‘Paranoid and anxious’ Asked:
Dr. Zoe, HELP ME! I know that this question, not even a question really, may seem bizarre and a no-brainier, but to me, it’s my life and I hate it! I’m such a people pleaser, always wanting to help someone out even if it means spreading myself far too thin. I’m always worried if someone doesn’t text me back, want to hang out, like my post on Facebook or return my phone calls that they are mad at me, secretly hate me, or they are laughing behind my back.
I’m constantly paranoid about my friendships and even sometimes with my marriage. My anxiety will be so bad that I take it out on my husband and children. At the end of the day, I will sometimes sit and cry because I know I’m being ridiculous, but I can’t seem to get a grip on my mind or emotions. Please, any resolution will be helpful! Thank you for your time, Dr. Zoe!
Paranoid and anxious.
Dr. Zoe Answered:
My heart goes out to you—probably because as a recovering people pleaser, I can relate to all of your feels. I hope you experience some encouragement knowing that I have now swung that pendulum so far that I have to check myself to make sure I’m not being too forceful, opinionated, or rude. And you can get there, too.
In order to recover, you have to be able to look deeply at what you are doing to yourself and why.
Are You Afraid to Show the Real You?
When you are so concerned about people liking you, you approach your relationships and social interactions attempting to be what someone else wants you to be. The problem is that even if they love you, you are left feeling very unloved because you know that they don’t love the real you. How could they? You’ve kept her hidden.
This sets up a cycle that reinforces your belief that who you really are—your likes, dislikes, wants, and desires—are not good enough or loveable. So you continue to please in order to continue to get the love that actually hurts. Thus, you feel anxious and paranoid about the relationships.
As painful as it feels to think that someone doesn’t like you or approve of you, what you are doing is even more painful. It’s just a familiar pain.
We can’t get into the specifics of how this dynamic started with you, but I know it was a perfect coping mechanism to get your needs met in childhood—but it’s not serving you anymore. Actually it’s dis-serving you now. I encourage you to look deeper into that on your own or with a therapist.
How Do You Stop Being a People Pleaser?
The first step towards moving away from this behavior is to acknowledge your motivation. Let’s be real. Your desire isn’t just to please people; it’s to be liked, wanted, valued, and adored. You people please because you think that’s the vehicle to get what you want. But it’s not. You may perceive yourself as a pleaser, but really you just fear rejection. There is nothing wrong with that. Most people want to be liked. Healthy people make sure to temper their desire to be liked with their love for themselves. That’s my hope for you.
The best way to tackle this is with a tool used to help people overcome phobias—in vivo exposure. In exposure therapy, you put yourself in the anxiety provoking situations and learn to desensitize yourself to the very thing you fear—rejection.
A great book I recommend that practices desensitization in this way is Rejection Proof. The author, Jia Jiang, chronicles his fear of rejection and how he overcame it in his life by a simple rejection challenge.
Last, make some rules for yourself:
1. Refuse to say yes to anyone’s request until you have evaluated your motive first. Instead, your first response should be, “I need to check (or think about it). I will get back to you.”
2. Speak the first thought that comes to mind, not the one that goes through the censoring process first. Require yourself to show up as authentically as you can and walk through the fear that you aren’t good enough. As you continue to show up as you are and your people still love you, over time, your fear of rejection will dissipate.
But what if they don’t like you? This is a valid fear. Some people won’t. Here’s a good barometer to live by: If everyone likes you, you probably aren’t being your true self. You will likely find that your true self isn’t that far from the self that you project. The important people will stick around. If the cost is a few people dropping off but you get to be free of fear and live authentically in your life, the cost is more than worth it.
You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace.
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Check out this video for practical ways to grow in your strength as a woman: