Self-Kindness for Overly Critical People-Pleasers

I’ve realized recently that my people-pleasing tendencies are directly tied to the difficulties I have with loving people well. For most of my life I’ve aimed to please people in order to keep the peace and make sure people “like me,” and I’m finally understanding how devastating that approach is to relationships. If that’s the way you mainly relate to others it will ultimately leave you feeling alone and bitter, and leave the people you care about the most feeling used, not loved.

I have learned that my quest for pleasing others is selfishly motivated and is ultimately more about self-protection than it is about loving people well. Like I said before, this type of relating leads to exhaustion and burnout and feeling bitter and alone. Seeking to please people so they’ll love you in return is no way to truly love, or be loved.

Ultimately, the reason we people-pleasers relate this way is because deep down we don’t believe we’re lovable. We are our own worst critics and work so hard to make sure people like us because we’re afraid if they really know us, like we know ourselves, they’ll also find us unlovable, and will want nothing to do with us. The root fear is abandonment and ending up alone.

If you’re a people-pleaser like me, you’ve probably felt stuck in this way of relating, knowing you need to change, but struggling to find a way out of your unhealthy patterns. And as weird and selfish as it may sound at first, I think it has to start with learning to love ourselves. We have to cultivate a new, more accurate view of ourself, believing we’re worthy of love.

I think these three core practices will help us in that growth process: self-kindness, grace in the face of failure, and prioritizing our needs just as much as we do others’.

Self-Kindness: The First Step to Self-Compassion

Self-kindness requires practice and commitment and that journey begins with setting aside time for self-care—this means dedicating moments in your day solely for yourself. That could be prayer, meditation, reading, or enjoying a hobby. It’s about giving yourself permission to take breaks and recharge, acknowledging that rest is not idleness but a vital part of productivity and personal growth.

In my last post I shared with you my tendency to be overly critical with myself. I admitted that I would never speak to anyone with the same harshness I do to myself when I’m having those internal dialogues. The practice of self-kindness involves treating yourself with the same care and understanding that you would offer to a friend. It’s about pausing to ask yourself, “Would I judge a friend as harshly as I judge myself?” More often than not, the answer is a resounding no. This disparity highlights the critical need for self-kindness.

That negative self-talk towards myself has taken a toll. I struggle with self-worth and with a lack of confidence in my abilities because of how harsh I’ve been towards myself for so long. I’m finally learning to be kinder to myself and am learning how crucial that is for all of us. When we’re gentle with ourselves, especially during moments of mistake or failure, we open the door to genuine self-compassion.

An easy place to start reframing this negative mindset is to start by noticing when you’re being self-critical and consciously shift to words of encouragement and support, just as you would do for a friend. For instance, replace thoughts of “You idiot. You can’t do anything right.” with “It’s ok. Everyone messes up every now and then. You’ll get it next time.”

Learning to appreciate our efforts and achievements, no matter how small, is also essential. Celebrate the small victories. These acknowledgments build a foundation of self-respect and confidence, reinforcing the practice of self-kindness.

Embracing Failure with Grace

Failure is an inevitable part of life. However, our response to failure can significantly impact our mental and emotional well-being. Showing ourselves grace means accepting our mistakes and failures without harsh judgment. It’s about understanding that failure is not a reflection of our worth but rather an opportunity for growth and learning.

We learn invaluable lessons and gain opportunities for growth when we screw up. The key to embracing failure with grace lies in self-forgiveness. Understand that making mistakes does not diminish your value or capabilities. Forgive yourself with the same compassion you would offer to someone you care about.

On the other hand, we have to keep in mind that constructive self-critique is beneficial, allowing us to learn from our mistakes. The key is reflecting on our failures without becoming overly critical or harsh. This involves objectively analyzing what went wrong, what could be done differently next time, and recognizing the factors beyond our control. (See my posts on regret for more on this topic.)

Moving forward with resilience and determination is crucial. We must see every failure as a stepping stone towards becoming the person we long to be. The way we cultivate resilience is by focusing on our strengths and accomplishments, while at the same time seeing setbacks as temporary, surmountable challenges. This change in perspective equips you to confront challenges with renewed energy and resolve.

Valuing Your Own Needs

Valuing your own needs is paramount to your well-being and to the well-being of your relationships with others. Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial part of this process. Having healthy boundaries helps you clearly communicate your limits and what you are comfortable with to others, ensuring both parties feel loved and supported.

I’m learning that the power of saying no cannot be understated. It’s essential for preserving your energy and focusing on what truly matters to you. Saying no is not a sign of weakness but of strength and self-awareness, acknowledging that you cannot be everything to everyone.

As I said earlier, I’ve really struggled over the years saying no because I’m a people-pleaser. I don’t want to disappoint anyone because that means I might be giving them a reason to have a negative view of me. So, I often say yes when I should say no, but I’m growing in this area.

In the situations where I begrudgingly say yes, I end up feeling bitter towards that person because I didn’t have the energy to do the thing in the first place but didn’t want to disappoint. In those interactions neither party ends up feeling loved. I am left feeling frustrated with myself and bitter towards the person while they end up getting less than the best of me and can tell my heart wasn’t in it.

What I’m realizing is that saying no is often the most loving thing we can do for ourself and the other person. It could be the thing that protects us from growing bitter towards them and instead allows us to love them more because we’ve been honest, instead of using them to boost our own egos.

Prioritizing self-care without feeling guilty is also vital. Understand that taking care of your needs is not selfish; it’s necessary for maintaining your health and happiness. By ensuring your cup is full, you are in a better position to offer support and love to others.

The Necessity of Self-Kindness

In the end, self-kindness is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It’s the foundation upon which we build a life of compassion, resilience, and genuine happiness. As we learn to practice self-kindness, embrace our failures with grace, and value our needs, we are doing the hard work of cultivating a life of love; love for ourself and love for others.

So, let’s make the commitment to start today, to be as kind to ourselves as we would be to our dearest friends and closest family. Because, in the end, being kind to yourself isn’t just beneficial—it’s essential.

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