Pleasing People Doesn’t Help My MS

Stress plays a significant role in autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). This has been true in my case, as well as many others with MS. One primary cause of stress for me is the tendency to constantly please others, a behavior known as people-pleasing. Many individuals with MS can relate to this.

How To Stop People Pleasing

But what exactly is people-pleasing? According to life coach Kaliopi Nikitas, it is a habitual act of prioritizing others' needs over one's own. It is a reflexive coping mechanism, often developed in early life. People-pleasing involves suppressing emotions, inhibiting self-expression, and struggling to say no.

Although I have struggled with this as far as I can remember, I only realized how much of a problem it was after reading psychiatrist Gabor Máte's book, When the Body Says No. Máte explains how the inability to say no leads to chronic stress. This chronic stress weakens the immune system by increasing stress hormones like cortisol, making individuals susceptible to chronic diseases.

I believe in Máte's theory. When our bodies are overwhelmed with stress, they may choose illness as a way out. This thought resonated with me when I was diagnosed with MS 30 years ago, and it continues to do so today. Despite my efforts to spread awareness about the importance of saying no and putting our own needs first, I still struggle with people-pleasing on a daily basis.

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It's strange how I have written extensively about the value of saying no and avoiding people-pleasing in my books and articles. I have also given lectures and workshops on this topic, where I even sold buttons that read No more nice girl and No more nice guy. These buttons were incredibly popular. However, in my personal life, I still have difficulty saying no.

According to Dr. Máte, I shouldn't feel guilty about people-pleasing. Many individuals engage in this behavior, which stems from our need for love and validation from our caregivers. In my case, I believe my mother's stress contributed to my people-pleasing tendencies. Perhaps she too experienced stress from her own upbringing, and I wanted to alleviate that for her. I don't blame her; her anxiety left a lasting impact on me.

I become extremely anxious when I feel attacked, and I feel uneasy in the presence of others' anxiety or conflicts, even if I'm not directly involved. My need for harmony compels me to soothe angry individuals and uplift those who are sad. In addition to providing emotional support, I also try to please others in various ways. I hate inconveniencing people and disappointing them, leading to constant low-level stress.

It's important to remember that conflict is inevitable, and there will be times when we inconvenience or disappoint others. If we believe that we can't inconvenience anyone, we will be stressed no matter what we do. This stress can arise from doing things we don't want to do or feeling guilty for not doing them. Sometimes, we may not even be aware of our attitudes and the underlying fear that people won't love us if we don't give enough. Our bodies, however, always know the truth.

To determine whether you are people-pleasing, consider some everyday examples provided by Coach Nikitas: saying yes to a last-minute report to please your boss, staying up late to watch TV with your spouse because you fear neglecting them, or talking on the phone with your mother for an hour instead of attending yoga class to avoid feeling guilty. These instances highlight the pattern of people-pleasing behavior.