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4 Fears That Create People-Pleasers and How to Ease Them

“It feels good to be accepted, loved, and approved of by others, but often the membership fee to belong to that club is far too high of a price to pay.” ~Dennis Merritt Jones Like a lot of people, I grew up putting others’ needs and wants first. I learned early that doing things for other people and accommodating their wishes gained me attention and approval. It was only in those moments that I felt good enough and deserving of love. As a child, I liked nothing more than feeling indispensable and being told I was a good and nice girl. This praise was incredibly important to me, as was making others happy. My own happiness did not come into the equation; I was happy because they were happy. I felt loved, safe, and appreciated, in the short term at least. As I got older my people-pleasing went into overdrive. I continually tried to gain people’s approval, make them happy, and help them whenever needed. I hated to see loved ones hurt or upset and felt it was my responsibility to come to their rescue and ease their problems and pain. Before long I became so hyper-aware of others’ feelings that I lost sight of where I ended and where other people began. For many years, I didn’t question why I felt I didn’t have the right to say no to people’s demands. I just assumed this was how my relationships were meant to be. By the time I was in my late teens, however, I often felt lost, drained, and empty. After a terrifying anxiety attack, I realized I’d been unhappy for years. Trying to please everyone had made me miserable and ill, and my relationships felt draining and one-sided. I took a long, hard look at myself and realized I’d become a people-pleaser not simply because I wanted to be a nice person or help others, but due to a specific emotion, an emotion I’d felt since early childhood: fear. I realized I’d given control over my life to other people out of fear. I’d let an emotion steal my life and well-being. When I examined my past behavior it was obvious I’d been compelled to people-please due to a fear of certain situations, stemming from my childhood. I believe these specific fears are the reason why many of us become people-pleasers.   Fear of Rejection and Abandonment Inside every people-pleaser is a little child who never felt worthy of love and was afraid of being rejected and abandoned by his or her loved ones. Being good and nice and striving for approval is a way to try to suppress the fear. Children know instinctively that their survival depends on other people. As a child I felt I had to be good all the time—one misdemeanor would be enough to make my loved ones reject me. That’s not to say my family didn’t love me, they absolutely did. But they were often emotionally [...]

2019-10-01T17:39:38+00:00 By |

What It Really Means to Be There and “Hold Space” for Someone Else

“A healer does not heal you. A healer is someone who holds space for you while you awaken your inner healer, so that you may heal yourself.” ~Maryam Hasnaa   I was sobbing quite hysterically, huddled into myself sitting on the kitchen floor. It literally felt like my life was falling apart. And so was I. I had been striving so hard to start a meaningful business that would change the world and help others, as well as heal myself from intense ongoing physical symptoms. But it seemed the harder I tried, the less things worked. My head bobbed slightly off my knees as I took ragged breaths. What the hell was wrong with me? The thought that was driving my meltdown was unintelligible in my brain, due to the crashing waves of my emotional reaction. But somehow, eventually, I found myself able to fully lift my head and stare straight on at my distorted reflection in the stainless steel door of the dishwasher. The whole while, he sat with me. My endlessly loving partner, Jonathan, held space. I remember when I first turned to a friend and said, “What does holding space really mean?” I asked with the inquisitiveness of a child, like a small human who does not yet know what a word means. Because with something like this, can any of us really find the words to accurately explain it? She used a story in an attempt to define it, “When I was really freaking out about something, I went over to my friend’s house and just let it all out. My friend was able to just listen to me and just you know… hold the space.” “Holding space” is a concept that is hard to define without using the exact same words to define it. But as she explained it to me, I realized I’ve been lucky to have many experiences of people holding space for me, and I for them. When it comes down to it, what are we really doing when we are “holding space?” The interesting thing about this term is that we aren’t actually “holding” anything. When your daughter comes home from school and wants to tell you all about her day, and you listen intently… you are holding space. When your boyfriend vents about how hard work was that day, and you give him your full attention… you are holding space. When you are flipping out over one thing or another or all the things, and someone looks at you with complete acceptance… that is holding space. When you are both recognizing what is currently is going on, and open to stepping into a new reality… that is holding space. Holding space is about being in the space.  It’s about being fully present with the experience. Holding space is viewing someone without judgment and seeing him or her through loving kindness. Holding space is recognizing that although we all may stumble, we are all also so powerful. Holding [...]

2019-10-01T17:25:07+00:00 By |

How I Learned to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Emotions

“Sometimes I think I need a spare heart to feel all the things I feel.” ~Sanober Khan I felt her agony and loneliness as if it were my own. Even as I write that sentence, my eyes well up and heaviness fills my heart. Then, I’m reminded to apply the advice I give others. My mom was a special person, a sensitive soul just like me. Actually, I’m so much like she was, yet so different. One of the differences between us is that I had an opportunity to observe her life’s challenges. I saw her challenges reflected within myself and made a conscious choice to find healthy ways to cope. You see, my mom was a deep feeler and felt the emotions of people near and far. I imagine it was her strong empathy and personal challenges that led her to want to help others, as a wounded healer in a sense. But as a helper and healer, she struggled with her mental and emotional health over the years. Witnessing her life moved me to learn how to regulate my own sensitive emotions and set healthy boundaries. Sometimes I wonder if not knowing how to manage her empathy is what made her sick. There are many ways to understand the challenges my mom battled before her death in 2007. From her perspective, she had a rare, unknown physical illness. Some who knew her may have thought she was manipulative and attention-seeking. Some would see an addiction to pain medication. Psychologists would diagnose her with psychosomatic disorder, borderline personality disorder, and bipolar disorder. Maybe all and none of those explanations are true. But perhaps she didn’t have any “disorder” at all. I’m not really asserting that to be true, but merely posing a curious question. What if she was just a sensitive, empathic person who lacked the skills to manage the pain around and within her? What if one unhelpful coping mechanism led a to slew of other ailments? I believe my mom felt real physical and emotional pain. I struggled to fully understand her over the years. But after many years of reflection, I now trust her experience because of what I know about my own sensitive nature. As sensitive people, we may present with high emotion and feel easily overwhelmed by our senses. We’re often told by the world that there’s something wrong with us. And when we think there’s something inherently wrong with us, we tend to tuck these traits away into our “shadow” or unconscious mind. Well, now we’ve not only tucked away our core nature, but possibly the empathic depth that goes along with being a sensitive person as well. There may be a part of us that knows that we’re emotional sponges. Yet, we may choose to ignore our nature without really learning how to manage our empathy in such a way that prevents “dis-ease” and fosters well-being. This was me for a long time. Not only am I [...]

2019-10-01T17:11:38+00:00 By |

Can We Change?

For the last two years this question has returned to me again and again: can we really change? What can we change about ourselves and what do we need to accept? There is the beautiful truth-ism commonly cited by AA groups: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference," by Reinhold Neibuhr.  There are aspects of my personality that seem to change with time and experience, while others remain fixed. Still others seem to change and then change back in the blink of an eye. The latter experience, my regression into former attitudes and behaviors, is most confounding. Recently, I read Dr. Carol Dweck’s thoughtful book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her work is a wonderful exploration around what we can change, given the right attitude. In her research, Dr. Dweck cites instance after instance where the outcome of any given situation hinges on the mindset of the person or people involved. In business, she has found the mindset of leadership sets the stage for the entire corporate body. At home, the mindset approach of parents sets up children for success or failure again and again. In athletics, it is not the innate ability as much as the mindset of the athlete that results in lasting success. And what is a growth mindset? It is the attitude that your success or failure does not define you. It is the belief that there is always room for improvement, no matter how much you achieve. It is knowing that perfection on earth is impossible, but improvement is inevitable with hard work. This is the spiritual path, this is what we do every day when we sit to meditate. This is the attitude we adopt when we realize that Self-realization awaits every one of us, given enough time and experience.   So what of our daily set backs? What do we do when we feel ourselves sliding into ego, again and again? Whether it’s the psychological approach of Dr. Dweck or the spiritual approach of great Masters, the remedy is the same: become aware of your shortcomings, but do not dwell on them. Stand up, dust yourself off, and try again and again. You will inevitably reach new heights if you are compassionate with yourself and willing to do the work.   For me, I crave participating on a global stage. In my career, I don’t want to run the local charity, I want to work with the United Nations. I want to help change the world in meaningful ways. It’s a desire that I cannot seem to shake, try as I might to focus on my own spiritual development and the development of my children as the most effective ways to change the world. I just keep returning, again and again, to a pull toward a bigger arena. Is this ego? Is this an unchangeable aspect of myself? [...]

2019-10-07T17:34:38+00:00 By |

3 Negative Inner Voices and How to Challenge Them

“Beautify your inner dialogue. Beautify your inner world with love light and compassion. Life will be beautiful.” ~Amit Ray There is no better way to feel good about yourself than changing your internal dialogue. Yes, you have the power to change your inner voice. You can choose to speak to yourself in a positive way or a negative way. Stop all activity for a moment. Be still. Notice what your inner voice is saying. Do you hear anything? If not, ask your inner voice this question: How does it feel to be still? Listen. Is your inner voice declaring that you are too busy to be chillin’? Or is it supporting you, happy to be playing this hanging-out-and-noticing game? Get to know your inner voice. Over the next few days stop and listen to your inner dialogue. Especially notice what your inner voice says as you are about to make a decision. Does it say, “I think, I can, I think I can” or does it say, “There is no way, I can’t do that, I can’t do that.”   Powerful Lessons from a Little Children’s Book I hung out with a two-and-a-half-year-old the other day. He wanted to read a book and brought me The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper. This book was read to me as a child, and I heard the voice in my head chant, “I think I can, I think I can” as I opened the book’s cover. The part I didn’t remember was the lessons of the trains. As I read this little children’s book written way back in the 1930’s I felt the power of the lessons and how they apply to my own self-speak today.   The Little Engine That Could The story is about a little train who wants to bring presents over the mountain to children who are patiently and excitedly awaiting their gifts. However, on the way to the town, the little engine breaks down. The toys are very upset, and one of them, a funny little clown, sets off to find another train to help them.   Lessons on Self-Talk from Four Trains 1. The first train has a Shiny New Engine. The Shiny New Engine didn’t want to help the little toy train because he was too special, too proud. He looked down on the little train and said a resounding “NO.” I thought of my shiny arrogance that I’d polished for years. I’d told myself I was too special, too important to waste my time and attention on certain tasks and people. Even though I’ve worked on this character defect, I know I have some of this self-speak going on inside of me. I noticed it the other night when I went out to dinner with a friend who brought along a friend of hers. The woman appeared to be in her sixties with huge fake boobs. She dressed in a tight, sparkly sundress that emphasized her boobs and [...]

2019-10-01T16:56:08+00:00 By |

How to Journal Away Your Disappointment in Yourself

“Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for giving away your power. Forgive yourself for past behaviors. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be.” ~Audrey Kitching   “I can’t do this.” “Why do I look so fat? I’m disgusting!” “I haven’t done enough today. I am so useless.” “I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have said that.” “Oh my god, why did this happen to me? What am I going to do now?” Since I was a teenager, there has always been a voice inside my head telling me that things are not going to be okay because I am not enough. At school, it told me I wasn’t popular or cool enough. At Arts university, that my work wasn’t original or deep enough. At my first job (which I disliked), that I wasn’t happy enough. In my current work (which I love), that I am never productive enough. And as the cherry on top throughout all these years, guess what—I’ve never been thin enough, talkative enough, or proactive enough. This voice has become so present and loud that it has led to severe anxiety attacks. One day, the feeling of self-loathing and despair was so strong that my usual journaling affirmations and gratitude practice were not enough. My soul, wounded by all the negative self-talk, needed something stronger. More than being fixed, it needed to be held in a tight, comforting hug. So that’s what I did: I knew that journaling was still the way, I just had to find a way to hug myself with it. Without thinking, I started writing to myself what a wise mother or a loving mentor would tell me in this situation. “My dear, I know you are feeling anxious about not having completed all your tasks for today. I know it makes you doubt if you will ever be able to achieve your goals. I know it makes you fear that you will end up out of money, out of friends, out of love. But here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter that you had a bad day. I know you’re trying hard. I know you’re giving your best. You deserve a rest. You are amazing, and you’re going to make it.” The effects were immediate: like with nothing else I had ever tried before, I felt a deep sense of comfort and relief. I had just discovered my new soul-medicine.   How This Exercise Works The reason why so many of us constantly push ourselves to be more and do more (and blame ourselves when we fail) is because we’re trying to get from others the approval we have never learned how to give ourselves. This exercise teaches us to do just that: to give ourselves the appreciation we crave so much. But there’s one more reason why it is so [...]

2019-08-23T17:09:36+00:00 By |

How Changing My Words Changed My Life for the Better

“Our words create our world.” ~Rich Litvin I remember when I was about seven years old, shouting spitefully at my mum, ‘’I wish you were dead, I hate you!” Her jaw dropped in disbelief, and I knew my words had hurt her, which made my young heart heavy. I remember being fourteen years old asking my first crush, “H-h-hey, do you fancy going to the cinema with me this weekend? To my surprise, she said yes, which taught me there’s never any harm in asking for what you want. Later this year, I’ll be standing proudly next to my beautiful almost-wife saying the words, “I do.” With those two simple little words, I’ll convey my love and commitment to her. Words are powerful. They have the potential to hurt and destroy and to enhance and create. Since embracing this truth a few years ago, I’ve become more mindful of the words I use. That is, the words I speak and the words I think. Here are four ways I’ve changed my words and as a result changed my life.   1. Swapping “I’ll try” for “I can, and I will.” Back when I felt stuck in life, I was always trying. Trying to lose weight. Trying to get out of debt. Trying to get my life back together. It struck me that, in all the areas of my life I was trying to change, I wasn’t having much success. I then looked at an area of my life I felt fulfilled in: my social life. Partying all weekend every weekend was the perfect escapism I needed. Drinking and partying masked my anxiety, making me forget about my money woes temporarily, and gave me the self-confidence I lacked when sober. Interestingly, when friends asked me if I would be out at the weekend, I never replied, “I’ll try and make it.” No! It was always, “I’ll be there! See you in the club, the first round is on me!” Upon recognizing this pattern, I made a new rule for myself: to swap “I’ll try” with “I can or “I will.” To no surprise, I started seeing improvements in my life. By saying “I can, and I will,” I somehow felt stronger and in control of my destiny. My confidence grew too. I used to say to my gym buddy, “I’ll try to get to the gym on Thursday,” only to cancel last minute (having never really intended to go), and then beat myself up for it. Thinking in terms of “I can/I will” gently forced me to be more decisive. I would then say “I will see you there” or “I will let you know by Tuesday.” If Tuesday came around and another commitment was more of a priority, I could communicate this clearly and without feeling bad for cancelling last minute. Switching from “try” to “can/will” caused me to ask, “What do I want to be committed to?” The word “try” does still have a [...]

2019-08-23T16:03:28+00:00 By |

Am I Psychic?

Meditation, especially a robust daily practice, will open a world of intuitive knowing beyond your wildest imaginations. In my early days of daily meditation, it became apparent that the practice was opening up an inner sense of “knowing” that went far beyond a mere “hunch” and landed squarely in a new dimension. I did not notice this shift all at once. It was a gradual, day by day, unfolding. At least, that is, until one particular moment in my life that changed everything. It was 4:00 a.m. on a San Francisco morning in July of 2011. Daybreak was still hours away and I had been deep in slumber. Suddenly, I awoke with a jolt like a bolt of electricity through my body. I sat up and experienced a wave of intuitive perception. In that moment, I knew that my (then) husband had been unfaithful to me, with whom, and when. There was absolutely no question in my mind, heart, or soul that the information that had just struck me was truth. Upright in bed, alone, and in the dark, I fumbled for the bedside lamp and found on the table next to me an amethyst pendulum that belonged to him. My mind chuckled that his own divination tool was about to confirm my moment of intuition. I picked it up and asked the question. Not once. Not twice. But four times. The pendulum dutifully responded with confirmation that my intuition was correct. By 7:00 a.m. I was on the phone with the man in question and he confirmed my moment of psychic perception. It was the moment that dissolved that imperfect union and opened a new door for my spiritual growth and personal journey to continue, unabated. Since that day, hundreds of less dramatic moments of intuitive knowing have come and gone. The more deeply I meditate, the more I can rely on the truth in such moments. I test them in the cold light of day and they often hold up. Does this mean that I am psychic? I don’t believe so. I believe that this is the fruit of daily meditation on the Divine light within myself. The more in tune with that spark, the more I can count on the calm knowing that is a byproduct of such communion. When my husband Badri asked me to marry him, after just five weeks of courtship, I said yes against all outward reason. Why? My daily meditation practice and smaller tests of intuition had given me the confidence to trust my gut. I knew that I was not ready to marry him in that moment, but that I would be by September (it was then January of 2012). I also knew that he was the one for me without a doubt. Why September? I had no idea, but it turned out that the day we married (September 23, 2012) was the first day that the state of California would permit it. I had no [...]

2019-07-26T14:29:59+00:00 By |

How to Pick Your Best Idea (Especially If You Suffer from Idea Overload!)

“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” ~Scott Belsky In virtually every human pursuit, from personal growth to the arts to business, ideas and the execution of those ideas is what drives us forward. And when it comes to ideas, there are basically two kinds of people: Those who struggle to come up with what feels like good ideas Those gifted with a ton of ideas, but who struggle to pick the right idea to pursue And because struggling stinks, the good news is that no matter which of these two camps you’re from, what follows can help you. As for me, I come from camp #2. Ideas come to me in waves, and when the waves hit they’re like tsunamis. I’ve got the debris—dozens of notebooks and countless sticky notes, napkins, even birch bark with my barely legible notes about the idea on them—stuffed in manila envelopes to prove it. My problem, however, used to be that when it came time to work on a new thing—in my case a new article, video, book, or business, for example—I’d review all my ideas and feel… CONFUSED AND OVERWHELMED. Because there were actually many ideas scribbled in my notebooks and stuffed in my manila envelopes that were good. And how on earth do I pick just one idea? Especially if I was going to be investing significant amounts of my time and energy into it. Sometimes this overwhelm led to my inertia. Walking away entirely and not getting anything done for hours, days, even weeks on a few occasions because I was stifled by the choices. More often, this overwhelm lead to me choosing something, starting it, then abandoning it, because this other idea actually seemed better after all. Until I’d abandon that, too, for the next better idea. And so on. If ideas that I started but never finished were worth money, I’d be a billionaire. Ugh. I finally realized I had to step back and figure out the healthiest approach to pick the right ideas to pursue. And to make a really long story short (a story involving extensive research, lots of trial and error, journeys to wizards in far-off lands, fighting ogres, and more), here’s what I discovered. It’s Not Just About What You’re Good at or What You Know  When it comes to choosing the best ideas to pursue, some common advice is to pick what you’re good at or know about. And okay, that’s well-intentioned. However, I’ll bet you’re good at a lot of things. Just like I’m good at a lot of things. For example, I am good at showering, arguing with customer service agents, and carrying many bags of groceries from the car at one time (it’s an ongoing dangerous quest of mine to try to carry them all at once no matter how many there are). I’ll also bet that, like me, you could become knowledgeable about and good at other things, with a little to [...]

2018-11-27T16:10:16+00:00 By |
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