It feels good to make someone else feel good, doesn’t it? But sometimes people can invest so much in pleasing others that they leave themselves in the dust. First, let’s look at some ways people-pleasing hurts everyone.
Amy is in a destructive relationship with William and can’t figure out why she stays. William is entirely neglectful of her and their partnership. He is controlling and manipulative, for example not letting her drive her own car without asking him for the keys, and forcing her to babysit his children by simply leaving them in her company and going out. Amy unhappily maintains intimate relations with William just to keep the peace, when she feels her soul gradually chipping away. Though she feels emotionally abused and lonely, she is so afraid of hurting William—even at her own expense—she stays, year in and year out, doing whatever it takes to keep him happy.
Stafford over-gives in another way. He knows how to say yes, but can’t say no. By doing everything for everyone—or trying to—he constantly oversteps his own and others’ boundaries. He married a woman whose “potential” he loved, and he has been singlehandedly trying to get her to that potential ever since. The problem is, by trying so hard to ease her way in life, he has robbed her of her own chance to grow. She has become helpless, and instead of reaching any of her personal goals in life, she has become dependent and fragile. Stafford falls into the common misperception that by giving and giving we are helping people when we are actually hurting them and ourselves. He is exhausted and has no reserves left to take care of himself.
Gillian is a bossy over-giver. She means well to be sure, but spends so much time trying to guide and “support” others that she actually alienates a lot of people. When advice and help are asked for, they are blessings. When they are not, they are intrusions at best, violations at worst. She spends more time foisting “fix-it” ideas on her boyfriend (and sister, coworkers, etc.) than she spends listening to what they really need—and more importantly, listening to herself. What does she need?
Over-givers all miss one vital piece of information—that what they need is even more important than what everyone else needs. On a practical level, you are no good to anyone if you lose sight of yourself, get sick, or burn out.
Can you stay centered without feeling selfish? YES, and that is your goal.
I am going to redefine self-centered. It does not mean being centered ON yourself, but being centered IN yourself.
Strategies for getting centered in yourself (being healthily self-centered):
- Use meditation to peer inside yourself and find the quiet there. I’ve said it before—there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Take the time to be still and focus on being instead of doing. Consider: guided meditation, 7-7-7 three-minute meditation, or any form of moving meditation. You can meditate in lotus pose, or you can do it while running on a country road or lying in the sun. However you come to your inner vision and knowledge—you are ultimately the only one who knows what is best for you.
- Write in a journal. Write freely and without self-limitation for as long as you can as much as you can. Your only intention for the exercise is to clarify what you need to know to be centered and to pursue your own highest good.
- If you are more of an extrovert, and the above suggestions seem daunting, try talking. With a trusted friend, coach, or therapist. This is not about seeking advice from them or getting someone to tell you what to do. It is about you using your own verbal process to find out what you want. This is like journaling out loud. (This works for introverts too, of course.)
- Tap into emotions that are generated by something that moves you—music, dance, art, nature. Go to a concert, ballet, or art exhibit. Sit on a bluff overlooking the valley, the ocean, the city. Use this external stimulus to help you to come to the center of yourself. It’s not about seeking the answers from elsewhere but coming to the best conclusion for you—because the answers are inside you.
- Identify what you are feeling—look inward to see how that feeling settles in your body. When you ignore your truth, your feelings, your self for too long, your body reacts and reflects that dis-ease, sometimes you even get sick. Notice any tension, aches, or sense of imbalance. Stress may manifest as headaches or a bad back. Grief may show up as a congested or heavy feeling in your chest. Anxiety can manifest as nausea, diarrhea, or tight, painful shoulders. Are you accident prone lately? You are probably not centered in your body, and need to tune in.
Finding that truth at the center of yourself—being centered INSIDE yourself, is your goal.
Once you find that truth, be aware of it, acknowledge it, honor it, and then act upon it. Amy is aware of the truth; she has acknowledged that her relationship does not serve her highest good, but she is unable to honor that truth or act upon it, so for now, she is stuck.
When we self-sacrifice we hurt everyone not just ourselves. The unhappiness that you refuse to leave behind sets a tone for your life and for the people you love. But taking action is not being hurtful to others. When you live in your truth you release others to live in their own truth.
Be self-centered in that great way that means balance and honesty. I support you 100%.