When we’re people pleasers, we imagine that being “good” means that we’ll feel good. Of course, this is super confusing when we feel like crap despite trying to be everyone else’s version of good. We wrestle with overwhelm, shame, resentment and anxiety and wonder when on earth we’re going to experience The Good Life. At the same time, feeling bad about ourselves while trying to be and do good can make us feel virtuous. We think it’s shorthand for being an empath, kind, generous, devoted and loving. As a result, we can wind up believing that feeling bad is just par for the course. In fact, we can start to believe that it’s good to feel guilty all the time and encourage ourselves to do so.

But there are also times, as humans, where feeling good in and of itself prompts feelings of guilt. Like when we feel good as a result of activities that others deem “bad” or not-so-good. Like sex, or doing something purely for ourselves. We can feel like this split person who doesn’t believe that they can be good and feel good at the same time.

Feeling good is restorative and points to the fulfilment of needs in that moment or in a general sense.

It’s representative, not just of our contentment but also of being connected to our needs, boundaries and values. We’re being and taking care of ourselves in some way.

But so many of us are socialised to second guess ourselves. We feel guilty, away or on edge when feeling good exceeds beyond a point that we don’t associate ourselves with. This is where, as author, Gay Hendricks explains in his brilliant book, The Big Leap, we turn the temperature down on ourselves. Our identity might be 170 degrees Celsius instead of 220, so we sabotage our happiness to return to our familiar comfort zone.

Anxiety drives people pleasers, perfectionists and overthinkers.

Any “good” feelings only last a hot minute because our identity and self-worth are connected to other people’s feelings and behaviour. We believe we exist to put everyone else ahead of ourselves, so our needs and desires feel wrong. In turn, trying to control how we appear to others causes us to consciously and unconsciously sabotage ourselves.

But our self-sabotage can also come from feeling that we have ill-gotten gains. It’s that zero-sum game mentality of assuming that us gaining hurts others. We don’t want to risk alienation and abandonment. We figure that we must be the Wrong Kind of Person if we feel good being and doing things that are a potential source of criticism.

Feeling bad about feeling good is the siren call of codependency. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge where we haven’t allowed ourselves to grow up yet as well as the messages we’ve internalised about loving and taking care of others. We can take of others and ourselves at the same time. They can’t tell us how to feel or what’s good and right for us–only we can.

We don’t have to be and do everything from a place of shame. When we allow ourselves to feel good, we stop accepting less than what we need, desire and deserve. We know what does and doesn’t work for us, and so our life, including our relationships, get to prosper.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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