How I learned to stop being a people-pleaser (and how you can too)

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Niamh Ennis was a dyed-in-the-wool people-pleaser until she broke the cycle and found her voice.

Sometimes we find something that we didn’t even know we were missing.

I’m a right little chatty patty. I am the one that gets put at the relatives' table at weddings so that someone will get the conversation flowing.

I’m the one that feels a sense of responsibility to put people at their ease if I spot someone out of place at a social setting. I am the one that fills the silences in a room. I can’t help myself.

Now I know it’s because I have the gift of putting people at their ease, I’m friendly and I like to think warm and welcoming, when I want to be. But I would be lying if I didn’t reveal just why I developed this skill.

Over the years I developed what I now can see was an obvious trait of a dyed-in-the-wool people-pleaser.

As a younger version of who I am now, I craved acceptance. I wanted to be loved, to be sought after, to be needed

What better way to please people than to make them feel grateful to you for welcoming them into a social setting that had the potential to make them feel uncomfortable.

As a younger version of who I am now, I craved acceptance. I wanted to be loved, to be sought after, to be needed, to be cherished and to be nourished. I just wanted to belong.

In every part of my life this was my aim, to belong, at work, at home, in all of my friendships and relationships. Back then I equated being indispensable to belonging. I was wrong — I just didn’t see it at that time.

Over the years it resulted in my feeling capable in social settings but, and here’s the rub, just because it looks like from the outside that someone has it all together does not mean that this is in fact their reality.

I became skilled at putting on an act of confidence while inside I felt more and more removed from this persona. In my twenties and thirties I’ll admit that alcohol helped but it slowly got to the stage that I wasn’t sure if I was as funny or as interesting without it so I didn’t test it out.

When life started to turn on me a little in my late thirties and I experienced some real grief, I slowly started to realise that now that there was actually some very serious stuff happening in my life that I needed to face it without any buffers.

The phrase ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ really feels appropriate here, as I believe this was a turning point for me and my relationship with alcohol. It was also a time when I would have been excused for looking for some escapism, only I felt deep down I shouldn’t go looking for it. And so thankfully I didn’t.

When you experience a trauma of any kind, the person you are after the event is never the same as the person you were before. This was especially true for me.

Parts of me that changed instantly might surprise you.

  • I became allergic to planning. Seriously allergic.
  •  I also became less confident in large social settings and much preferred the company of people on a 1:1 basis.
  • I needed much less stimuli around me and could feel very overwhelmed if I found myself in environments that didn’t meet this.
  • But the most significant change involved not needing or even wanting to please people the way I did before.
  • I now have an intense need to express myself openly and honestly. I won’t pretend here that I always do it or indeed that it comes easy to me but I’m far more aware of it than I have ever been.
  • I don’t put myself in as many situations that require me to do small talk. I don’t enjoy the feeling of losing control when I drink even a few glasses of wine, I don’t like the person I am with too much drink on me. She talks a lot of rubbish, makes plans she doesn’t want to keep and promises she can’t.
  • Most importantly, I have made a conscious decision (and this one has been huge for me) to only surround myself with people who make me feel good about myself.

I realised that for years while I was rarely alone, and had a large circle of friends, when I thought about those that actually made me feel good about myself the circle got smaller. Much smaller. I learned to accept that and now I love it.

I really investigated why I was so hellbent on putting an image out there of being totally together and strong when the reality was that due to the events in my life I was actually feeling a little broken and lost.

Slowly I let the mask slip. Slowly I started to speak more honestly and to match the person I was inside with the one I showed up to the world as. I began to let the real me be seen by those closest to me. Some coped well with this revelation. Others didn’t. That bit wasn’t easy but I can see it was necessary.

I let the old life that I had built and clung to for years slowly fall away. I changed my career, my living situation, my friendships, everything changed. God it was hard, there were times I wanted to give up and go back to the life I had before but I knew I needed to keep going. I’m glad I did.I learned how to listen to what I really wanted to do and did that.

  • I learned how to tune in to who I wanted to become and I followed that.
  • I learned how to identify who made me feel good about myself and loved them back.
  • I learned what made me happy and I just chased that.
  • I learned the importance of setting boundaries and of knowing what you want rather than what you think others want for you. That was life-changing.My life as it is now is unrecognisable from what it was 15 years ago. And that’s actually been a good thing. That’s growth. Finding my own voice taught me how to be more me and that’s been a revelation. I wish it for everyone.


Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach, working with women who feel ready to make changes in their lives.

Her next workshop ‘Find Your Voice & Take a Leap of Faith’ takes place on 29th February, 2020 in The Calm Rooms, Monkstown, Dublin. A limited number of tickets are available now by clicking here

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