If, as a child, you were given (or assumed) responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviour, you may ‘over-feel’, leading to painful codependent relationships. You won’t know where you end and others begin because you feel excessively emotionally responsible for others. This sense of over-responsibility also means you are likely to experience far more guilt than those who are actually guilty! Maybe you even feel guilty to compensate for those who don’t seem to feel guilty about how they’ve acted towards you.

To relieve your sense of guilt and prevent its recurrence, you create more faux rules for protection. I must. I should. I’m not allowed to. I have to do X to be a Good Person. But with these rules come obligations and roles. You feel as if you don’t have a choice in things and that it’s your job to be a certain type of person, even though this hurts. This attitude and mentality inevitably leads to resentment, as what you do cannot control other people’s feelings and behaviours.

Is there a mistake or hurt you continually remind yourself of, lest you forget? When you think of words like anger, disappointment, rejection, and hurt, who or what comes to mind? Does the strength of these feelings surprise you?

Guilt is about your sense of wrongdoing. Feeling guilty and being guilty, though, are not the same.

Believing that you should have acted differently, or that you’re owed something, or that you’re obliged to keep yourself small and act like a specific type of person to make others happy or avoid pain keeps you stuck in the past. This suppression and repression of yourself compromises your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Feeling guilty about basic and healthy aspects of being human isn’t a sign of wrongdoing. Your response is a habit and a sign that taking care of yourself is unfamiliar, so it feels like a threat. The next time you feel bad about, for instance, having boundaries or prioritising self-care, halt. Check in with yourself. Who or what taught you to feel this way in this scenario? What would your choice be if you didn’t use people pleasing to avoid being the Bad Guy?

Doing things from a place of guilt means shame and fear guide your yeses and nos. Making yourself feel bad and acting like you’re a Bad Person stops you from trusting yourself, knowing your boundaries and having intimate, healthy relationships. It can seem easier to focus on feeling guilty than acknowledging how you truly feel and dealing with that. You cannot keep planting the weeds of guilt, anger, blame, shame, and resentment, though, and expect a garden of love in return.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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