I played the people-pleaser for 30 years, until my husband humiliated me in public. That was the moment that changed everything.

For 30 years, I played the role of a people-pleaser. I was the one who made sure everyone else was comfortable, even at the expense of my own comfort and self-esteem.

My husband and I have been together for a decade. He was sweet and kind, but he was also the one who unknowingly pushed me to my breaking point. In public situations, we were seen as the perfect couple – he charismatic and charming, me always supportive and smiling.

But behind closed doors, things were different. I started to see how he took advantage of my people-pleasing tendencies, often leaving me feeling humiliated and ignored.

Then came the incident that changed everything.

During a social event that should have been fun and carefree, my husband took a joke too far. He belittled me in front of our friends, leaving me feeling utterly humiliated. It was as if a switch had been flipped inside me. I realized then and there that being a people-pleaser had cost me far too much.

Coming home that night, I knew things had to change. It wasn’t about him anymore – it was about me reclaiming my sense of self.

Here’s what happened after that fateful evening and how I shifted from being a perpetual people-pleaser to a woman who now knows her worth.

Reclaiming my sense of self

In the aftermath of that humiliating experience, I knew something had to give. I couldn’t continue to play the people-pleaser anymore, not if it meant undermining my self-worth.

I started by setting boundaries. This was no easy feat, considering I’d spent most of my life prioritizing everyone else’s needs above mine. But I was determined. I started small, saying no to tasks that I didn’t have the capacity for or didn’t want to do.

I also began asserting myself in conversations, expressing my opinions rather than just agreeing with everyone else. This led to a few uncomfortable discussions, but it was a step towards being authentic and being seen.

Therapy was another crucial aspect of this journey. It provided me with a safe space to explore my feelings and helped me understand why I’d become a people-pleaser in the first place. Through therapy, I learned that my worth wasn’t dependent on pleasing others.

My husband’s reaction to these changes was mixed. He was used to me always being agreeable and accommodating, so this new assertive me took him by surprise. There were arguments and disagreements, but they were necessary for our relationship to evolve and for me to regain my sense of self.

Now, I’m not saying that changing these ingrained patterns was easy or happened overnight. It took time, patience and lots of self-love. But it was necessary for my mental health and overall well-being.

The misunderstood virtue of people-pleasing

People-pleasing is often painted as a virtue. We’re taught from a young age to be kind, considerate, and to put others’ needs first. But there’s a fine line between being kind and being a doormat, a line I had unwittingly crossed time and again.

Up until my wake-up call, I bought into the belief that being liked by everyone was a mark of success. I thought it made me a good person. But I’ve since realized that this isn’t necessarily true.

In the process of trying to please everyone, I lost myself. My thoughts, feelings, and desires took a backseat. I was so focused on avoiding conflict and maintaining harmony that I neglected my own needs.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be considerate of others’ feelings or strive to maintain healthy relationships. But it becomes problematic when it leads to self-neglect and loss of personal identity.

My journey has taught me that pleasing everyone is not only impossible but also unhealthy. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to prioritize yourself. And most importantly, it’s okay to not be liked by everyone.

Embracing self-love and assertiveness

The pivotal change for me was embracing self-love and assertiveness. It sounds simple, but it took some work.

Firstly, I had to unlearn the notion that prioritizing myself was selfish. It’s not. In fact, it’s necessary for our emotional health. We can’t pour from an empty cup, and we can’t truly care for others if we don’t care for ourselves first.

Practicing self-love meant setting boundaries. I started saying ‘no’ to things that didn’t serve me or made me uncomfortable. It was scary at first, but with time, it became empowering.

Secondly, I had to learn to be assertive. This meant expressing my thoughts and feelings honestly without fearing rejection or confrontation. It required courage and a lot of practice, but it was worth it.

Assertiveness is not about being aggressive or confrontational; it’s about respecting yourself enough to voice your needs and stand up for your rights.

For anyone who relates to my story, remember that you have the right to prioritize your own well-being. Start by setting boundaries and practicing assertiveness. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice, you’ll start to feel more empowered.

Believe in your worth – you’re more than just a people-pleaser.

Stepping back and taking control

When I look back on my journey, I realize that the most significant turning point was when I decided to take responsibility for my situation. Even though it wasn’t entirely my fault, recognizing my role in it was empowering. It allowed me to shift my mindset and see that I had the power to change things.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Taking responsibility for your situation increases your personal power.
  • Questioning societal expectations and norms can lead to personal freedom.
  • It’s essential to acknowledge your dissatisfaction and face the reality of your situation.
  • Seeking self-empowerment involves breaking free from external expectations.

One of the biggest revelations was realizing how much societal conditioning had influenced my behavior. For too long, I had been living according to societal norms and expectations, not my own. I had to learn to think for myself and align my life with my true nature.

This doesn’t mean ignoring the realities of life or resorting to blind positivity. It means looking at your situation honestly, acknowledging your dissatisfaction, and taking steps towards change.

Self-development isn’t about feel-good mysticism. It’s about practical steps towards self-improvement and empowerment. For me, this meant dedicating time daily to practice self-love and assertiveness.

Embracing this journey of self-exploration has reshaped my reality. It’s allowed me to break free from the people-pleaser trap and live life on my terms.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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