Beat your people-pleasing gene into submission

I’m a firm believer in nature & nurture, the combination of them both. Some of us are born people-pleasers and others are taught this. For me, it was both. I most certainly inherited the pleasing gene, just the threat of a hiding (smack) when I was younger got me sobbing and begging for forgiveness {nature}. But then I clearly remember the habit of pleasing being reinforced too {nurture}.

From as young an age as I can remember, my family took an annual holiday to Cape St Francis and this meant leaving home around 4am. My parents had a VW combi, so the night before the trip we’d flatten the seats and make a bed with the backseats for the first few hours of the trip. Except I never slept there. You see, my dad was my hero and he was the driver. He’s never been a great sleeper, and well, neither was I. But what made up my mind to most certainly not sleep with my brothers (and mum) at the back of the combi, was that my dad loved telling everyone how I was his right-hand man for the trip as, like him, wasn’t much of a sleeper. I so craved the feeling of pleasing my dad, the knowing that my dad thought I was like him, that the decision was made – never would I let him know that I ‘could’ perhaps attempt sleep but wouldn’t dare due to the threat of being told that I wasn’t like him any longer.

This pleasing gene, has grown with me over the years, it’s caused many a tearful moment, unnecessary ‘yeses’ and avoidance-of-conflict.

In recent years, and after working with a number of clients who too carry this gene, I have come to a few conclusions on how to beat this once and for all..

Take a Risk

Yes it may be partially genetic that you’re a people-pleaser, but deep down the need to please is rooted in a fear of not being accepted, or worse still rejected. Our minds have become so accustomed to avoiding these potential experiences that our brains have no idea whether they would cope, at all, with such an outcome.

One definition of ‘risk’ is “the chance of loss”. I love this. Firstly, because yes taking a risk is scary but really, there is ONLY a ‘chance’ of loss. No guarantees. And then secondly, because although the word loss is associated with negative connotations, sometimes loosing something (that was never serving you) is actually just what you most need.

How it works

When I was going through intense therapy for personal issues 9 years ago, I wasn’t allowed to exercise for 8 weeks. I so clearly remember saying to my psychologist at one point that if I couldn’t go for ‘at least’ a walk that afternoon, that I would indeed CRACK!! She replied with, “Caitlyn we’re dying to see you crack. I doubt you’ve ever allowed yourself to get to ‘cracking point’ and you’ll probably find as soon as you do, that cracking actually isn’t so bad after all.”

AND CRACK I DID. I cried more that week than ever before, but with those tears washed away every addictive/run-from-that-emotion part of my being. I learnt to be okay with me and to not need a person, thing, habit or action to help me cope.

As mentioned earlier on, our brains (as people pleasers) are familiar with rejection-avoidance. We will do all-it-takes to be accepted, even forsaking ourselves in the process. And our brains stick to what they know (positive or not) until such time, as we teach them otherwise.

In attempt to rid myself of this exhausting habit of making everyone happy, I (and many clients since) have started taking risks. Little ones at first: we arrive late for something and see how people react. We stand up for ourselves, even when every bone in our body creaks with anxiety. We say no to a favour asked that truly would inconvenience us in a negative way.

The truth is, that little risks everyday are what train our brains to break current associations and create new ones. In time, our brains realize that letting someone ‘down’ wasn’t really the end of the world, just like ‘cracking’ wasn’t either.

You’ve got this….



  1. Chereen on May 30, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    Wow, Caitlyn. I SO needed to read this today – thank you so much for sharing. Your wisdom and lessons continue to inspire me, even a year after our coaching sessions! Thank you x

    • caitlyndb on May 30, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      So glad it was relevant and hopefully helpful my friend <3 xxx

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