How To Stop People-Pleasing: 3 Laws To Break The Chain!

Do You Teach People How To Treat You?

If I was stranded on an island and could only take with me one axiom (think of it as a spiritual slogan), it would be something along the lines of: “we teach people how to treat us.”

Well, I suppose it would make little sense employing this maxim in isolation, but you get what I’m saying. You’re picking up what I’m putting down.

It’s so important that one can never learn it too quickly nor remember it for too long, granted that you’re not all alone on an island.

Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction.

Stick with me for a second, because this might seem totally irrelevant, and it very well may be.

My mind doesn’t always like to correspond and play nice with reality, but it’s worth giving a try.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction is the third of Sir Issac Newton’s laws of physics, and one that is very important to space flight.

Here’s how it works. If you push on anything, it pushes back on you. That’s why if you lean against the wall, you don’t just fall through it.

The wall pushes back on you as hard as you push on it, and you and the wall stay in place. If you throw something, you put more force behind it than just leaning on it, so it pushes back with more force.

This is hard to observe, because usually if you throw something away from you, the friction between you and the floor makes resistance to keep you in place.

But if you take away the friction and try again, you will move away from the thing you threw as much as it moves away from you.

On roller skates, for instance, one would be incapable of staying in the same spot because the friction no longer exists.

But this is beside the point, we are going to take Newton’s law in physics and create a Newtonian understanding of the interpersonal dance that exists between us.

But, we’ll get to this later just keep it in mind.

The Axiomatic Farmer/Pastor

I recall years ago, all alone in the hills of Pennsylvania, I was seeking a mentor of sorts. Seriously, I was alone and desperately needed adult supervision.

Fortunately, I wandered into a nearby church where there sat a man; no older than fifty but by all means ancient.

He was soft-spoken, almost terribly kind, and welcoming…you know, those sanguine types that make you feel like you’ve known them for years when it’s only been five minutes.

Fast forward a few years, which oddly enough felt like five minutes, and this man became the David to my Solomon, or better yet, the Solomon to my Rehoboam (obscure Biblical terminology – Solomon was the master of the proverb and David was his father who presumably taught him).

Solomon’s Son

I call the farmer/pastor Solomon, not by his wild harem and vulnerability to seductive women, instead, I refer to his penchant and proficient use of the proverb.

He left many an aphorism embedded in my skull. Such as:

“If you spot it, you got it.”

“Water always seeks its own level”

“What you focus on, you make room for in your life.”

“Where your attention lies is what you’ll become.”

“To tolerate it is to teach it.”

“You teach people how to treat you.”

Obviously, this last one is the origin of this blog, and it was thrust upon me when I began to complain in his presence of the constant neediness of those around me.

I went on and on about how individuals constantly expected me to do so much for them, and when I failed to meet their incessant demands, they’d give me a hard time!

To this he simply replied, “Tim, what can I say, you are not the victim here. Instead, you’ve  taught these folks how to treat you.”

But just what did he mean by this?

7b0e2caddaa31f8135e94ca55953abf8 cropped how to stop people pleasing

I Built The Golden Calf

I was a people pleaser! The Aaron of my day. We will use Aaron, the Biblical figure as our case study for the examination of people-pleasing.

Aaron was Moses brother, so we will be waxing a wee bit Old Testament.

Aaron’s people-pleasing game was to such a degree that many lives were utterly ruined – people were even killed!

The story goes like this: Moses left Aaron in charge as he went to commune with God. Moses took a while and the people became restless. In an effort to appease the masses, Aaron took all of their fine jewelry and created a god they could worship while Moses was gone, in this manner their fear would subside.

Of course, the number one rule was to only worship their God. Thus, when Moses returned and witnessed their atrocities, God sent a plague that nearly wiped out the entire population.

I’m unconcerned here whether God is just or unjust in these actions. Instead, I’m interested in the story our ancestors were attempting to convey.

In my opinion, it was when we seek to appease others rather than deal with discomfort, uncertainty, and fear then pain and disaster will follow.

Following the heels of Aaron, my selfish need for the validation of others resulted in bitterness and ruined relationships.

Fortunately, no casualties resulted in the making of this blog. Anyway, let me explain.

My “Yes” Dilemma

To say I struggled with the word no is a colossal understatement. Literally the only time “no” rolled from my tongue was to questions such as “are you trying to tell me that you don’t mean yes?” No….

This was a classic Dr. Jekyll morality, it stemmed from a necessary penance on my part but a failed understanding of just what that meant. Let’s just leave it at that I had my Hyde years, and of consequence, I began overcompensating. This period of overcompensation we can title my “Jekyll Years.”

To learn about the brilliance of Jekyll and Hide click here – its a Christian concept but it’s fascinating!

The Yes Man! My Jekyll Years In Living Color

I became enamored with being of “service.” I felt my very life was dependent upon the amount of service I was demonstrating on a daily basis.

I failed to understand that service was a posture of the heart, not some position on a charity board.

This misunderstanding produced within a horrendous victim mentality that left me crawling to the pastor with my tail between my legs bemoaning the current state of the universe and the wicked generation within.

If you asked for help, I’d give it. If you needed anything, I’d do everything I could to provide it.

I called it spiritual maturity, but instead, it was purely emotional immaturity.

I had to be all things to all people and the cost was severe.

Worst of all, nobody was prepared for what would happen next…my “No Week.”

20dc9e2ddf307ac7a9fc105364ba1f86 cropped how to stop people pleasing

The Blood Curdling “No Week”

So, people started to treat me accordingly. Actually, they bombarded me with their problems, and worst of all, they expected me to solve them, or at least try.

But why wouldn’t they?

I’ve never set boundaries.

I’ve never created emotional parameters.

I’ve never issued a declaration of emotional independence.

Instead, I did whatever I could to find their validation and approval – I needed their justification to prove I wasn’t Mr. Hyde. Consequently, this fear – that I wasn’t this monster – necessarily began to create Mr. Hyde.

I was taking action based on my fear and actually creating it! That’s how fear works. Psychologists call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it’s terrifyingly accurate.

With this information, what else could I do?

So, into the pastor’s hands, I commit my spirit. He looked me with an authoritative but gentle gaze and said, “Tim, it’s time for a No Week.”

Incredulous, I inquired as to what that meant and he basically confirmed my fears.

For two weeks I would say no to every request, “to give the spirit a tune-up” he said, and to only oblige requests which were necessary. For all intents and purposes, this was a “service fast.”

Oddly enough, I discovered that other people did indeed exist to pick up the so-called slack. The supposed hero I thought I was, was ironically the victim in my narrative. I wasn’t the savior I depicted in my head; instead, I was in over my head and in serious need of saving.

What was even more instructive was the revelation that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were exactly the same person, just different manifestations of the same emotional and spiritual immaturity.

One of self-righteousness and the other self-indulgence, both trying to satisfy that which cannot be satisfied.

But let’s not digress, when I started to behave differently around others (the advent of my No Week), in due time, they began to treat me differently.

My actions taught them how to respond to me.

This is, indeed, a wonderful reality. Because it implies we are no longer at the mercy of our environment, but instead, it’s only given the power we endow it with.

We are in charge!

So, You’re Saying We Determine Our Relationships?

Of course, you can select your friends. This is not what I’m referring to.

You actually can select how people respond to you – so not the relationship but the dynamic.

Undeniably, those unpredictable folks will continue to exist. They, however, are necessary for maturity.

Growth only comes by tension, and those relationships carry the indispensable constriction that is vital to mental stability.

And yes, instability is demanded and necessary for internal stability because it provides the required recalibration.

Ok, cool, glad we covered the tiny albeit soul-crushing caveat.

Let’s Take This A Bit Further…

Parents, even the best ones, still react according to the disposition of their children.

Temperaments are inborn personality traits (check my article with covers the four Greek Temperaments)

Though this conversation can go a million different directions, I’d prefer to keep it simple. If you have a child that is passive and calm you will treat said child far different from the one that is aggressive and energized.

This has nothing to do with lack of love or poor parenting it’s just a matter of the emotional nature of humanity and its limits. In a manner of speaking, the child determines the reactions of the parent.

I say this apprehensively, understanding that an adult has the capacity to reason and perhaps “detach” from the child in order to avoid an emotional brainstorm.

Nonetheless, the child precipitated this detachment by his or her disposition. Of course, it’s not the baby’s fault nor is the baby culpable, it’s just a facet of emotional cause and effect for this instance.

What I’m arguing is that this emotional causal dance doesn’t just disappear in the absence of the infancy stage.

Instead, it occurs more strongly in accord with a pre-existing belief system, which creates an unending succession of devastating sameness for the remainder of one’s days.

But thank God, this record can stop spinning, thanks indirectly to Newton, and the subsequent emotional laws of his namesake.

This will perhaps explain the process I went through and my personal internal transformation.

The Newtonian Laws Of Emotions

  • First Law of Motion: “In an inertial frame of reference, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.”
  • First Law of Motion In English: “If nothing is happening to you, and nothing does happen, you will never go anywhere. If you’re going in a specific direction, unless something happens to you, you will always go in that direction. Forever.”
  • First Law of Emotion: “The emotion of a person about anything remains constant while in a particular state of mind unless acted upon by an external force or event.”

One’s current emotion is not so much determined by others, rather as an independent agent, it is self-determining through self-discipline and self-knowledge.

Therefore, as self-knowledge incorporates outside data for personal application, this in effect redirects the constancy of one’s emotional state.

I call this external data/information the external narrative.

I call the current emotional state the internal narrative.

Consequently, per this law and my predicament as laid out above, I had two options.

  1. Allow the behavior of others, a behavior I determined mind you, continue to be the external force on my emotional health.
  2. Or, I could allow knowledge – as provided by the pastor in my scenario – to be the external force (external narrative) to recreate my internal narrative (new self-dialogue).

The former constructed upon a self-defeating assumption and the latter founded upon truth (that which corresponds with reality) and emotional maturity.

And, fortunately, as I soon found out, the latter leveraged my attention to select the most beneficial influential external force (my cool way of saying ‘advice’) at my discretion.

This is wisdom, this is the external narrative.

I wish I could articulate this differently, but in words of The Barenaked Ladies, my mind is a “fusion of confusion with a few confounding things.”

And yes, that was from Chicken Little.

  • Second Law of Motion: “In an inertial reference frame, the vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration a of the object: F = ma.”
  • Second Law of Motion In English: “If you exert the same force on two objects of different mass, you will get different accelerations (changes in motion). The effect (acceleration) on the smaller mass will be greater (more noticeable). The effect of a 10 newton force on a baseball would be much greater than that same force acting on a truck.”
  • Second Law of Emotion: “The tendency for a person to experience certain emotions over and over again is proportional to the prevalent thoughts in their mind and accompanying events.”

This law emphasizes the responsibility of an individual to leverage the outside information (external narrative) – as stated above – to mold their interpretation (internal narrative) of events so they correspond with reality.

To experience the same emotions, and seemingly the same events over and over again is not a glitch in the matrix but a failure of the individual experiencing this merry-go-round of hell to accept and claim personal responsibility for his or her emotional life.

After all, this news isn’t really new. For quite some time we’ve known that “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23:67).” (See James Allen’s classic As A Man Thinketh). Change your thoughts, change your world. Yet, how does one change their thoughts? The external narrative of course!

  • Third Law of Motion: “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.”
  • Third Law of Motion In English: “Forces are found in pairs. Think about the time you sit in a chair. Your body exerts a force downward and that chair needs to exert an equal force upward or the chair will collapse. It’s an issue of symmetry. Acting forces encounter other forces in the opposite direction.”
  • Third Law of Emotion: “For every emotion expressed by a person there is an equal emotion expressed towards them.”

In this law, we see, for instance, that If one projects hostility, they will get back that which sustains and validates being hostile.

In like fashion, if one projects love, they will receive that which sustains and validates being loving. In contemporary times this has been termed The Law Of Attraction. I guess that works for me.

Addicts are notorious for saying that no matter where their arse ends up, they will not only immediately find another addict but also drugs. We’re talking post haste. Rapido. That’s how it works.

I recall always finding the smack guy. He was always close by. It was, for all intents and purposes, supernatural.

Yet, now that guy is nowhere to be found. Instead, I find the guy who’s interested in philosophy, spiritual living, recovery, or the like.

Indeed, whatever I project unto the world I surely get back. This is the law at work, it’s disturbingly fascinating to experience.

da1fb74e8c5ba9a777642f3de1729917 cropped 1540860354 how to stop people pleasing

Knowledge Of The Emotional Laws Enables Power

Rather than taking the part of the victim in this theatrical performance, we can play the hero of this act.

Now, one cannot play God, circumstances will come and go many of which are far removed from the grasp of our control. Nonetheless, we have far more power over what is within our control than most folks care to admit.

We may not be able to control the show we are in, but rest assured we can control what character we play.

And this is done INTERNALLY not EXTERNALLY.

Are your interactions with others less than desirable?

Want the power to change that dynamic?

It’s simple.

Change your role.

Works Cited

  • Read Exodus 32 in the Bible to learn about Aaron’s colossal codependent blunder
  • I thought I came up with the idea of Newton’s Laws Of Emotion, but it ended up being completely unoriginal. Anyone, I used this guy as a resource for it, and his blog is freaking brilliant (