Freedom from the Destructive Pattern of People-Pleasing

Freedom from the Destructive Pattern of People-Pleasing

Those of us who have lived through relational trauma typically have a challenging time setting healthy boundaries for ourselves. We’re either too rigid or too flexible.

 

In my work with clients, I hear a lot of things like, “I do so much for her. She would never do for me what I’ve done for her.” Or “Why am I always the one bending over backward for everyone?” And “Everything is always up to me. Why doesn’t anyone offer to help me get things done or make decisions?”

 

We do a lot. We do for others, hold things down at work and home, support our loved ones, and take care of our responsibilities. We’re in weddings. We go to baby showers and birthday parties. We make sure gifts have been wrapped, and cards have been sent.

 

We also have days when we can’t seem to pull ourselves out of bed to make into work on time. Laundry piles up. Our budgets are neglected. It takes us forever to get out the door because we’re slogging through a million things and can’t seem to cross the threshold to the outside world.

 

A lot of us feel overburdened and underappreciated at work, at home, or in our relationships. Sometimes this is because we’re tired and vulnerable. Sometimes it’s because we’re doing too much. And some of us chronically do too much, give too much.

 

We say yes too often, take on too many responsibilities, do too many favors, caretake, and neglect our own needs. We give gifts, make trips, invest ourselves in finding solutions to problems, accommodate, and excuse behavior. None of these behaviors are inherently problematic, but too much too often and with the wrong intention makes us feel imbalanced and resentful.

 

If I’m constantly trying to find ways to accommodate coworkers, clients, friends, and family members, anticipate peoples’ needs, and please everyone all the time, I’m probably going to find myself wondering when people are going to offer me the same in return. I’ll be waiting a long time, though.

 

That’s kind of how this works.

 

In psychotherapy, we look at schemas. A schema is a framework for how we live and relate. It’s information we’ve accumulated from life and stored in our brains and bodies. That information helps our brain decide what it believes, how we should respond to our beliefs. It helps us have expectations. To our human brain, assumption equals truth. It’s an “If this, then that,” process. Most of our schemas were programmed during childhood.

 

Those of us who habitually over-accommodate and people-please often have schemas that tell us something like, “I have to overextend to get love. I am not ok as I am.” We believe that we’ll lose relationships if we don’t constantly give to and please others. And we usually bring this attitude to work, our relationships, and our homes. At that rate, we’ll feel resentful and exhausted in no time flat.

 

We do these things because we believe we have to, not because we want to. Sometimes it’s mixed; we enjoy seeing the look on someone’s face when we do something nice for them but we also need to do something that elicits that response for us to feel good about ourselves, loved, and worthy. It’s a lot like getting a fix.

 

Once we find out what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and that it doesn’t work for us, we feel kind of trapped. The whole point is to keep overdoing it so that we’ll feel lovable and worthy. The compulsion is to keep doing more and more and more. How could we ever imagine pulling back and doing less for others?

 

It’s not an easy transition to make. Like any new habit, it feels awkward and uncomfortable at first. What’s worse is that it comes with flawed logic that, for so long, has felt like truth. Chances are, we don’t know why we feel this way. We probably don’t, “I do too much. I give too much of myself in order to keep my relationships and feel loved.” We probably think, “I do what I’ve always done.”

 

Some of us have moved hundreds or thousands of miles away from our triggers only to find that they have followed us, a sort of “the call is coming from inside the house” situation.

 

We find ourselves in similar situations and relationships to the ones we left. The scenery has changed, but the narrative is the same.

 

We’re bending over backward for people and not considering our needs. We feel underappreciated and taken for granted. We store our resentments, and they leak out in other ways.

 

And whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve defined ourselves by our people-pleasing behaviors. It’s been our way of relating to our world for a long time. Mourning the loss of this identity will come with its own process.

 

So, what do we do?

 

First, we should approach our transition out of over-accommodating and into healthy boundaries slowly and deliberately. When faced with an urge to caretake or accommodate, we can ask ourselves, “Who is this for?” It will feel a little clunky at first. The question is a great start because it reminds us that we have choices in our interactions.

 

Our first answers to this questions will probably be something like, “It’s for them! They need something, and I can make it happen.” We might think, “It’s for me. I love to help people.” While these statements might be true, beneath the surface lies a whole world of expectation- that the person will do the same thing for us, that they’ll love us more, that they’ll see how irreplaceable we are, that we’re special.

 

We can also ask ourselves, “What do I want from this interaction? What am I expecting from the other person?” Running through this a few times is a great exercise in self-awareness and mindfulness. It also teaches us to consider ourselves, an act of self-care.

 

We can follow up with running through a previous scenario with the same person. “How often have they met my expectations before this situation? Am I expecting a brand new behavior from them because I want it or because they’ve taken legitimate steps toward that behavior?”          

 

Be prepared to be uncomfortable. When we’re used to getting our self-worth from acts of service, performing fewer of those acts will be anxiety-producing. (And somehow, simultaneously, a relief.) Reconditioning ourselves is slow-going and scary.

 

If we’ve found ourselves saying, “This person would never do for me what I’ve done for them,” there is probably wisdom in that. And more than meets the eye. If someone wouldn’t do for us what we’ve done for them, why not? Do they value their time more than we value ours? Are they selfish? Are they better at prioritizing where they give their favors? Could we learn from their boundaries?

 

If we consistently find ourselves in relationships where we’re giving more than the other person, we need to look at a) who we’re forging relationships with and b) our beliefs and patterns of behavior in relationship.  

 

 

When we’re caught in a pattern of people-pleasing, the language of over-accommodating spins both ways. We believe that we have to do more than we can do to be lovable and maintain the relationship. We also believe that others should over-accommodate us if they really love us. If they don’t, it means they don’t love us or that we’re not as important to them as they are to us. This is pretty hard to live up to (especially if the other person isn’t aware of the rules).

 

If people-pleasing is our love language, we’re going to have no trouble finding people who would love for us to please them. We will have trouble finding people who will put up healthy boundaries for us.

 

If you want to talk about your struggle with people-pleasing and are curious about how you can establish healthy boundaries for yourself, I’d love to talk with you!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

You Are Enough.

You Are Enough.

As children, many of us received implicit (and often explicit) messages that it was not ok for us to just be. To some of us, it was communicated that sadness and anger are unacceptable feelings and that to be lovable and worthy we had to hide those parts of ourselves. Some of us were told to constantly strive for more and better, that we should never enjoy where we’re at or what we’ve achieved because someone else is waiting to take our place in line for the best. At some point, we might have realized that our needs and wants were not important.

As a result, we started to believe that we are not enough.

When we are bathed in a message from such a young age and for so long, it becomes woven into our fibers. Such a deep feeling of scarcity, of “not enough” can creep into many other parts of our lives. We feel there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough opportunity. We feel we are not good enough communicators, not good enough parents, not good enough partners, not good enough workers. This becomes the narrative we tell ourselves and we live by it. We have internalized the messages, the scarcity and made an agreement with ourselves that we are not enough, so we approach each situation with that belief. It informs how we participate in relationships, in challenges, at work, and in the rest of life.

It’s not that we want to live this way. We just don’t know how not to. When we haven’t been taught how to validate ourselves and our experience it’s pretty mystifying as to how that could ever work. And once we’ve been doing something for so long, it’s an ingrained pattern of thinking and doing. So, we live in various states of longing and fear.

We starve our needs and try to shape ourselves into what we think we need to be or do or look like so that we can capture the elusive feeling of being enough. We continue to do it until we are exhausted and hopeless.

If this post feels relatable to you and you’re wondering how you can start the process of breaking free from this painful cycle, read on.

 

  • You can observe. You can watch the feelings that come up and the chatter in your mind that tries to find ways to judge yourself and keep those cognitive distortions churning.
  • You can observe while beginning to reserve some judgment. Instead of following your thoughts of “Damnit, I looked like an idiot!” down the rabbit hole, you can put some space in between yourself and the thoughts. This looks more like, “Damnit, I looked like an idiot! …ok, the voice in my head is telling me I looked like an idiot.” That’s enough of a start. John Kabat Zinn devotes a whole method to finding and increasing this little bit of space. It’s called MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), and you should Google it.
  • You can start sending little bits of compassion to the part of yourself that’s feeling inadequate. It can be in the form of thought, a feeling, words that you say out loud, or a mixture of any of these. It’s ok if it feels small and short lived. It will be at first because this is a new practice.
  • Notice as you see patterns emerge. Start tracking your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviors about particularly disturbing or problematic scenarios. See if you can gather more information to get a better understanding of what happens for you and what you can do to help yourself.

 

Remember that this belief that you are/there is not enough didn’t happen overnight. It took years of training for you to believe it and live your life by it. It will take time and training to learn a new way of being. Try to show yourself some patience and stick with it.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Getting What You Want and What You Need

Getting What You Want and What You Need

Recently, it was my dad’s birthday so, I took a road trip to visit my parents. When I’m there, we like to take a lot of walks together. On one of our walks, my dad noticed a herd of cattle. There were at least forty cows walking pretty close together across the pasture. My dad laughed and said, “They’re looking for greener pastures.” As the three of us talked about what we were watching, my dad said it reminded him of something similar he saw when he was a kid.

He observed a herd of cattle walking across a field. As they approached a barbed wire fence, he figured that they would turn around (or at least stop). But they kept going! The cows pushed their heads and chests through the barbed wire fence as they struggled to eat from the other side. Eventually, much of the herd was tangled in the barbs of the fence.

This struck me in a couple of different ways. First, I thought about how determined those cows must have been to plow through a fence riddled with tiny, jagged ends. The second thought I had was, “Woah that is a pretty serious example of what some of us are willing to put ourselves through for what seems like greener grass.”

Moving, changes in relationship status, switching jobs or careers are a few examples of where we can fall into “that grass over there is greener”- and into our proverbial barbed wire fence. While there are plenty of times when a change in location, relationships, or jobs can be totally healthy, there are also plenty of times when making a major life change is not the best antidote to a rut. How are you supposed to tell the difference?

It’s not always easy to be truthful with ourselves about what’s best for us; sometimes we’re afraid to be totally honest about what we need because we’re afraid it might be challenging or painful. So, here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to get a jump on figuring out our best course of action.

How do I tend to react to stressful situations?

If you’re a person who tends to base your decisions on your emotions, you might decide that, since you’re experiencing difficult emotions in a particular situation, it means that you’d be happier if you left that situation (relationship, job, neighborhood, etc.)It might take a bit longer for you to see that discomfort could be an indicator that something needs to shift, but that it’s not necessarily your current situation.

How do I react to uncertainty?

Life is full of uncertainty and people manage it in a variety of ways. Some people avoid the stress uncertainty brings by securing something else in their lives- getting engaged, going back to school, having children, buying a house, changing careers, etc.

What is the narrative I tell about myself?

People tell themselves all sorts of things about who they are. “I’m not good at school.” “I’m not interesting.” “I have no willpower.” “I am too damaged.” These negative beliefs get in the way of your ability to make decisions with which you’ll be happy. They’re fear-based; most people have difficulty identifying their choices when they feel insecure and will settle for whatever feels safest.

So, the next time you find yourself in a “greener pastures” moment, slow your roll a little bit and give yourself some time to answer these questions. Give yourself a chance to make the decision that’s best suited for you, not what feels the safest at the moment.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Building Your Sexual Confidence

Building Your Sexual Confidence

So, how do you have sex? Do you plan it out thoughtfully and intentionally? Do you let a moment strike you and allow yourself to be completely moved by your desire? Do you draw attention to your body in a way that makes you (and your partner(s)) feel sexy? Do you prefer to be in a darkened room where you and your partner(s) can’t see one another? (And why or why not?) Maybe you like to be vocal during sex, talking, uttering various sounds, and just generally making your good time known. Perhaps you take a quieter approach when you have sex.

Have you ever thought about the way you approach the idea of sex, itself- how you think about it? The way you approach yourself as a sexual being?

Take some time to think about it now. Think about the feelings and sensations that you experience when you imagine sex. Are you picturing a particular act? Are you engaged in the act, watching it happen, or is it happening to you?

Now, more specifically, focus on what you believe about yourself as you imagine sex. Are you feeling confident? Sexy? Insecure? Knowledgeable? Foolish?

How we feel and what we believe about ourselves intimately informs our sexual behavior. While this might not be revelatory for some of you, this correlation runs much deeper than “not feeling sexy” after you’ve had a tough day or when you’re dissatisfied with your body.

Do you hold the belief that it takes you too long to orgasm? Or that you aren’t sexy? Or that you aren’t sexually knowledgeable enough?

Think about the sexual beliefs about yourself that you hold. What are they? Why do you believe them? And when do you remember first believing this about yourself? To what experience is this attached?

Every day, I see clients who say things like, “I’ve just never known what I’m doing when it comes to sex; I have no idea what I’m doing,” or “I can just tell that something is wrong with me because I rarely have an orgasm when I’m having sex.”

Eventually, my clients begin to change their thinking. They realize that they don’t orgasm because they have certain needs of which they weren’t aware (or that they knew and hadn’t communicated to their partner(s)). They usually find that, once they express their sexual needs, and those needs begin to feel met, they orgasm just fine. Those who believed they were sexually inept, learn that they simply had to take the time to learn about what pleases them and their partner(s). These clients found that they weren’t as clumsy as they believed; they just didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to see the picture clearly.

It is ok to speak up about your sexual needs. In fact, it’s more than ok- speaking up about what works for you (and what doesn’t) is ideal for a positive, satisfying sexual experience!

Challenge the current sexual beliefs you hold about yourself. Be curious about their origin and meaning. You might begin to find sexual fulfillment that you had never imagined. Enjoy it.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie