Do you find yourself saying “sorry” constantly? Or thinking more about how others will perceive your life choices than about how those choices will impact you? Do you find yourself saying “yes” to commitments that you don’t have the time or energy for? If these scenarios hit a little too close to home, you might be feeling crushed under the weight of perfectionism and people-pleasing.
If you find yourself bending to the will of others too easily, you are not alone. In fact, over half of Americans perceive themselves as people-pleasers, many of whom are women. They find themselves constantly trying to please others, often at the expense of their own needs and desires. While it may seem like a noble trait to always put others first, it can lead to a host of negative consequences, including resentment, burnout, and even depression.
Perfectionism seems more intense than ever before. It’s time for you to learn how to stop people-pleasing and feeling crushed under the pressure of perfectionism. You are worthy of feeling the freedom and healing that comes with being yourself. Today, let’s examine why you may have fallen into people-pleasing and why you might feel the relentless pressure of perfectionism. You can put an end to these toxic behaviors and negative self-talk.
Where Does the Standard of Perfectionism Come From?
Where does perfectionism come from? It’s important to recognize that perfectionism is a societal issue, and not a personal failing. Women should be able to define success and happiness on their own terms, without the burden of external expectations. This requires changing societal norms and challenging gender stereotypes, as well as cultivating a strong sense of self-esteem and self-acceptance.
Women also need to understand where these pressures come from, so that they can learn to shut them down:
- Socialization: From a young age, the pressure of perfectionism is on. Girls are socialized to be nurturing, caring, and accommodating. They are often praised for being “good” – following the rules, putting others first, and being quiet. This can create an expectation that women should always be people-pleasing, and that any deviation from this role is seen as a failure.
- Media: The media often portrays women in a narrow range of roles and appearances, with a focus on physical beauty and youthfulness. This can lead women to feel pressure to conform to these standards in order to be accepted and successful. Social media in particular has created new pressures for women to present a perfect image of their lives, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
- Patriarchy: The patriarchal structure of many societies places men in positions of power and influence, while women are often marginalized or objectified. This can create an expectation that women should always strive to be perfect in order to gain respect and recognition in male-dominated spaces.
- Family and community expectations: Women may feel pressure to conform to expectations from their families or communities, which can be based on cultural or religious traditions. These expectations may include pressure to conform to gender roles or to achieve specific milestones by a certain age.
- Internalized beliefs: Even without external pressures, women may internalize beliefs about what it means to be a successful woman. These beliefs may include a sense of obligation to others, or the idea that women must be selfless and perfect in order to be worthy of love and respect.
“Having it All” Is a Lie
Being a successful woman comes with endless expectations. Women are often expected to excel in school or their careers, be dutiful friends and family members, become a wife and mother, be a caregiver for aging parents, manage households, and continually be the “default parent,” often taking more responsibilities than their partners. Influencers who run successful businesses while caring for their families preach that “having it all” is possible if one works hard enough for it and puts others before themselves.
I’m here to tell you something that might shock or upset you. Having it all is not often possible, healthy, or even something to strive for. Those that look like they have it all from the outside are often struggling or getting support that you may not have access to. Furthermore, all areas of your life will never be in perfect balance. Sometimes we have to sacrifice one area to be successful in another, cut corners somewhere, or bring our focus to one thing that’s most important in a specific season of life.
Perfectionism often manifests in your picture of success as “having it all,” – the career, the family, friendships, hobbies, and everything else… It might be time to reframe the specific goals you care the most about right now and what success looks like in your life. This might mean planning a longer timeline for some of your goals or putting a dream to rest that wasn’t really yours to begin with.
1. Identify your values.
The first step in ending perfectionism and people-pleasing is to identify your own values. Ask yourself what is important to you, what brings you joy, and what you stand for. This might take some real soul-searching, meditation, journaling, or quiet time on your own. Once you have a clear understanding of your values, you’ll be able to make decisions that align with them, rather than trying to please others.
2. Set boundaries.
Setting boundaries is essential to stopping perfectionist tendencies and people-pleasing. It’s important to be clear about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. This means saying no when necessary and not feeling guilty about it. It’s okay to put yourself first and prioritize your own needs. One person simply cannot fulfill everyone else’s needs in their life simultaneously, and you cannot help anyone until you are in a healthy place yourself.
3. Practice saying no.
Perfectionism often manifests in endless tasks we’ve said yes to, despite not having the energy, resources, or time. Saying no can be difficult, especially if you’re used to saying yes all the time. Once you practice saying no, it will get easier over time. Be firm but polite, and don’t apologize for setting boundaries. Remember that saying no doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you’re taking care of yourself.
If you still have a hard time saying no, try offering an alternative. For example, if a friend is moving and asks you to help them haul boxes and furniture into their new home, you could tell them, “I’m busy that day, but once you get all settled in I can spend Saturday afternoon helping you unpack and get organized before my dinner plans!” This shows that you want to help, and puts a finite time limit on the activity so you don’t overextend yourself.
4. Learn to say yes to your needs.
Many people-pleasers struggle with saying yes to themselves. They put their own needs last and feel guilty for doing things that bring them joy. It’s important to learn to say yes to yourself and prioritize your own fulfillment and wellbeing. If you are eagerly anticipating a Sunday alone to recharge, don’t agree to someone else’s plans just because you are “available.”
5. Recognize your own worth.
People-pleasers often base their self-worth on how much they can do for others. It’s important to recognize that your worth is not determined by how much you do for others, but by who you are as a person. You were worthy of love and respect simply because you exist.
6. Reframe criticism.
People-pleasers often struggle with accepting criticism because they fear it will make others unhappy with them. Learning to accept criticism can help you grow. Next time someone criticizes you, instead of feeling hurt, try to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
If someone’s criticism is mean-spirited or unhelpful, remember that their attitude says more about themselves than it does about you.
7. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Surrounding yourself with supportive people who respect your boundaries and values can make a massive difference in putting an end to people-pleasing and perfectionism. Seek out friends and family who encourage you to put yourself first.
8. Cultivate confidence and self-esteem.
Oftentimes, people-pleasers suffer from low self-worth and feel that they must pour their energy and resources into others to be valued. Increasing self-esteem is a long process, but to start, you can practice self-care, challenge negative thoughts about yourself, and set new goals for yourself. Learn more about low self-esteem and how to boost confidence here.
9. Seek professional guidance.
If you’re struggling with people-pleasing and finding it difficult to make changes on your own, professional help may be the support you need. A therapist can help you identify the underlying causes of your behavior, the negative patterns you fall into, and strategies for successful growth and healing.
Therapy for low self-esteem, people–pleasing, stress, and feeling crushed under the weight of perfectionism could be life-changing. Together with your therapist, you can create a sacred space, where you can freely express yourself without fearing you will burden others. You will not need to worry about judgment or criticism.
Serving women throughout California and specializing in therapy for perfectionism, low self-esteem, people-pleasing, relationships, and trauma, Encino therapist Kirstin Carl is here to help you improve your mental health and find the fulfilling life you’ve been looking for. You have the capability and power to heal from perfectionism.
Whether you are overcoming perfectionism, working through anxiety or depression, healing from childhood trauma or toxic relationships, or trying to figure out how to boost your self-confidence, Kirstin is here to take the next step with you. Take the next step today.