Lessons from Dr. Phil on the Perils of People Pleasing: From a Recovering People Pleaser

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Cheryl Shepherd


Friendship is a beautiful aspect of life that brings joy, support, and companionship. However, when the desire to please others takes precedence over our own needs and values, it can lead to an imbalance in our relationships. People-pleasing, while often well-intentioned, can hinder the development of authentic friendships, further damaging our fragile self-worth.

I was recently reminded of my journey of learning how to avoid the pitfalls of people-pleasing and foster genuine connections by starting with learning to love myself. A dear friend recalled one of our first phone conversations when we discussed people-pleasing. She mentioned an episode of Dr. Phil from years ago, stating that what she learned on that show was “life-changing.” I chuckled to myself, contemplating whether I should tell her that I was actually on that episode. When I finally revealed the truth, her reaction was more exuberant than I had expected. What struck me was that the words she spoke were the same words I used to convince my husband to go on the show with me, despite his initial reluctance. I had said, “What if doing this show could change just one person’s life?” The statement seemed dramatic even to me, but my friend echoed those very words. It made me wonder if I had heard her correctly.

Reflecting on that time, my friend helped me understand why someone might find the advice from Dr. Phil on that show “life-changing.” For me, his advice was indeed profound, and I carried the lessons I learned with me, building upon them over the years.

These are the life-altering lessons, simple yet not easy. The first lesson is about the dangers of people-pleasing. Rooted in the fear of rejection or conflict, people-pleasing involves constantly seeking approval and prioritizing others’ needs over our own. While it may seem like a selfless act, it can have detrimental effects on our well-being, friendships, and self-worth.

Dr. Phil also emphasized the loss of authenticity that comes with people-pleasing. When we constantly strive to please others, we suppress our true selves, leading to a lack of authenticity in our friendships. Genuine connections are built on mutual understanding, acceptance, and respect for each other’s individuality. By sacrificing our own needs and desires, we risk losing our unique identity and becoming mere reflections of others’ expectations. I had to be honest and admit that this was true of me.

Another lesson I gleaned from Dr. Phil was the imbalance in relationships that people-pleasing often creates. In friendships, one person may consistently give while the other takes. This dynamic can lead to resentment, as the people-pleaser may feel unappreciated or taken advantage of. Genuine friendships thrive on reciprocity, where both parties contribute equally and support each other’s growth.

Emotional exhaustion was a realization that came to me when contemplating everything I had learned after the show aired. Constantly striving to meet others’ expectations can be emotionally draining. People-pleasers often find themselves overwhelmed, struggling to maintain a facade of perfection and meet everyone’s demands. This exhaustion hinders the ability to form deep, meaningful connections, leaving little energy for self-care and genuine emotional investment. Moments that should be shared as memorable experiences become blurred, vague memories of overexertion and regret.

Fostering authentic friendships became my mission. I realized that self-awareness and the ability to recognize my own needs, values, and boundaries were essential for my survival. It wasn’t an easy task, and it didn’t happen overnight. Understanding that it is okay to prioritize our well-being and say no when necessary was uncomfortable at first. However, over time, I discovered that by being true to ourselves, we attract friends who appreciate and respect our authenticity.

Communication emerged as another major lesson from this unique experience. Open and honest communication is vital in any friendship, and it became even more crucial with my best friend, my husband, who often took a back seat to those who demanded much of my attention previously. To be authentic, we must express our thoughts, feelings, and concerns openly, while also actively listening to our friends, spouses, and family. Healthy friendships and relationships are built on mutual understanding and acceptance of each other’s perspectives.

Establishing healthy boundaries was and still is one of the most challenging lessons I had to learn. Learning to say no when overwhelmed or when a request compromises our values doesn’t come easy for a recovering people-pleaser. However, boundaries are essential because they create a balanced dynamic and foster respect for each other’s individuality.

Finally, there is the dynamic of mutual support. Authentic friendships are characterized by mutual support and encouragement. We should celebrate each other’s successes, provide a listening ear during challenging times, and offer constructive feedback when needed. By nurturing a supportive environment, we create a space where both parties can grow and thrive.

The most meaningful moment of this experience wasn’t even on camera but during a commercial break when Dr. Phil, known for his sometimes harsh approach, leaned over to me and quietly said, “God made you beautiful, articulate, and intelligent, and you need to believe you are worthy of true friendship.” That moment will be etched in my memory forever because it was life-changing for me. He saw a person who didn’t see her own value and spoke words of encouragement and affirmation, much more than psychological advice. It was as if a father was speaking to his daughter. From that point on, I wanted to give that gift to others who may not believe they are worthy of love.

From a Christian perspective, people-pleasing can be seen as a stumbling block in our faith journey. A powerful passage in the Bible, Galatians 1:10, asks, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” As followers of Christ, our ultimate aim should be to please God rather than seeking validation from others. This is where we find our true self-worth. Jesus teaches us to love one another as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and to prioritize our relationship with Him above all else (Matthew 6:33). By aligning our actions and intentions with God’s will, we can cultivate friendships rooted in love, authenticity, and mutual respect. As we seek to please God, we can trust that He will guide us in forming genuine connections that honor Him and bring joy and fulfillment to our lives.

While the desire to please others is natural, it is essential to strike a balance between meeting others’ needs and prioritizing our own well-being, keeping God as our main priority. Authentic friendships are built on mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance of each other’s individuality. By embracing our identity in Christ and who we were created to be, setting healthy boundaries, and fostering open communication, we can cultivate genuine connections that enrich our lives. Remember, as this wise doctor reminded me, true friends appreciate you for who you are, not for what you can do for them.

Dedicated to Gavi. 💞 Thank you for the reminder that started a lasting friendship for which I am eternally grateful!

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