We humans are learning creatures who are pattern-focused. Because of this we teach one another how we want to be treated. If you teach the people around you that your time and energy are valuable and that when you say something you mean it, they will learn that, and most will respect it. But taking that stand and setting those boundaries takes hard, intentional work.
So how do we reverse the pattern of fawning and people-pleasing? First and foremost, it is about slowing down in a moment where we feel pulled to people-please and engage in an old pattern. Slow down and identify the pull: Is this authentically a need-to, or is it a want-to?
Once we have identified the pull we have the ability to make a choice: Do we want to do this or not? This the alternative to the amygdala-driven, rapid-fire survival fear-based action of people pleasing.
That is often easier said than done, so we need to start practicing that retroactively. We exhibit this people people-pleasing behavior and then immediately say, “Oh, I can’t believe I did that,” so we catch it on the back end, and then walk it back.
The little neurons in our brain that help us know what people are thinking and feeling usually do a good job. They don’t do so well when they are being informed by traumatic experiences from our past. When that happens they begin to light up old patterns that get in our way, such as fawning and people pleasing.
When we are in a relationship with someone our brain is always making thousands of micro-adjustments. We are gauging what they are thinking or feeling, or what their tone or body posture is saying. This is in addition to their actual verbal messages. The bulk of our communication in our world is actually non-verbal and those little neurons play a very big role in helping us understand that.
We learn from our past that certain nonverbal cues mean that in order to stay safe we need to engage in certain types of behaviors. If we were exposed to traumatic experiences early in our lives and learned to adapt by being a people pleaser we are much more vulnerable to this. So even in our present world if someone raises an eyebrow or elevate their tone just a bit, our brain might start to spin us into an old survival pattern. In one of those moments were you noticing in that person’s voice and behavior and tonality that pulled on you and made it a need-to moment?
This happens because our friend Amy, the amygdala, is processing information four times faster than our thinking brain. If she gets even the tiniest hint of a threat, she will take us into old survival behaviors. If people pleasing and fawning has worked well in our relationships in the past, then that is an experience that Amy has a hypersensitivity to. She will be looking to it as a solution to keep us safe.
Step back. Identify that pull. Think about how you need to respond. When you do this you are practicing building a new pattern. One that prioritizes your wants and needs over past experiences your brain has tapped into to say that this is how I stay safe.