Would you consider yourself a people pleaser? Someone who's always trying to get into others' good graces, changing and shifting yourself to best fit in with those you admire, immediately jumping at the opportunity to help others with their issues?
This type of archetype, though it appears very useful, does nothing but lead to burnout. Being a problem-solver, a fixer, has its uses, but not all the time. If you've dedicated too much of your life to offering advice, know that there are better ways to be a support for the people in your life, ones that don't end up with you being stretched so thin.
Wearing yourself down like this can have some serious impacts on one's mental health, leading to deteriorating self-esteem and struggles with confidence. These can both be rebuilt, though, and all it takes is minutes a day.
To The Rescue
When thinking about our loved ones, it's a common feeling to want to solve all of their problems. We want to see them happy and thriving, without anything keeping them down or making them feel bad. Of course, it's not that simple, as no one is able to live without any issues at all, but that doesn't stop people from wishing that for the ones they care for most anyway.
This wish can sometimes get a bit out of hand, though, as some not only dream it, they try to make it a reality. They become so consumed by solving other peoples' problems that they neglect their own life.
An Easy Target
This person has now become a people pleaser, or a fixer, someone whose focus in life is trying to deal with, handle, or otherwise solve others' problems.
They're often kindhearted, these fixers, and do what they do out of genuine kindness, but they lose sight of themselves in the process. Not only do they let issues of their own pile up, but they also become vulnerable to emotional manipulation, with predatory people seeing their gentle nature and knowing right away that it's something they can take advantage of.
A New Angle
While it isn't fair that living with such selflessness in your heart can lead to such dismay, it's the unfortunate truth, which means it needs to be protected against.
The fact of the matter is that you can't fix everyone else's problems. That's simply impossible. Not only is it a huge task, but some problems can't be fixed via outside interference. They can only be solved by the person involved in the issue.
For those already deeply entrenched in people-pleasing behavior, it can be hard to shake the urge any time someone's complaining about something. Thankfully, there's a 5-step system that still allows you to approach an issue your loved one is having without launching yourself into full fixer mode.
First, let's devise a situation. A dear friend of yours has come over to spend some time together one night, but upon their arrival you immediately notice that something is wrong.
When you ask them about it, they reveal to you that their partner had broken up with them just hours before, leaving them distraught and heartbroken. They didn't want to cancel your plans, so they came over anyway, but they're clearly out of sorts and in need of some love.
Here's a breakdown of how you can help without 'fixing.'
1. Focus On Their Feelings
Now that you know the situation, it's time to work out what exactly your friend is feeling so you know what tone to take for the rest of the conversation. Are they simply upset? Are they frustrated? Are they angry?
You can find this out by inferring, given that you know this friend well enough, or you can use gentle questions/nudging statements to get confirmation out of them.
"Oh no, how are you doing?", "Are you mad at them?", or "How did they tell you?" are all ways you can keep them talking and learn more about their current mental state.
2. Keep The Focus On Them
Speaking of keeping them talking, all the focus here should remain on your friend. Though it feels selfless because we're trying to help, when we're so focused on helping, our thoughts immediately turn to what we can do about a situation, not about our friend's current state.
So, while you're free to talk and ask questions (within reason), make sure the focus of attention is on them and their feelings. Don't insert yourself or start talking about how you feel about the situation at hand.
3. Express Understanding
Show that you understand what they're going through. This can sometimes be the only exception to the previous rule. Maybe you've been broken up with in a similar way, so you can use that story to empathize with what they're going through, but don't make it the new center of attention.
Once you've worked out their feelings, let them know that you get why they're feeling that way. Assure them, either directly or indirectly, that their feelings are valid, that they're right to be upset given the context.
4. Reassure And Encourage Them
This can be both honoring their feelings as per the last point, but it can also be actual encouragement.
Tell them you know that they're a wonderful person that anyone would be lucky to date, remind them of their wonderful qualities, of how their ex made a mistake, so on and so forth. Remind them that, when they're ready, they'll find someone else that's perfect for them in no time. This helps them look toward a brighter future and consider alternatives that aren't whatever doom and gloom ending their brain has cooked up for them.
5. Provide Advice Only If Asked
Finally, you can offer advice if they indicate they want some. Maybe they'll ask you what you would do in the same scenario, or want your insight on a particular matter. Whatever it is, make sure they ask first. In times like these, their brain is probably too busy dealing with the grief they're feeling to also think about actionable advice.
Let them just feel their feelings first. When they're of sounder mind again, maybe then they'll be more receptive to your ideas, but always ask them first before providing unsolicited advice.
Until then, distract them with something else. Watch a fun movie together, go for a walk, cook a good meal together, whatever will get them in a good mood and keep their brain off their issue.
Much More To It
It's possible to be a good friend without miraculously coming up with solutions to every problem or offering to fix every issue that arises. You're more than just your ability to fix things.
Your friends value you for your warmth, your comfort, just you as a person, not just your willingness to solve everything. In fact, if you stop spreading yourself so thin trying to fix everything, you'd have more time to invest in these friendships you cherish so dearly.
Leaving people-pleasing behavior behind is no easy feat, but it is doable, and it begins with the people you trust most. Take simple steps forward and just watch how they free your mind.
It's important to remember that people-pleasing behavior is oftentimes a trauma response, one born in childhood that persists for decades. Strife faced in our early years can continue to affect us in many ways that are nigh unidentifiable. Until now, that is.
This quiz will help you unearth the roots of your trauma and set you on the course to managing it. No matter how your trauma is still felt today, you have the capacity to grow beyond it into a new and beautiful life.