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Are you a people pleaser?
Does fear of other people’s disapproval stop you from expressing opinions? From making the choices you want? From being yourself?
Not All Fear Needs Fixing
Many of our fears are well founded – like fear of snakes or of chainsaw-wielding masked men.
Other fears may be irrational but have little impact on our lives – like fear of clowns or Ferris wheels.
But some fears can undermine happiness and success in life. Like fear of public speaking if you’re determined to be a high-profile CEO. Or fear of heights if you desperately long to sky-dive. Or fear of saying what you think if you seek deeper, more honest relationships. These fears are worth conquering.
There’s a psychological treatment for fear called systematic desensitization.
Someone who fears spiders, for example, starts by doing something non-threatening – perhaps looking at a picture of a cartoon spider.
Over time, and with their therapist’s help, they move through increasingly fear-provoking challenges – such as looking at a picture of a real spider, being in a room with a spider in a well-secured cage, etc. Each little success gradually builds confidence and undermines fear.
Until finally they get locked lock in a room with thousands of giant, hairy, venomous spiders. Okay maybe that’s not exactly how it works. It’s been a while since I studied this concept.
But you get the idea.
And you can use it to chip away at your own fears – especially if your fears are getting in the way of things you truly want.
The People Pleaser Plague: Fear Of Disapproval
If you feel held back in your work or personal life by fear of other people’s disapproval, then you can start to desensitize yourself to that fear.
Simply do something that you know will be disapproved of.
Simply!?, I hear you yell at me thorough your screen.
Obviously choose something small and safe. And make sure it’s something you genuinely want to do – there’s no point getting disapproved of for something you don’t care about.
A good choice could be to express an opinion that differs from the opinion of someone whose approval you crave. Probably best to avoid religion or politics – your honest opinion about a book or movie is a good level of disapproval-challenge to start with. Keep it polite, respectful, and be sure to listen to their opinion too.
Alternatively, buy something you like but they don’t. Or do something they think you shouldn’t do but you think you should.
The exact challenge you choose should be small enough to feel doable but large enough to matter to you.
Remember that the goal of this exercise is not to provoke disapproval. The goal is to experiment with making choices that you’ve been afraid to make out of fear of disapproval.
It Won’t Kill You But It Will Hurt
You’ll notice something interesting. You will not die. The person will not hate you. The world will not end.
What will happen is that you’ll feel discomfort. Possibly an urge to qualify what you just said: And by love I mean really, really hate.
Resist the urge. Accept the discomfort. This is the price of freedom, of growth. Pay it.
Another thing that will happen is that you’ll feel a sense of confidence and freedom. Use that to move on to the next challenge on your systematic desensitization hierarchy.
And the next one.
Will You Try It With Me?
Like many people, I fear disapproval in some ways, and lately I’ve been working on my own little challenges. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
How about you? Is people pleasing sucking the life out of you?
Will you try a little systematic desensitization experiment too?