People Pleasing and Emotions
Recently, while talking with a client about people-pleasing, she mentioned the frequent urge to feel what others feel or, at least, not to let people know that what she experiences seems different than what they are experiencing. I hear this a great deal from disregulated eaters, this desire to not appear emotionally different from others.
This dynamic develops in childhood. Here are examples. Say Dad pushes you to be strong and courageous. If he withdraws his love—or worse, shames or punishes you—when you show any sign of weakness, you quickly learn that you’d better not let him know you have doubts and qualms, and therefore you put on a confident front. Or maybe your mother wants to stay happy and upbeat and becomes upset when you’re down and rain on her parade. Or maybe Mom or Dad is unhappy, and in you come jumping for joy over receiving an A in spelling or getting the lead in the school play. Brr, you can feel the chill in the air when you don’t get the response you want.
Things aren’t so bad if you understand that you’re entitled to your feelings and that it’s okay, for the moment, if they don’t match what a parent is experiencing. But we’re talking a whole ‘nother ballgame when you want to expunge what you’re experiencing and swap it for the emotion a parent has. It’s one thing if you intentionally hide your feelings because you know they’re not going to be accepted, but few children are that enlightened. Instead, they think their emotions are wrong and actually try to make themselves feel differently.
Can you see how this kind of emotional mismatch and invalidation with someone whose approval you desperately require can be confusing and debilitating? You end up trying to adjust your mood to someone else’s until, down the road, you become so used to trying to fit in and be in sync with others’ feelings that you have no clue what’s going on inside you. This is how you turn into someone who doesn’t know what they’re feeling.
The good news is that you can relearn to connect with your true emotions and become more authentic. Here’s how. Notice when you feel anxious about having a different emotion than someone else and calm yourself down. Validate what you feel. Remind yourself that it’s natural for folks to feel differently because we’re unique and, well, different. Don’t let people bully or manipulate you into changing your experience. No need for discussion or to defend yourself—just stay determined to feel what you feel which will go a long way toward ending people-pleasing—and unwanted eating.