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People-pleasers pride themselves on self-sacrifice. They see themselves as noble – the cure to all the selfishness out there. But unfortunately, they are majorly deluded.
Self-sacrifice is where you put your own needs aside and prioritize the needs, wants and desires of others. It’s where you hurt yourself to help others.
I used to do this a lot. In fact, I lived for this. I saw myself as the last great guy, the last nice guy left in a world of jerks. I was constantly looking for opportunities where I could help someone else and benefit their lives and make them happy… preferably at the cost of my own happiness.
If you look around, you’ll see this all the time, and you’re probably one yourself. The overworked and tired parents; the caring friends who drop everything for their other friends; the hard workers at the office who don’t know how to say No. We’re surrounded by people-pleasers. I personally think a majority of people suffer from this particular disease.
They have this idea that helping doesn’t really count unless it hurts – you have to suffer to help others, or otherwise it’s not really helping. So today, we’re going to explore three of the main problems of being a self-sacrificing people-pleaser, and what you can do differently to be even more helpful.
Problem #1: you’re serving from a weak place.
The big wake-up call that I got about my own self-sacrifice actually came at a strange moment. I was in an airplane and they were doing the standard safety procedure; talking about how to put on your seatbelt and all that stuff. And then they came to the bit where the oxygen mask drops down, and they said a very specific line:
“Make sure you adjust your own mask before helping the child next to you.”
Now at the time, I thought that was incredibly selfish, like” What kind of selfish bastard would put their own mask on when there’s a poor child sitting next to them?”
But then it clicked. If I don’t put on my mask while I’m suffocating and struggling and then I try to jam this mask on a poor kid next to me, I’m going to be an unhelpful panicky mess while forcing this poor kid to do things the way I want them done. And in the end, we both die, right? We both suffocate.
However… if I let that kid suffer just a little bit while I get my own shit sorted first, then I’m going to be a fully functioning, healthy breathing adult who can now help this kid. That help will be very powerful and useful, as opposed to being helped by somebody who’s also suffocating.
This is the problem with self-sacrificers. They burn themselves out, drain their own resources and neglect themselves, and then they try helping from that suffocated place. They’re really not all that helpful!
If you’ve ever been helped by somebody who’s clearly struggling, you know the guilt you feel and how poor their help is, how often they make mistakes and how bad you feel about the suffering they go through just to help you. This is the problem with most people-pleasers – their help is actually like 50% of what they could do if they were taking better care of themselves first.
A classic example of this is a child who’s got an overprotective and over-caring parent. The parent does everything for them, the child doesn’t have to do any chores or anything, the parents solves all the child’s problems and won’t let them hurt themselves in their experiments and so on. This child grows up fragile and spoiled and kind of bubble-wrapped.
And then they go out into the real world and they fall to pieces because they’re not prepared for the pain of the real world and for the responsibilities of taking care of themselves. So how can you really say that parents like these are helping their children when all they’re doing is setting them up for failure?
When you help someone from a weak place, when you’re suffocating them and yourself with your support, nobody wins. It’s far more effective for you to get your own shit sorted while letting other people try and sort themselves out. And then, when they are really struggling, you can step in as a healthy, confident person and give them a hand.
Problem #2: you’re being selfish
Your so-called “self-sacrificing” intentions are actually very selfish.
Take a moment to have an honest look in the mirror, metaphorically speaking. Why do you sacrifice yourself?
Get past the initial lies you tell yourself about how you’re a “good person,” and how you’re making the world a better place and how you’re “helpful.” Get down to the meat of this: You want to be seen as the hero, you want sympathy, you want to be appreciated, you want a reputation as a good person, you want other people to see you as nice. Maybe you want to be a good mother, or a good father, a good friend, or a good partner. But really…
Mostly what you want to do is control people.
Yeah, that’s right. Put it this way: every time you help someone who hasn’t asked for it – every time you sacrifice yourself for someone even though they didn’t want you to – you’re forcing that on them. Every time you do something for someone that they could have done themselves, you’re taking away their independence.
Now, why would you do that if you’re being “helpful?” For one reason only: you want to control them. You want them to do it your way. You want them to feel emotions that you’re comfortable with.
You need to face the facts here. Self-sacrifice is really nothing more than controlling manipulation. This was one of the most fucked up realizations of my whole life. I spent my whole life being a self-sacrificing people pleaser only to realize that’s the most selfish thing of all!
A classic example from my younger days is I used to play the “counselor” role. When one of my friends got themselves into a difficult position, I’d become their therapist. I’d be there to help them through it and comfort them and guide them.
On the surface, I looked like this helpful caring friend. But what was really happening as I was condoning their self-sabotage. I wasn’t giving them the tough love that they needed – I was enabling them to continue with the poor behavior and irresponsible decision-making that led to the problems that they got themselves into. I would often support someone who’s self-sabotaging just so that they could see me as the supportive person, when a genuinely helpful person would actually say, “Look, I can’t talk to you until you sort your shit out.”
If any of this is resonating with you, we recommend that you check out the BROJO Nice Guy recovery course. It’s free, and you get free BROJO membership with it. It will help wake you up to your people-pleasing and provide alternative and more confident actions you can take instead, to be even more helpful than you are now.
Problem #3: you are going to lose yourself
The less often that you express your own needs, desires, and priorities, and fail act upon them, the more you’re going to lose track of what they even are. After many years of behaving this way, you’re going to become the people pleaser. The performance that you’re putting on will become your actual personality.
I remember waking up once in the middle of the night during my 20s with this realization: I didn’t know who the fuck I was.
I didn’t even properly know what I liked and disliked. I didn’t know what I stand for and against. I was so used to adjusting to everybody else and putting everybody else’s needs above mine that I didn’t even know what mine were anymore, which meant I didn’t know myself at all!
It’s a terrible thing to wake up to it. And nobody else benefits from you feeling that way, except maybe abusive psychopaths and narcissists… maybe that’s why so many nice guys and people pleasers end up with those as partners.
In my work as a confidence coach who focuses on nice guys and people pleasers, I’ve seen a lifetime of self-sacrifice lead to devastating consequences. Total loneliness, midlife crises, misery and suicidality, resentment and rage. All that self-sacrifice builds up a darkness inside of you, especially when you’re secretly hoping for appreciation and then you find out that the real world doesn’t really give a fuck about you.
When many of my clients first come to me, I ask them what their values are, what they stand for, what they believe in, and what are their preferences. They’re always vague and unsure. They’ve lost who they are because they’ve spent so much time putting everybody else first. They’ve come to me because they’ve hit that point, finally, in their lives, where they realize that other people aren’t even really benefiting from this or appreciating it.
One of the wake-up calls I got in my life was when I went away for six months, my first real overseas travel. When I came back to New Zealand, everybody’s lives had continued without me. They had survived just fine without my help and support. That was like a big slap in the face. I wasn’t there to sacrifice myself for these people but they were okay, they didn’t actually need me? They didn’t even notice I wasn’t there to help? WTF?!
That’s the deep, dark truth underneath all this: your self-sacrificing is merely a desperate attempt to make people need you because you don’t want to face the fact that they don’t. Truth is: they’ll be fine without you.
what to do instead
Here are some simple tips to help you break out of your self-sacrificing pattern without becoming a less helpful or giving person.
#1 Morning routine. Set yourself up with a morning routine. Make sure that your needs and your plans for the day and your preparation comes before everybody else. If your children wake up really early, wake up even earlier so that you can take care of yourself first. Make sure that by the time you’re helping other people, you’ve got all your own shit sorted first. Start the day with that momentum
#2 Queue requests from other people. If you’re a people pleaser, a self-sacrificer, you will have trained others to be needy for you and to come to you without even trying to sort shit out themselves. You’ve caused that effect. So what you can do is you can start “queuing.” Never drop your tools to help someone. If you’ve got a plan for the day and they want your help, they have to wait until you’re done – until you’re free and available. Never put aside what you had planned, unless it’s an absolute emergency (trust me; most of the time it is not). What you’ll notice is if someone has to wait a couple of hours they tend to figure it out themselves – proof that they never needed you in the first place.
#3 Boundary setting. The greatest fear for people-pleasers: being confrontational, saying no, putting a line in the sand and saying “Do not cross this line.” Because self-sacrifice is really about a fear of setting up those boundaries. You don’t want people to be upset with you, so you just fold like a deck-chair. Make sure everybody knows that if they want your help, there’s a process they must follow and that you’re going to hold the boundary on this process. How they ask for help, the way they schedule their time with you, what they must accept from you, and so on. And if you’re somebody who struggles with setting boundaries and doing confrontations, check out the boundary setting course (you need to be a Contributing BROJO member to do this course).
#4 Prioritise your basic needs. Prioritize your health, prioritize your integrity, prioritize your time management. Make it so these things come first, even above your family and your loved ones, because they will also benefit if you get your shit sorted consistently. This is for them as much as it is for you. You coming at them all tired and worn out and overworked and overwhelmed is not fucking helping them. If anything, you’re dragging them down. Don’t do that to them and don’t do it to yourself.
#5 Don’t allow disrespect. Don’t be disrespectful to yourself, because that’s how you lose who you are. No one can be allowed to make you compromise your principles. No one is allowed to make you neglect your health. No one is allowed to fuck with your schedule. Make that the hard and fast rule. And if anybody gives you a lot of shit about this – at least after the initial adjustment period of you becoming more confident – then they’re probably someone who’s trying to use and abuse you. Cut that person out of your life. If you’re a self-sacrificing people pleaser, you’ve probably got a few people like this in your life. So you’re gonna have to weed that garden pretty hard. But you can build up to that as your courage grows,
It’s not going to be other people who are uncomfortable with this, it’s going to be you! Make sure that you are 100% before serving others – then you’re the most powerful server that you can be, they’re going to receive the best from you that they can possibly receive and you’re not neglecting yourself in the process. Everybody wins.
Anything less than that – anything in the self-sacrificing category – is no less than manipulation. If you feel resistant to this idea it’s only because you’re clinging to your identity, your reputation as a self-sacrificing people pleaser, a nice person, a helpful person.
Let that shit go because it is killing you.
Thank you so much for reading this post. Please share it around, comment below and subscribe to the channel if you liked it. And of course, if all of this resonates with you and you need some more professional support to break through it, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help you through it one way or the other.