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Case Study: Can Coaching Help You Overcome People-Pleasing

Achieving Goals, Confidence, Leadership Coaching, Mindset & Mindfulness, Overcoming Fear
12/12/22 - Cait Swamy
woman waving at computer screen

The names and circumstances behind this case study have been altered to maintain client confidentiality. 

Can working with a coach help me move past my people-pleasing tendencies? What is your success rate in enabling your clients to set healthy boundaries? What are some examples of transformational stories that you’ve had in working with clients who struggle with people-pleasing? 

​​I get asked these types of questions all the time when meeting with prospective clients. 

So today, I want to share with you all a case study in just how life coaching can help individuals to recover from people-pleasing

Coaching enables individuals to articulate their goals and aspirations and bring awareness to where in life they want to (and need to) make improvements or changes. People-pleasing is one of those behaviors that we often don’t realize is hindering our potential.

Pleasing others is innate to our human nature because it is rooted in the need for belonging. People-pleasing keeps us safe. One can never run out of people to please whether that be at work or in their personal lives. However, while belonging and safety are the upside of people-pleasing, this behavior doesn’t come without damaging impacts to one’s mental health. People-pleasers may worry so much about earning approval that they don’t vocalize their own needs or set healthy boundaries. Because saying no is so extremely difficult for people-pleasers, others often walk all over them. Outwardly they appear to lack confidence and conviction and when criticized they often take it personally. 

Bottom line: People-pleasing, if left untreated, can evolve into a toxic cycle that can be detrimental to our emotional and mental well-being. 

So how does one know if they are a people-pleaser and how does one recover from this toxic behavior? 

The truth is, talking through this behavior with a coach is an essential part of the recovery process. A coach can help provide input and tools to enable the client to recognize how to set healthy boundaries and learn how to say no. This type of coaching requires the client to be open to feedback and to be challenged to change behaviors that have become a default to their identity. I’d be lying if I said this work was easy. What I know to be true is that for every client I’ve helped in healing their people-pleasing tendencies they have all said without a doubt the work was hard, but it was worth it.  

“Can working with a coach help me move past my people-pleasing tendencies?”

“What is your success rate in enabling your clients to set healthy boundaries?”

“What are some examples of transformational stories that you’ve had in working with clients who struggle with people-pleasing?” 

These are all great questions, so let’s dive into it using a real life client success story. I’m going to outline at a high level some questions that I asked my client in order to enable her to move from people-pleasing to empowering herself to set healthy and honest boundaries. 

Meet Audrey. Audrey has spent her entire twenties attending bachelorette parties and weddings for her friends. She’s traveled across the country and the world more times than she can count and hasn’t said no once. Wearing the title of “great friend” like a badge of honor, she rarely says no. She’s been a bridesmaid 33 times. She regularly checks in with her friends and remembers all the little details of their lives. In her early thirties she’s realizing that her friends aren’t reciprocating this same time of behavior toward her and she’s finding herself being resentful. “Cait, why is it that I show up continuously for everyone and when I ask people to show up for me they seem to be going on with their own lives?” 

Many of us can connect with Audrey’s story. In fact, research shows that about 49% of Americans self-identify as people-pleasers and the statistics are even higher for women.  Many women say that people-pleasing comes naturally to them, but they also argue that society has conditioned them to participate in people-pleasing behavior. We are conditioned as women to put our needs last ahead of our communities, our friendships, our partners and our children. This is where people-pleasing can become a toxic cycle that leads to overcommitment, resentment, and exploitation. 

What do you gain in “showing up” for  everyone?

Throughout our sessions, Audrey realized that her people-pleasing tendency was rooted in her need for belonging. When she “showed up” for others meaning she said yes to what they needed, she was rewarded by her friends saying “she’s the best” or “Audrey is my ride or die.” She also found that this led to an often crammed social calendar which led her feeling energized at times, but more recently it had left her feeling depleted and growing resentful of her friends who weren’t showing her the same way. 

Now, as a coach, this story is familiar. What I sensed beneath the surface is that Audrey’s non-negotiables have shifted. It’s common for our non-negotiables to change as we evolve and our lives change. A non-negotiable is a value that you use to guide many of life’s complicated decisions. While values are often broad terms, such as security, education, loyalty, and connections, a non-negotiable may be a concrete activity that exemplifies a value. For example, if a broad value is “Family,” then a non-negotiable might be one-hour of distraction-free family time. 

It sounds like your needs have shifted from your twenties into your early thirties. What do you need to be your best at this stage in your life? 

“I need space. I need alone time. I need to feel like I can release my expectations of others to show up in the same way that I do for them. I need to release this pressure I put on myself because it’s leading to resentment.” 

Audrey, naming our non-negotiables can be a powerful step in helping us identify where and how we can set healthy boundaries. Where can you set boundaries around what you are and aren’t willing to offer in your friendships? 

I know, boundaries have become a huge buzzword, but I think the most important thing to know about boundaries is that they are set to protect you and your well-being. Learn more about how to establish your boundaries here

For Audrey, it was clear that she needed to start establishing boundaries with herself. This meant carving out time for her alone time. She said explicitly that she needed a day per month dedicated to her “mental health” where she would wander her city and in her words “let her nose take her where she wanted to.” Boundary #1 was set. With regard to her expectations of others, we identified that when she was feeling lonely she felt triggered to reach out to friends. I encouraged her to resist that trigger. She set a boundary that she would avoid picking up her phone first thing in the morning and resist the urge to respond to a text the minute it came through. Boundary #2 was set. In order to release that resentment, I encouraged her to think about the context of the unsaid boundaries that some of her friends might have. So many of her friends had recently become parents. Audrey was not yet a mother. I challenged her to think that maybe they had boundaries around “showing up” for her and meeting up with her as much as they used to because of these recent life changes. For her, this was a big shift. “So what you are saying is that as non-negotiables change, so do boundaries. They ebb and flow as our lives ebb and flow.” 

Yes, Audrey, that is exactly what I’m saying. You know, there is a great saying that “when you say “yes” to one thing, you are Saying “No “to Something Else.” What do you need to say no to that will allow you to say yes to something else? 

Audrey agreed she needed to start saying “I’ll have to get back to you after I check my calendar” prior to committing immediately. She also committed to checking in with herself and asking herself more consistently, “Is this yes getting me closer toward my goals?” if the answer was no, it was a clear indication that the answer needed to be no. We are still working through Saying no which is a critical element of recovering from people-pleasing, but I’m so proud of Audrey for naming her non-negotiables, setting boundaries, and being bold and transparent with asking for what she needs in her friendships. 

Great. Now what happened next? 

Audrey shared the work we had done in our sessions with a trusted friend and it opened up the conversation between her and her friend around boundaries and non-negotiables. Audrey owned the fact that she had held her friends to the same high and unrealistic expectations that she held for herself. She recognized that they too have boundaries and limits and friendships look different in your thirties and that isn’t always a bad thing. 

To this day, Audrey continues to maintain healthy boundaries and vocalize her needs in relationships with others. She’s saying no more regularly and committing to her monthly mental health days. 

Now, Audrey’s story is one of many success stories Ama La Vida Coaching has seen through the thousands of clients the organization has served. Long story short, coaching has the power to change lives, and our success rate is measured through transformational stories like Audrey’s and through our testimonials. 

If you’re reading this, you’re likely curious about what to do next. If you are an existing client, our team of coaches are well-versed in this area, and if you are a prospective client, please schedule time with us here. It’s our mission to help our clients “love their lives.” Challenging our clients to step out of people-pleasing and enabling them to set healthy boundaries that stick is one of the many ways we, as coaches, help our clients love their lives.

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