Breaking Free: Unravelling the Roots of People-Pleasing and Codependency

By Susan Ball, Abuse Recovery Mentor.

In the intricate tapestry of human behaviour, the powerful and unhealthy pattern of people-pleasing and codependency exists. They masquerade as acts of kindness or selflessness, but beneath the surface, they often stem from deep-seated childhood traumas and/or social scripts, big or small, that have left lasting imprints on our emotions, behaviours, and adult relationships.

As children, we are presented with an incredible amount of information, rules, dos and don’ts, what is expected of us, and how we will be chastised if we are not behaving as expected. It’s a lot of noise and our child imprints the messages in a variety of ways, some healthy and unhealthy. When our environment is dismissive of our feelings, needs, wants, and desires we learn strategies in order to survive. These survival strategies can be seen in the patterns we repeat as adults.

As a child seeking a sense of safety and belonging, we begin to unconditionally appease our unpredictable caregivers, avoiding conflict, in order to feel validated. These behaviours become ingrained as coping mechanisms. As we grow older, they manifest as patterns of people-pleasing and codependency, where our sense of self-worth becomes entangled with the approval and validation of others.

But why do we fall into this cycle? The answer lies in the developmental stages of childhood, where our sense of self is shaped by our early experiences. Big or small traumas, such as emotional neglect, criticism, or inconsistency in caregiving, can leave us feeling insecure and unworthy. In an attempt to regain a sense of control and security, we learn to prioritize the needs of others over our own, seeking external validation as a means of self-preservation.

Sadly, the consequences of these survival strategies are far-reaching and will impact our sense of self and how we interact in adult relationships and situations. People-pleasing and codependency also create resentment, exhaustion, and a perpetual cycle of seeking external validation and reassurance we have gotten it right. We become trapped in a never-ending hunt for approval, sacrificing our own needs and desires in the process.

So how do we break free from this cycle? 

Step One: recognize and acknowledge the roots of our people-pleasing tendencies. By understanding the connection between our childhood experiences and our present behaviours, we can begin to unravel the patterns that keep us stuck.

Step Two: cultivate self-awareness and self-compassion. This involves tuning into our own needs and desires, and learning to prioritize self-care without guilt or shame. It means setting boundaries, saying no when necessary, and honouring our own values and beliefs, even if it means risking disapproval from others.

Step Three: seek support (not validation!) from therapists, support groups, or trusted friends. Create a circle of support soft enough for safety and emotional release and strong enough to speak the truth when you are sliding back into old, unhealthy behaviours and patterns.

By unpacking our past traumas and gaining insight into our patterns of behaviour, we can begin to rewrite the narratives that have held us captive for so long.

The benefits of breaking free from people-pleasing and codependency are big, bold, and beautiful. Not only do we reclaim our sense of self-worth and autonomy, but we also cultivate healthier relationships based on mutual respect and genuine connection. We become more resilient in the face of adversity, and we no longer rely on external validation to validate our own worth.

And the bonus of freeing ourselves from the restraints of people-pleasing, we open up a world of unlimited possibilities. We become more authentic and aligned with our true selves, allowing us to pursue our passions and dreams without inhibition. We embrace vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness, and we experience a newfound sense of empowerment as we navigate the complexities of life on our own terms.

In conclusion, people-pleasing and codependency are survival strategies rooted in childhood trauma and social scripts, but they do not need to define our lives. By unravelling the patterns of behaviour that keep us trapped in cycles of validation-seeking, we can reclaim our sense of self and create a life that is unapologetic, fulfilling, and free. It is a journey of self-discovery and healing, but the rewards are immeasurable. 

I encourage everyone to embark on this journey and reclaim their power to live life on their own terms. Once we see and experience the benefits of leaving our people-pleasing and codependency behind us, we’re left wondering why we didn’t start sooner.

Susan Ball is an Abuse Recovery Expert who works with women ready to free their voice, break the cycle, and live life unapologetically. You can begin your healing journey by downloading her free ebook “Falling in Love with Myself Again” right here.

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