A client of mine recently shared in her Instagram stories that we’ve been working together on indecision and people pleasing. It is important to note that people pleasing isn't just about "What can I do for others?" It often is the result of a deep seeded fear of not being liked. Indecision comes into play when someone thinks about what a decision will make someone think about them, not what the decision will do for them. This is going to be such an important transformation for my client; I know this because I’ve had to make a very similar transformation. Her story brought to mind a time when indecision and people pleasing really hurt me and that was when I first realized that I needed to make a serious change.
About 5 years ago, and Natalie was going to be traveling to California with her dad to visit his parents. A few weeks before they left, her dad informed me that they would be going to Disneyland. I was not about to miss the magic as she experienced meeting her favorite princesses for the first time, so I invited myself on the trip. At this time I had a really unsteady co-parenting relationship, and was still learning to heal myself after our break up. However, it was incredibly important to me to be a part of this memory.
I was proud of myself for making this decision, as sometimes even a simple choice, like choosing what to eat, could cause me great anxiety. As I prepared for this trip however, and began to tell people my plans I started listening to so many opinions and voices about this decision. “Why would you want to travel with him after what he did to you?” “Why are you letting him take Natalie to California at all?” “This is a disaster waiting to happen.” “You shouldn’t be spending money on this.”
The people pleaser in me started to feel so guilty, shameful, anxious… people were thinking negative thoughts about me. I wasn’t making anyone else happy. This is extremely painful for someone whose whole life has been about seeking approval from others. What this led to was that I wasn’t able to clearly communicate what I wanted, or why I wanted it.
I had some friends that graciously allowed me to stay with them the first couple of days I was in California, while Natalie was at her grandparents’ house. I still wasn’t communicating clearly though about what my plans were; when I would arrive, when I would leave, because I was attempting to keep things in in order to avoid the potential hurt of being disapproved of, or judged. This resulted in me frustrating my friends, and my family, because my travel plans were so wishy-washy. I didn’t want to upset anyone, but had in fact, led them to be upset. Had I been able to just say what I wanted it would have been WAY less stressful for me, Natalie, my friends, and everyone else involved.
This was certainly not the first time my indecision, combined with my fear of not being liked, actually damaged the relationships I was trying to protect. On that trip I remember walking with my friend from her apartment to a late night doughnut shop. I remember telling her that I was so afraid to make anyone upset that I was frozen with indecision about EVERYTHING. She said to me, “We only want to see you happy, Tarryn. If this makes you happy, we’ll support you.” For whatever reason, this was the kick in the pants I needed to start the process of learning to love my decisions, and stand up for them no matter what others thought of them.
That isn’t to say that I’m perfect. I still face indecision, and I still find myself in situations worrying more about what people will think of me if I make A, B, or C decision than what the decision will actually do for me. After all, I’m working against 25+ years worth of thinking and programming that made my old decision making process my habit by default. Now, however, when I have those old thoughts creep into my mind I know the tools to help myself.
I struggled for a while developing the tools in my toolbox, but once I had them I felt unstoppable! Imagine if I had had a life coach at that time. My growth would have been so accelerated. I realized on this growth journey how powerful it actually is to be able to stand up for what I really want, be authentically myself, and advocate for myself. The best part is I can do that while making my family and friends happy.
My client now is in a similar place. I’m excited to help her discover herself, and to finally be honest with herself about what she really wants. I know that the voice she hears now that makes her stop before deciding; think about others before she acts, it’s not a bad voice. Its job is to keep her safe. What I’m teaching her will help her work with that voice to stay safe, while being true to herself.
Tell me about a time when you were racked with indecision, or felt conflicted because you worried what others might think. What did you end up doing? Do you still have trouble with it?