In this week’s podcast episode, we have the amazing Shala Nicely, author of Is Fred in the refrigerator? and Everyday Mindfulness for OCD. In this episode, we talked about people-pleasing and how people-pleasing comes from a place of shame, anxiety, and fear of judgment from others. Kimberley and Shala share their own experiences with people-pleasing and how it created more shame, more anxiety, and more distress.In This Episode:
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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 211.
Welcome to Your Anxiety Toolkit. I’m your host, Kimberley Quinlan. This podcast is fueled by three main goals. The first goal is to provide you with some extra tools to help you manage your anxiety. Second goal, to inspire you. Anxiety doesn’t get to decide how you live your life. And number three, and I leave the best for last, is to provide you with one big, fat virtual hug, because experiencing anxiety ain’t easy. If that sounds good to you, let’s go.
Welcome back, everybody. This is an episode I am so excited to share with you. Maybe actually “excited” isn’t the word. I feel that this is such an important conversation. Today we have my amazing friend and someone I look up to and I consider a mentor, the amazing Shala Nicely. She’s been on the podcast before. Everybody loves her, as do I. And interestingly that I say that because today we are talking about people-pleasing—the act of getting people to like you. Shala is very easy to love, but we are talking about how invasive people-pleasing can become, how problematic it can become, our own personal experience with people-pleasing, and what we have done and are continuing to do to manage people-pleasing behaviors. It is such a wonderful, deep, comprehensive conversation, so I cannot wait to share that with you in just a few minutes.
Before we do that, I would like to first, of course, share with you the “I did a hard thing” for the week. This is from Jack, and I’m so excited because Jack said:
“I haven’t been able to drive on the highway since I had a severe panic attack a couple of months ago. I have felt trapped and it has put a strain on my life. I recently drove on the highway for an hour by myself. I felt anxious during it, but I was able to calm myself down. It was a huge step for me.”
Amazing work, Jack. This is such a hard thing and you totally did it. This is so inspiring. You got through it. You actually stand your fear right in the face. So cool. Just proof that it is always a beautiful day to do hard things.
Let’s move over to the review of the week. This is from YFWWFH, and this review said:
“Life-changing in a meaningful way. I found Kimberley’s podcast through another psychology podcast I’ve been listening to where she was a guest. I started listening to hers and was so happy. I found it. The insight this podcast offers and the expertise she shares are incredible and truly make a difference in the way you think about things and feel when struggling with some of the topics talked about. I truly love this podcast and the effect that it has.”
Yay, that brings me such joy. Thank you so much for sharing that review. You can leave your reviews on iTunes. Please go over to iTunes to leave a review. The more reviews you leave, the more people we can reach, which means the more people I can help with this free resource.
That being said, let’s move over to the show, such an important interview. I am so excited and I’m so curious to see what comes up for you as you listen. I hope it’s helpful. I hope it gives you food for thought. I hope it gives you direction. And I just can’t wait to share it with you. So let’s go straight to the episode. I will see you guys next week. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to do hard things.
Kimberley: Okay. So, you guys know that I love Shala Nicely, and today I have the one and only Shala Nicely talking with us about people-pleasing. And this whole conversation came organically out of conversations we’ve had recently. So, welcome, Shala.
Shala: Thank you, Kimberley. And as you know, the love is mutual. So thank you for [04:42 inaudible] me again.
Kimberley: Okay. I have so many questions and this is probably the most relevant topic to me in my stage of my recovery. You can share as much as you want to share, but I’m so grateful that we’re talking about people-pleasing, because I feel like it runs rampant for those who have anxiety. Would you agree?
Kimberley: How would you define people-pleasing?
Shala: People-pleasing to me is putting your own needs in the backseat so that you can do things that you think will make others happy or like you. You’re not quite sure about that. You’re mind-reading, you are estimating what other people might want or what society might want. I think people-pleasing is not just, “I’m pleasing the individual person.” It could be, “I’m pleasing a culture, a society, a family.” But I think it’s all about putting your own needs in the backseat and doing what you think other people want in order to make them happy, but really it’s in order to reduce your own anxiety.
Kimberley: Right. So, there’s so much there you said that I want to pull apart. So, you emphasized “You think,” and I think there is a major concept there I want you to share. We want to please people. Of course, we want to please people. We like seeing smiley, happy faces. I don’t like seeing sad faces and angry faces. But so much of people-pleasing is based on what in our minds we think they want. Can you share your thoughts on that?
Shala: If you look at people-pleasing behavior–I’ll take me as an example–obviously, it starts with an intrusive thought, “What if they don’t like me? I’ve not done well enough. They’re going to think less of me, drop me,” et cetera, et etcetera. So, I think it starts with some sort of intrusive thought like that. And from there, it goes into how to answer that what-if. And the what-if is made up. We don’t actually know it’s a real problem. It’s an intrusive thought that has come in. It may or may not be a problem. And so, if we engage in this, we’re trying to figure out, “Well, how can I make sure that what-if doesn’t happen?” And so, you’re dealing with a really made up situation. And so, there’s really no data there for you to know what to do. And so you’re guessing. “Gosh, what if this person isn’t getting back to me because I did something wrong and they don’t like me? And I need to do something to show them how much I like them so that they’ll change their mind about me.” The whole thing is based on the premise that what if this person doesn’t like me, which is probably 99% of the time not even a premise. So, we’re guessing all over the place in both guessing there’s a problem we have to solve. And then guessing how to solve that because we don’t really know if there are problems. So we have to whack it together, you might say.
Kimberley: Right. I remember early in my marriage, me getting my knickers in a knot over something, and my husband saying, “What’s happening?” And I’m like, “Well, you want me to do such and such this way?” And he was like, “I’ve never said that. I’ve never even thought that. What made you think that I would want you to be that way?” And I had created this whole story in my head. For me, that’s a lot of how people-pleasing plays out, is I come up with a story about what they must want me to be, and then I assume I have to follow that. How does it play out for you?
Shala: I think “story” is the right word to use there. You create this whole story in a scenario. It’s got main characters and a plot and the ending is always horrible, and it becomes very believable in your mind. The thing is it’s in your mind. We’ve made it all up. But those stories convey very powerful emotions and then we’re acting to somehow get rid of those emotions, which were created by the story that we made up in the first place.
Kimberley: Right. And that was the second thing that you said that I think is so compelling, is for me in my life goal of reducing people-pleasing behaviors, I will be on this journey for the rest of my life. I’m pretty confident of it. It’s a matter that I have to learn how to sit with the feeling instead of just going into people-pleasing to remove that feeling. Is that how you would explain it for yourself as well?
Shala: Yes. And I will echo your sentiments. I will be right alongside you on this journey of trying not to people-please the rest of my life. And I think it’s sitting with some uncomfortable emotions and it’s really sitting with the uncertainty of “we don’t know” what other people think. And it’s easy, especially if you have anxiety to assume the negative because that feels like some sort of certainty. “Oh, they must not like me.” That’s actually sometimes a more comfortable thought than “I don’t know,” fit with “I just don’t know.”
Kimberley: Right. Because when we tell ourselves “They mustn’t like us,” at least then we don’t have a place to work from. We can gain control back. Whereas if we are not certain, that’s a really uncomfortable place. I know as we were talking, do you think this shows up the same for folks with OCD as it does for folks who don’t have OCD? Do you think there’s a difference or do you feel like it’s the same?
Shala: That’s a good question. I might only be able to offer a biased answer because I have OCD and I work with people with OCD. So, that’s going to be the frame of reference that I’m coming from most often. I think that with OCD, it could come from a foundational place of really thinking that you’re not worth very much. I think that comes a lot because OCD spends its days if you’re untreated, yelling at you and telling you are horrible and nitpicking every little thing that you do wrong. And it’s like living with an abusive person when you have untreated OCD, especially when it goes on for years and years, which happens to so many of us with OCD. And if you hear that for however long–months, years, whatever–you start to believe it. And then you don’t think you are worth pleasing, and you almost feel like, “Gosh, maybe if I made people around me happy, maybe if I got this positive feedback from other people that they think I’m worthwhile, then somehow maybe all this in my head will stop.”
I think people-pleasing for people with OCD can come from that place where they just have internalized years of abuse by their own mind that they feel like they can’t escape until they find exposure and response prevention and work through all that. But even after that, they can still have this foundational belief that “I’m just not worth anything.” And that can drive a lot of people-pleasing behaviors that can linger even after somebody’s gone through what would be considered a successful course in ERP.
Kimberley: Yeah. That’s really interesting. As you were talking, I was comparing and contrasting my eating disorder recovery. I was thinking about this this morning. My eating disorder didn’t actually start with the wish to be thin. It started with pleasing other people. So, my body was changing and I was getting compliments for that. And then the compliments felt so good. It became like something I just wanted to keep getting, almost compulsively keep getting. And so then, it became, “How can I get more?” People-pleasing, people-pleasing. “Oh, they liked this body. Well, I’ll try and get that body. Oh, they complimented me on how healthy my food was. Okay, I’ll do that more in front of them.” So, it’s interesting to compare and contrast. People-pleasing was the center point of my eating disorder and the starting point of my eating disorder. So, that’s really interesting. You talked about people-pleasing behaviors. What do you think that is for you? What would that look like?
Shala: People-pleasing behaviors can be big or small. It could be something like a friend calls you to go out to dinner. You don’t really want to go out to dinner. You really want to sit in and watch your latest Netflix binge show, but you feel like you can’t say no. So you go out to dinner. That could be something on the smaller end, I think. Then there’s on the really large scale, which I’ve done, and I talk about in more detail in my memoirs, Is Fred in the Refrigerator? about my journey with OCD, which is not breaking up with somebody because you’re afraid to hurt their feelings. And you can take that all the way down the aisle, which I did.
And so, I think that people-pleasing behaviors really can run the gamut from small seemingly innocuous things. “Oh, it’s just an evening,” to life-changing decisions about your partner, about how you live your life, about where you live, about your work, about how you approach, all of that. And that I think makes people-pleasing sometimes hard to identify because it doesn’t fit neatly in a little box.
Kimberley: Yeah. That’s interesting. And I love the way that you share that. What’s interesting for me is that most of my people-pleasing in the past have been saying yes to things that I don’t want to do or things I want to do, but I literally don’t have time for. So I’m saying yes to everything without really consulting with my schedule and being like, “Can I actually fit that in on that day?” Just saying yes to everything, which I think for me is interesting. A lot of the listeners will remember, is I got so the burnt out and sick, because I’d said yes to everything six months ago. Because six months ago I agreed to all these things, now I’m on the floor, migraines or having nothing because I just said yes to everything. And so, for me, a lot of that, the turnaround has been practicing saying no to plan for the future, looking forward, going, “Will I have time for that? Do I want that? Does that work for me? Is that for my recovery?” How have you as either a clinician or a human started to practice turning the wheel on this problem?
Shala: It’s hard for me to think how to the answer to that because there are so many ways to approach it and it’s a complex problem. And so, I have approached it in a number of ways. The first thing that comes to mind is really boundaries because a lot of this is about setting boundaries to protect your own time and to protect what you want to do. So, that’s one of the things that I have really worked on, is becoming clear on what I think is acceptable for me to be doing and what is not acceptable for me to be doing in terms of my own physical and mental health. It’s so easy to say yes to things, especially if it’s months down the road, “Oh, that’ll be fine, I’ll have time to do that.” And then you get to, you’re like, “Okay, I don’t have time to do that.” And then you’re wearing yourself out and all of that. And I think that happens a lot with people-pleasing because again, you’re putting your own needs, especially for rest and recovery on the back burner in order to do things that you think will make somebody else happy.
And so, I think really working on boundary setting. So I’m coming from a perspective of having OCD and treating OCD. Boundary setting is an exposure. So, it is about creating an uncomfortable situation because it involves saying no. And if you say no, sometimes you’re going to disappoint people. And if you’re just getting into the process of saying no, and people are expecting that you’re going to say yes because you say yes to everything, you can often get some pretty negative feedback. “What do you mean no? You’ve always said yes.”
Kimberley: You’re the “yes” girl.
Shala: And so then, that feels even more jarring, like, “Oh, see, it’s coming true. People don’t like me.” And so, that becomes even more anxiety provoking and thus an even better exposure, but even harder. And I think that thinking of it as setting boundaries to protect your own times so that when you do say yes to something, you are there as fully as you can be because you’re well-rested in terms of your body and your mind and your health and all of that. When you don’t have good boundaries, you end up feeling very resentful because you haven’t been able to take care of yourself. And so, in fact, by not setting good boundaries, you can’t actually be there for people when they need you because you’re too run down. And that is, I think, the big lie about these people-- one of the many big lies about this people-pleasing thing is that, “Well, I got to do all this to make people happy.” Well, in essence, you’re not putting your own oxygen mask on first. And so, you can’t. Even if there was something you really could do that would really help somebody else, you don’t have enough energy to do it.
So, I think really realizing that boundaries are the way to not have that resentment, to allow you to be fully there with the things you do want to do with all your heart and energy. And so then, you are actually really achieving your goal because you can really help people, as opposed to saying yes to everything and you’re spread so thin, you’re not enjoying it, they’re not enjoying it, and it’s not achieving the goals that you had in mind.
Kimberley: Yes. It’s so exactly the point. So, boundaries is 100%, I agree. I’ll tell you a story. You know this story, but the listeners might not. Once I did a podcast that got some negative feedback and I called you, understandably concerned about getting negative feedback, because I don’t like-- I’m one of those humans that don’t really love negative feedback.
Shala: I’m one of those humans too.
Kimberley: I had said to you, this is literally my worst fear. One of my worst fears is being called out and being told where you’ve made a mistake. What was really interesting for me is going through that and saying, “Okay, but I did, it is what it is. I wouldn’t change anything. And here’s what I believe.” I came out of that instead of going and apologizing and changing everything. I came out of that actually feeling quite steady in my stand because I had acknowledged like, “Oh, even when things don’t go well, I can get through it. I can stand on my two feet. I can get through those,” which is something I hadn’t ever really had to practice, is really standing through that. And I thought that that was a really interesting thing for me, is a lot of the reason I think I was people-pleasing was because the story I was telling myself was that I wouldn’t be able to handle it if something went wrong, that I wouldn’t be able to handle people knowing that I had made a mistake or so forth. But that wasn’t true. In fact, all of a sudden it felt actually a bit of freedom for me of like, “Oh, okay. The jig is up. I can chill now.” Have you found that to be true of some people or am I rainbow and unicorn?
Shala: I love that because I think it’s like what we do with people with social anxiety. They are afraid of going out in public in certain situations and having somebody evaluate them negatively. And one of the things that we do with those exposures is actually, let’s go out and create some of these situations that your social anxiety is afraid of. Let’s go into a shopping mall in the food court and spill a Coke on the floor while everybody’s looking at you. And then process through, what was that like? Well, I just stood there and they came and cleaned it up and everybody went back to their meal and we went on. Huh, okay. That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.
And I think that’s very akin to what you’re saying, is we build this up in our head that if we’re rejected, if somebody doesn’t like us, if we disappoint somebody, that’s going to be catastrophic. And inevitably, it is going to happen unless you isolate yourself in your house, that somebody is not going to like you, somebody is going to give you a bad review, and being able to say, “Yup, that is okay. I don’t have any control over that. And I can handle that. That doesn’t devalue me as a person because they gave me a bad review or bad feedback or whatever.” Because if we think about what we each do, like I’ve bought products before that I’ve written bad reviews for because I didn’t like it or it didn’t work for me. I think everybody has. And even if you didn’t write a review, you thought it in your head. So, all of us have things we like and don’t like, and that’s okay.
What you’re talking about is you have those experiences and then you realize, “Wait, that is okay.” And then you feel free, like, “Okay, look at me. I can make mistakes.” You’re less compelled. Continue doing this because you’re like, “Wait, there’s freedom on the other side of this where I don’t have to try to be pleasing people all the time.”
Kimberley: Right. Or in addition to that was-- and this is true in this example of, I think it was a podcast that I had put out, was people cannot like what I did but still like me in other areas. That blew me away. I think that in my mind it was so black and white. It’s like, if they don’t like one thing, they’re going to knock you out, where it’s like no. People can hold space for things they like and things they do like.
Shala: That is such important.
Kimberley: Right. You also just said something and I want you to speak to it, is some people people-please by going above and beyond, but you also just brought up the idea of some people just don’t leave their house. What would that look like, because they’re people-pleasers?
Shala: Well, I think that is the extreme case of any kind of anxiety-driven disorder, where you’re trying to avoid having to be in a situation where others have expectations of you that you feel that you can’t meet, and so you narrow your world down to avoid those situations to avoid the anxiety. And I don’t think that’s just with people-pleasing. That’s obviously what agoraphobia is about—people not leaving their homes because they’re trying to avoid situations that are going to trigger panic attacks. But I think people with anxiety disorders in general can start making choices to avoid anxiety that end up not allowing them to lead the lives they want to lead or to take care of themselves.
Kimberley: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the question for everybody, even for those who are listening, I would say. If you’re thinking, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me,” it’s always good to look like, “What am I avoiding because of the fear that I’ll be disproved?” or someone will give you a bad review and so forth, because I think it shows up there quite often.
Shala: Yes. And in fact, there is a really good article—maybe we can put a link in the show notes—that Adam Grant from Wharton Business School wrote in the New York Times about what straight A students get wrong. And I think it goes right to the heart of what we’re talking about because he referenced people who are looking for straight A’s, which is an institutionalized form of approval, will potentially take easier classes that they can get an A in versus something they really are interested that they might not do as well in. And so, they are not pursuing what’s important to them because they’re pursuing the A, and therefore head in a direction that maybe isn’t the direction that would be best for them to have.
Kimberley: Right. And you just hit the nail on the head because so much of recovery from people-pleasing is actually stopping and going, “Do I want this? Does this actually line up with my values? Am I doing it for other people?” I’ve heard many clients say, “I do what other people tell me to do and what they want because I actually have no idea of what I want.” That’s scary in and of itself.
Shala: And that is a really tough problem for people with anxiety disorders because when you have an anxiety disorder, you’re used to doing what the disorder says and the disorder can really run your life. When you get better from the anxiety disorder, it’s easy to keep doing the things that you were doing that didn’t necessarily seem compulsive but may have been because they’re just part of your life, without ever stopping to step back and say, “Well, do I need to be doing this?”
I’ll give you a personal example. I live in Atlanta and there’s lots to do in Atlanta. I’ve lived here for a long time. I think I felt a need that I “should” be out and doing things because I live in a big city and there’s so much to do and I need to be doing it. And so I’d have this story in my head that I need to be out and visiting attractions, the aquarium, the restaurants. We have this really cool food court called Ponce City Market. While those things are fun and I do enjoy going to them sometimes, it almost felt like I should do this because this is what people do. They’re out and about and doing things, almost like I’m pleasing a societal norm, like this is what you do if you live in a big city.
Well, COVID actually has really helped me recognize, “You know what, I actually don’t need to get up on Saturday morning and pack my schedule full of all sorts of things that I think I should be doing. I can actually just sit in my house and do things that I might want to do.” And so as you know, I’ve been doing all sorts of things lately just to try stuff out. I’m taking an oil painting class, which still scares me to death. And I’m taking French lessons because I want to learn how to speak French. And I’ve bought these art magazines because I really like art and I just want to look at it. And I’m just letting myself explore these various things to find out what I do like.
And then once I’ve been through this process and find what really floats my boat, then maybe hey, one weekend I can go to the aquarium because I want to, because it meets some value or need I have and do some painting instead of trying to meet this idea of what I should be doing that’s trying to please society and what my role in society should be, which I think is very easy for people with anxiety disorders and OCD to do, is let other people make the rules, the disorder, your family, your spouse, the society in general, as opposed to just sitting back and saying, “What do I really want?” And the answer to that might be, “I don’t know.” And instead of rushing out to do something because it feels better to just be doing something than to sit with the uncertainty of “I don’t know,” letting yourself sit in that and go, “Well, what can I maybe try to see if I like it?”
Kimberley: Right. And I will add to that because you and I have talked quite a bit and I’ve learnt so many inspiring things from you as I’ve watched you do this. What was interesting for me is, a part of that for me was choosing things that people don’t actually like. Some of the choices I’ve made–things I want to do with my time or that I’ve said no to–do disappoint people. They do disappoint people and they might tell you you’ve disappointed them. And so, for me, it’s holding space for that feeling, the shame or the guilt or the sadness or whatever the emotion is, but still choosing to do the thing you wanted to do. It’s not one or the other. You don’t do things just because you haven’t disappointed someone. You can also choose to do something in the face of disappointing other people, right?
Shala: Yes. And I think it’s inevitable. You’re going to disappoint them.
Kimberley: It sucks so bad.
Shala: Because you’re not going to have the same wants and needs as everybody else. And so, it’s inevitable that if you start figuring out what you want to do and trying some things out, you can’t do all the other things everybody else wants you to do.
Kimberley: Yeah. I know. And it’s so frustrating to recognize that. But as you’ve said before, tens of thousands of people could love a product and tens of thousands of people could hate a product. Lots of people will like me and lots of people won’t like me or the things that we do or the places we want to go and so forth. I think that’s a hard truth to swallow, that we won’t please all the people.
Shala: Yeah. And I’ll tell you a story that I think illustrates that, is I read this book for a small book club that I’m in, and one of the members had suggested it. I just went and grabbed it, bought it. I didn’t really read what kind of book it was. And I was loving it. It was really good. It was like this mystery novel. And then we get to the last, I don’t know, 20 pages. And it turns into this psychological thriller that honestly scares the pants off me, but it was wrapped up so well. I was just sitting in shock on the floor, reading this thing, like, “Oh my gosh.” It was so good, yet so terrifying. So I got online on Amazon just to look at the book because it had just gone right over my head that this was a thriller, and I don’t normally read thrillers. I just wanted to go on and see. And I was expecting, because I loved this thing, to see five-star reviews across Amazon for this book because I thought it was so amazing. And I got on, and the reviews for it were maybe three point something stars. I started reading and some people went, “I hated this. It was horrible.” They hated it as much as I loved it. And that to me was just a singular example of you cannot please everyone. I love this book, other people hate this book. There were lots of people that were in between. And that doesn’t say anything about the writer. The writer is a whole complete awesome person, regardless of what any of us think about what she wrote.
Kimberley: Right. And she gets to write what she wants to write, and we get to have our opinions. And that’s the way the world turns.
Shala: And I think recognizing she doesn’t have any control over what I think, I might even write a five-star review just for whatever reason and really hate the book. So, even if you get a positive review, you don’t actually know that it’s true. I think this is all about understanding that it’s not about not caring about what people think because that’s really hard. It just numbs you out and cuts you off. I think it’s about going into the middle. It’s not about people-pleasing. It’s not about not caring. It’s about recognizing you don’t have control over any of that and living in that uncertainty. I don’t know what people think. I don’t have control over what people think. And even if they tell me one thing, that could actually not be what they think at all. And that’s okay.
Kimberley: Right. Such an amazing point. I’m so glad you brought that up because I actually remember many years ago saying to my husband, “I’ve decided I don’t care what people think.” Well, that lasted about 12 and a half seconds because I deeply care what people think. But it doesn’t mean that what they think makes my decisions. And I think that’s where the differentiation is. A lot of the people who are listening, there’s absolutely no way on this world they could find a way to not care and not want to please people. It’s innate in our biology to want to please people. However, it gets to the point where, is it working for you? Are you feeling fulfilled? Are you resentful? These are questions I would ask. Are you fulfilled? Are you resentful? Are you exhausted? What other questions would you maybe ask people to help them differentiate here or to find a way out?
Shala: Am I really enjoying this? Do I really want to do this? Why am I doing this?
Kimberley: Yeah. What emotion am I trying to avoid? What would I have to feel if I made my own choice? Yeah. There’s some questions I would have people to consider. Okay. So, one more question. You make a choice based on what you want. You do or you don’t please people. Let’s say for the hell of it you dissatisfy somebody. What do you do with that experience?
Shala: First, I think you recognize. You go into this, recognizing that is almost certainly going to happen. There are very few certainties in life. That’s probably one of [35:11 inaudible].
Kimberley: You will disappoint people.
Shala: Yeah. You’re going to disappoint people. And then I think really going to a place of self-compassion. And I’m going to turn it back over to you because you just published an amazing, amazing book that I cannot recommend enough about self-compassion in the treatment of OCD with exposure and response prevention. And I’d love to hear what you think about how you could incorporate self-compassion into this, especially when you do disappoint somebody because I think that’s so important.
Kimberley: Yeah, no, I love that you swing at my way. I think the first thing is to recognize that one of the core components of self-compassion is common humanity, which is recognizing that we’re all in this together, that I’m just a human being. And human beings aren’t ever going to be perfect. Only in our minds that we create the story that we were going to be. So, a lot of self-compassion is that common humanity of, I am a human, humans make mistakes, humans get to do what they need to do and want to do and that we’re not here to please people, and that our worth is not dependent on people enjoying and agreeing with us. And I think that’s a huge reason that my people, like you’ve said, people-please is they’re constantly trying to prove to themselves their worth. So, I would recognize first the common humanity.
And then the other piece is it hurts when you disappoint someone. And so, I think it’s being tender with whatever emotion that shows up—sadness, loss, anger, frustration, fear. A lot of it is fear of abandonment. So I would really tend to those emotions gently and talk to them gently like, “Okay, I notice sadness is here. It makes complete sense that I’m feeling sad. How can I tend to you without pushing you away?” Again, I think sometimes-- I’ve seen this a lot in my daughter’s school. I’ve seen this sometimes, the school has said, “When you’re feeling bad about yourself, just tell yourself how good you are.” And I’m like, that’s really positive, but it actually doesn’t tend to their pain at all. It skips over it and makes it positive.
So I think a big piece of this is to just hold tender your discomfort and find support in like-minded people who want what you want and who are willing to show up. You and I have said before the Brené Brown quote like, “Only take advice from people who are in the ring with you.” And that has been huge for me, is finding support from people who are doing scary things alongside me. Do you have any thoughts?
Shala: Yeah. I think the more that you do this, the more that you’re willing to take care of yourself, because I really do think working on people-pleasing is learning how to take care of you. And that’s so important. And the more that you will do that and go through these very hard exercises of saying no and disappointing people, and then compassionately holding yourself and saying, “It’s okay,” like using the common humanity, recognizing we’re all in this together. Everybody feels like this sometimes. I think the more you do it, then you start to disconnect your worth from other people’s views. And that is where a whole new level of freedom is available to us.
I think that sometimes people-pleasing, because it can be so subtle, isn’t necessarily addressed directly in therapy for anxiety disorder. Sometimes it is when it’s really over. But a lot of times it’s not, and that’s not the fault of the therapist or the client or anything. It’s just, it’s so subtle. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. And so, we finish therapy for anxiety disorders, we feel a lot better, but there’s still a lot of this “should” and “have to,” societal expectations or expectations of other people, which we feel we’re driving our life and we don’t have any control over. And really working on this allows you to recognize that you are a whole good, wonderful person on your own, whether or not other people are pleased with you or not. But that takes a lot of consistent work, big and small, before you can start to see that your worth and other people’s thoughts about you are two separate things that aren’t connected.
Kimberley: Right. Oh, I’m going to leave it there, because that’s the mic drop right there. I love it. Shala, thank you for coming on and talking about this. I really wanted your input on this instead of it just being a podcast of mine. So, thank you. I love your thoughts on this. Where can people hear more about you, your book? Tell us all the things.
Shala: Sure. So, my website is shalanicely.com. So, anyone can go there, and I have three different blogs that I write, all sorts of information about how to manage uncertainty and OCD because that’s my specialty. My memoir, Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, in that I talk a lot about how I dealt with people-pleasing. And in fact, the chapter called Shoulders Back, which is one of the techniques—I said there were many that I used for people-pleasing, that’s one of the techniques that I use—that chapter talks about my journey in learning about how to work through some of this by really putting your shoulders back and acting like all that stuff you hear in your head is relevant. So, that could be a resource for people as well. Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, which I co-wrote with Jon Hershfield, that also has some information on self-compassion as well if people want to learn about writing self-compassion statements. But again, I would also send people to your amazing brand new workbook, which is the only workbook that I know of, the only book that I know of, that talks about doing ERP in a self-compassionate way. So, it’s completely integrated together. And I think that is so important for building a foundation for a good OCD recovery. So, I would definitely send people your way.
Kimberley: Thank you, friend.
Shala: You’re welcome.
Kimberley: Well, there are so many parts of the people-pleasing and the tools in your book as well. I know we’ve talked about that and it’s one of my favorite books of all time. So, definitely for listeners, go and check that out. I am so grateful that you came on.
Shala: Well, thank you. I’m just so honored to be here. It’s always so much fun to talk with you about these topics. So, thank you.
Kimberley: So important. Thank you so much, and I just am so grateful for you.
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