. I would seek reassurance from friends and family and worry about it endlessly. This anxiety felt similar to that.

If I’d worried unnecessarily in the past, it stood to reason I could be doing the same thing in my relationship.

Fear of Conflict

The interesting thing about healing from relationship anxiety is that it seems to uncover different wounds for different people. In this way it can be a gift, as it triggers a lot of self-discovery and growth.

For me, it uncovered a fear of conflict and losing myself.

When I was growing up, I felt like I had to put aside my feelings in order to “keep the peace.” As a result, my adult relationships sometimes feel like a choice between losing the person I love and losing myself. I have had to learn that conflict can be healthy; it doesn’t mean a relationship isn’t right.

I used to find it hard to voice my opinions and needs in my relationship. I needed to test the assumption that conflict is unsafe.

Thankfully, I found that the opposite is true. You can’t have a healthy relationship with out conflict. My partner has strong opinions, he doesn’t let me off the hook easily, and we are very different in some ways, but I have never felt unsafe when we are debating an issue.

Without conflict we are either not being honest or sacrificing our needs, which can lead to the feeling of losing oneself.

Fear of Making the “Wrong Choice”

I love my parents and I know they did their best, but there are things about their relationship that I would not want to repeat in my own.

Often relationship anxiety is related to the first relationship we were exposed to. There is a myriad of things that we may have been witnessed in our parents’ relationship: domestic violence, infidelity, divorce, abandonment. It is easy to become hypervigilant about not repeating our parents’ mistakes, at least as we perceive them. Add to this is the idea of “the one” and our fear of missing out or “settling” and we have a recipe for relationship anxiety.

When my partner says something insensitive or we have a different view on things, I still feel anxious at times. But I am able to recognize that I am triggered and stabilize myself again. Sometimes this involves talking it through with him. But often I just need to take some time to process the emotions, to see what in my past my has been triggered, and practice some self-soothing.

Recognizing your particular areas of sensitivity can help you differentiate between doubts about your partner and old wounds being triggered.

Unhelpful Beliefs About Love

Our culture’s ideas about love are very unhelpful. We are brought up on Hollywood movies showing love as passion, desire, and finding “the one.” This is not a fair reflection of the daily grind of loving someone.

Sometimes we feel in love with our partners and sometimes we don’t, and that’s okay. The feeling of love comes and goes, but we can choose the action of love every day. Life gets busy, we all have annoying quirks, and sometimes we are tired and grumpy. This is not conducive to constant feelings of passion!

I have learned to watch the loving feelings ebb and flow. To enjoy loving feelings when they arise, knowing that when they are not there they will return.

I believe there are lots of people we could be happy with, not just one single perfect person. My partner is certainly not perfect, but he is a good person who I love and respect. We have lots in common, but we are also very different in some ways, which means we learn a lot from each other. I am so grateful that I didn’t throw away our relationship, as it is now one of the most precious things in my life.

If You Think You’re Struggling with Relationship Anxiety

If you are in a generally healthy relationship and you have experienced anxiety in the past, particularly when it comes to relationships, then there is a good chance that what you are experiencing is relationship anxiety. I encourage you to look deeper. Read more about it and perhaps see a therapist who understands ROCD.

Be careful of well-meaning friends and family who may suggest that if you aren’t sure, then it means you should break up. Many people, including therapists, don’t understand relationship anxiety. I would also suggest staying away from romantic movies and TV shows, as this will most likely lead to unhelpful comparisons.

There is no way of knowing the future and there are no guarantees in life. There is no way of knowing if our partner is 100 percent “right for us” or not. And if there was, I don’t think that anyone would pass the test, as we are all flawed in some way.

Loving is a risk, and there is no way of escaping that. Of course, that is scary! But in time we can learn to manage the fears and, in the process, become better at loving ourselves and our partners.

About Ella

Ella is a social worker who is passionate about mental health. She loves writing, hiking and watching movies. You can read more of her work at her blog Mind Balance Café.

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The post How I Overcame My Relationship Anxiety and Doubts appeared first on Tiny Buddha.