Being of service feeds our soul. But what is the difference between truly being of service and merely people pleasing?
When you are being of service your actions are authentic and nourish your soul. You know that you are making a difference in someone’s life, and therefore, in the world. You know that you are creating and spreading more kindness. Other times you may think you are being of service, and then, all of sudden, you are driving to someone’s home to deliver a meal, or walking someone’s dog, or doing whatever favor you have offered to do, and you begin to feel resentful, even angry.
This is a really good sign that you are merely trying to please someone, rather than be of service. Whatever your reasons for people pleasing, here are some excellent signs to help you identify when you are doing just that:
- feeling exhausted by others’ demands;
- assuming that you have to be everything to everybody;
- sensing you are in charge of another’s happiness,
- and feeling guilty when they put themselves first.
Usually when the people-pleasing motive takes over, it is because you are not connected to your own feelings of self love. You may be looking outside yourself to others to fill a sense of lack within yourself. Pleasing can lead to isolating yourself from Source, from others, and from yourself.
Why does people pleasing lead to isolation? Because you are giving away your power.
There is a reason why, during the safety demonstrations on commercial flights, the attendants remind us to put on our own oxygen masks first before attempting to help others. We have to take care of ourselves first to avoid the burnout that makes it impossible for us to truly care and be of service to others. Becoming a people pleaser usually derives from early childhood conditioning by your family, your teachers, or other role models in your life. Have you always been told to be a good girl or good boy? Or perhaps, that you are a good boy or girl. Negative motives— such as doing things because you do not want to offend someone or simply because you think you should—bring negative consequences. The “shoulds” in life get you into trouble because then you are not listening to what your soul is calling you to do. Your motive and your soul are not aligned and this causes disharmony in your life.
If you discover that you are always putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, then perhaps it is time to slow down and check in. Ask yourself: Does my life benefit from my continuing to be this way?
If you discover that you are always putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, then perhaps it is time to slow down and check in. Ask yourself: Does my life benefit from my continuing to be this way? Promise yourself that the next time someone asks something of you that rather that just responding automatically “yes” out of habit, you instead say “Can I get back to you about this?” Give yourself the time to really check in. Discover whether you really do have the time and space to help. Ask yourself on a soul level whether this is really what you want to do.
Cultivate the new habit of really listening to that deep, loving voice inside yourself. Learn to listen to your soul’s voice and to your body; if something doesn’t feel right there, say “no”. If you really believe and live by the principle that what is the highest good for one is for the highest good for all, then your decisions really should be based on the intention with which you do or don’t do something. People pleasing is not a good intention or motive. Let’s say that you agree to cook for someone because you think you should and you have not eaten yourself that day and you are feeling resentful. So when you deliver the meal, you bring that negative energy along with the food. Is that truly being of service?
Let’s look at some other tools you can develop and practice to change from living in that automatic, default mode and instead get in touch with your own needs.
- Ask yourself, “Have I filled up my own cup?”
- Check in before responding and ask: “Is this something I want to do?”
- When in doubt, try this: Put your hand on your heart and say “Yes, I would be happy to do that” out loud and notice how that feels in your body which will always speak to you. Do you feel a tightening in your chest, stomach or throat?
- A moment or two later, put your hand on your heart and say “Sorry, no, I am not able to do this at this time.” Notice how that feels in your body.
- This exercise will help you feel what is truly your truth, for the universe responds by vibration, and will never try to punish or reward you. It just invites you to come back to the state of unconditional love, which is your birthright.
Another reason you may return to the default position of saying “yes” when that answer is not what you feel, is that you lack not just self-love, but self-worth.
Another reason you may return to the default position of saying “yes” when that answer is not what you feel, is that you lack not just self-love, but self-worth. You have deservedness issues and worry that people will not like you if you are not always there at their beck and call. Perhaps you are frightened of upsetting someone if you say “no” to their demands. But then you are putting the feelings of others before your own. Is that fair? Certainly it is not fair to yourself who deserves your own needs to be met as well.
Really coming into this place of love is about speaking up for yourself, speaking your truth from a loving place, but loving yourself and feeling worthy enough to do that. Giving voice to your feelings of deservedness extends even to what may start with a small thing. Let’s say you are in a restaurant and you are not brought what you ordered. Rather than being nervous or worried about offending the waiter and eating something you don’t like, begin here to speak your truth. “This is not what I ordered.” Saying “no” to the small stuff with someone who feels safe and is obliged to serve you will let you practice with bigger stuff.
Really get connected to your truth, your inner guidance, connected to your higher self. Other practices such as daily meditation, quiet time, journaling and conscious practice will further foster this connection. The more you do this the more connected you become, and then the new habit just becomes your way of living.
Creating and observing healthy boundaries is also vital to this process. If this is not something you normally do, think of building this habit as if it were a muscle you are trying to strengthen. The more you practice good boundaries, the stronger they become.
Another way of thinking about this distinction between true service and automatic people pleasing involves the concept of personal balance. Imagine your life as a weighing scale that is always tipped to one side because you are always saying “yes, yes, yes” to others even when your physical, emotional or spiritual body is begging you to rest and regenerate. As you practice learning to say “no”, the first few tries might be difficult for you, and so awkward it is as if the scale tips with a thud to the other side.
Despite the temporary imbalance, know that if you just check in and trust that you are making your choices always for the highest good for all and that you are becoming more aligned with your soul, then you are healing and affirming your own self worth. You will eventually achieve a new steadiness, your personal scale will balance again, and the people who truly care about you and love you will respect and honor you for it.
My invitation to you is give yourself this tremendous gift.