Dealing With Emotional Fallout When You Begin To Stop People-Pleasing
Breaking Patterns Can Be Painful
I was talking with a client recently. She had asserted a boundary with a friend as she didn’t want to talk about certain subjects and he did. When my client said that she didn’t want to discuss these subjects her friend became annoyed and started to put her down, calling her unreasonable and stupid. She stuck to her decision to not discuss the subjects and decided to reduce contact with this particular friend for the time being. It was the first time she had done this.
What happened afterwards surprised her. The emotional fallout. Her mind filled with awful accusations such as what an awful person she was for upsetting her friend, how she should have kept quiet, that all of her friends would leave her if she stood up for herself, that she was wrong and should apologise and there was something wrong with her, she should forgive her friend.
There was more, but you get the gist of it don’t you?
This kind of emotional fallout is common when you start to speak up for what you believe, what you want, when you start to set boundaries, express your needs and hurt, and when you begin to take up more space within relationships of any kind.
People Pleasing and Taking Up Space in Relationships
Taking up more space in relationships happens when we start to let our personalities, views and preferences make an appearance. If you’ve consistently put another person’s needs first then there are some things that you’ve probably got used to, backing down, being understanding, pushing your own emotions away, being agreeable and neglecting your own needs and desires.
To begin with, you can feel fulfilled when you consistently put someone else’s needs above your own as it can resonate beautifully with your desire to care for and nurture another. As a base for any type of adult relationship – friendship, romantic or any other, it inevitably falls short.
At some point, most of us start to feel unappreciated for our efforts. We feel resentful and angry, and we recognise that this is not a good way to live. We may well struggle to express ourselves and find that our concerns aren’t taken seriously.
Taking on this supportive role to such an extent also prevents personal growth within the relationship and it stops us from finding resolutions to conflicts, working out a compromise, listening and being able to fully engage within the relationship.
When one of you has given up their right to be themselves, and the other person relies on the benefits they’ve gained from this, it’s unbalanced. It also forms a different kind of normal for both of you.
Taking up more space in your relationships forces change for all concerned and this isn’t always comfortable. One person has likely become used to how everything works without question. Their life will be running smoothly and yours, probably not so. You’ve become a supporting role in their life, rather than taking up the main role in your own. This imbalance isn’t sustainable long term, especially when you begin to question it. It becomes too uncomfortable.
To the person who has always been supported, you taking up more space may be seen as demanding or unreasonable. This is simply because you are, quite literally, demanding more attention, focus and consideration than has been given to you before. The dynamic is changing and they can feel as though you are intruding on their personal time and space and energy.
The relationship worked as it was, with you playing your role and taking up very little space. Now it will have to change, adapt or end. As I’ve mentioned before, change is not always comfortable.
When you’re not used to advocating for yourself it can really feel as though you’re destroying your life and it’s likely something that you feel hesitant about doing. The thing is, once you get a taste of living your own life, and you learn a few skills, you won’t want to stop. Nor should you.
Change is Normal
Many of us fear change. We associate it with unrest, bad decisions, life not being the same as it was or fear of life going back to how it used to be. So we put it off for as long as we’re able to. It’s also a natural part of life. Relationships frequently change simply because the people within them do. They need to be updated. It’s a process that begins at home when we were children.
Children go through so many different phases and periods of growth and parents need to adapt and learn so that they can continue to provide the support and love needed to raise healthy adults. In turn, parents also discover that their life changes as children become more independent and it becomes easier to take up different opportunities as more free time and energy appears.
Within certain imbalanced relationships, growth is prevented when one person takes the focus completely off themselves and a new pattern, one of certainty and sameness is put in place. We start to stagnate if we don’t allow ourselves to be honest about what we need.
When you do begin to stretch and grow and take up more space, periods of adjustment will be needed, but not everyone will, or can adjust. It can happen that relationships don’t work anymore and people will leave your life. It can be a painful and difficult realisation to face.
Emotional Fallout or A Mental Detox?
The emotional fallout that can happen when you begin to step into the world as yourself is very real and it can be enough to send you running back into hiding or have you trying to figure out how to get rid of these awful thoughts and feelings that have risen up.
It’s easy to read and listen to people who will tell you to stand up for yourself, say no, and leave your relationship if you’ve lost yourself. It’s quite another thing to put into practice. One of the first things you’ll find is that not everyone will like this new you and that, unfortunately, may include yourself.
What tends to happen is that when you respond out of character – or rather, more in keeping with your new character, your mind will be flooded with reasons why you shouldn’t have done what you did. You’re likely to feel guilty and full of regret.
On top of that, you may also be receiving a crash course in things like conflict resolution and you’ll soon realise that you’ll have to apologise when you make mistakes – which will happen.
As unpleasant as all of this is, to begin with, it’s vital to your growth as a person.
A lot of the time we focus on other people so that we can be liked and to avoid conflict and disagreements. So, dealing with conflict and learning to like ourselves are skills that we don’t have. We need to learn them to function in the adult world. Just as we need to learn that we can all cause hurt to another person, we all make mistakes, and we also have the capacity to apologise, learn from them and decide what kind of person we want to be.
Rather than the idea of conflict, which can seem overwhelmingly horrible, you’re dealing with differences of opinion, misunderstandings and painful emotions. When we begin to deal with these, instead of the idea of ‘conflict’, it’s easier. Our relationships begin to thrive because we’re being understood, cared for and listened to. We can face problems together. We begin to know that we can truly rely on another person’s support should we need it. That support shouldn’t be dependent on what we can give and we don’t have to be crawling on our knees to receive it.
We can have the relationships that we crave.
When I began my journey from people pleaser to where I am now, the emotional fallout from standing up for myself would consume me. My mind told me that I was a bitch for speaking up. That I was deliberately hurting the other person. I should be patient and tolerant. I needed to understand that they couldn’t help it and that if I were a good person I wouldn’t have said anything. It even went so far as to tell me that if the other person killed themselves, it would be my fault.
My mind took me to some very dark places and this last one kept me quiet for far too many years. After all, no one wants to speak up if they think they’ll be the direct cause of another person’s death, would they?
It took me a long time before I realised that the thoughts that came up for me at these times weren’t related to what was going on now, they were from many, many years ago.
Before I began to speak up I had no awareness of these thoughts. What I felt was a solid wall and fear that prevented me from saying anything until I was ready to explode. I didn’t even have the awareness that I could have said something earlier, I didn’t have the words and I didn’t even know anything about boundaries. My sense of self was based more on my relationship to others rather than being firmly rooted in myself and what I needed.
In short, the fallout started when I began to change, not before. I began to rock the boat and along with that came up the thoughts that had been keeping me anchored to behaving like a doormat. These had been behind my emotions and responses.
It was a hell of a shock and for quite some time I would argue with these thoughts, try to prove them wrong and justify my decisions. I was arguing with myself. I began to talk to people to find out if I was being unreasonable or not and from this I was able to get a feel for how I wanted to be treated and spoken to. I slowly started to see that what I thought of as normal, wasn’t and that I had been trusting other people with my wellbeing rather than myself. This had caused a huge disconnect within me and one of the things that I needed to discover was how to bridge the gap.
First things first though. It took a great deal of exploring before I began to realise that the thoughts I had were fragments of memories from the past, and I’d internalised them.
I didn’t need to work them out or fight or argue with them. They were from a time when the person that I was in a relationship with used to threaten suicide if I said no to him, disagreed or did something that he didn’t like. He blamed me for how he felt and I took that on board – arguing was pointless and leaving didn’t seem like an option. I took on responsibility for his emotions.
The thoughts that came up when I was breaking these patterns weren’t mine, they were memories of what was said to me years and years ago. What was happening was that the unknown was becoming known, the unconscious was becoming conscious. What had been keeping my patterns of behaviour in place was being released. My mind was detoxing and the thoughts were rising to the surface. Not to be examined, but to be noticed and let go of.
It’s not unusual for this to happen when we begin to break patterns and start living differently. It can be astoundingly uncomfortable and painful at times as our mind begins to let go, as we begin to remember and the reasons why we did the things that we did become clear.
When we start to break patterns we gain new information in the form of insights. These are snippets of information, aha moments that help us to see the truth of what’s going on for us. With this new information, our mind can process events from the past that it was unable to do previously, new behaviours become possible and the emotional burden we’ve been carrying, dissipates. The wall of fear that I spoke about earlier? It goes.
The reasons why you stepped away from your life don’t need to be discovered before you start making changes. In time they will become apparent to you. You were a person whose mind has held onto memories of things that have been said to you. Your life has been affected by them for a long time, but it doesn’t have to always be that way.
You can’t always avoid this kind of emotional fallout, but what you can do is treat yourself kindly when it happens. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself. These thoughts and memories will pass and they don’t need to be figured out or argued with. They’re showing themselves to you because it’s time for them to go.
It’s part of the process, not the problem. There’s nothing wrong with you for having these thoughts and when you begin to understand the role they’ve played it becomes easier to let your mind deal with them.
If you’ve recognised that you’re a people-pleaser and you want to stop, but don’t know how to, drop me a message to book a free coaching consultation. The chance to live a freer, calmer and more fulfilling life is in your hands.
About the author
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions