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Empathetic Empowerment: Embracing Your True Nature Beyond People-Pleasing

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by Helen Snape,
Contributing Author, Conscious Reminder

I often meet people that identify themselves either as an empath or a people-pleaser and then wonder if they are the other thing, a people-pleaser, or an empath, too.

Let’s get some definitions in here first.

What is a People-Pleaser?

Whilst we can talk about ‘people-pleasers’, I find it is more accurate to talk about people who are following a people-pleasing pattern.

What does it look like? Common signs you are in a people-pleasing pattern include saying ‘yes’ to requests immediately and then regretting it, feeling guilty saying ‘no’, finding it hard to make your own decisions, pretending everything is fine, not expressing your needs or feelings and needing others approval in order to feel good about yourself.

People-pleasers have beautiful strengths. They are often deeply caring, can often intuit someone else’s thoughts and feelings, can read the energy of a room, make great team players and have strong work ethics.

However, people-pleasing has unintended and unwanted consequences for the individual and those around them too. For the individual, it includes building resentments, overworking, over-committing, feeling taken advantage of and not experiencing true connection or intimacy in relationships.

People-pleasing is a well and truly ingrained pattern of behaviors, thoughts, feelings and energy that some people develop, usually in childhood, to keep safe and maintain their connection with their caregivers. Or they might develop the pattern as a way of fitting in in a harsh world, where what makes them different from other people isn’t accepted. Or the pattern can kick in as a protective response to trauma. The motivation is the fear of disappointing others or of being rejected.

What is an empath?

Empaths have a heightened sense of empathy, are deeply attuned to the feelings of others and are often more sensitive to any kind of stimuli to the senses. There are different kinds of empaths, such as physical, emotional, intuitive, and so on.

Empaths share characteristics of Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) such as sensitivity to light, sound, smell and a low threshold for stimulation. They don’t like being around large groups of people and prefer quiet spaces, particularly in nature.

In addition, empaths absorb into their bodies the energy, emotions and physical sensations of other people. They can also have extraordinary intuitive or spiritual insights and experiences.

Whether you are an empath or not depends on a mixture of your inborn temperament, how you were raised as a child and early adverse experiences in life.

So, what is the key differentiator between people-pleasing and being empathic?

People-pleasing is a protective survival strategy. You do it because you feel you need others’ approval and you can’t face conflict. You prioritize others needs, even at your own expense and may neglect your own boundaries and values. It’s not a conscious choice though and you continue to follow this pattern even when it no longer serves you. Until you do the work to break free of it.

Empathy is about being able to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their point of view and resonate with how they feel. It’s about showing care from true understanding and connection.

Can you be a people-pleaser and not an empath?

Most people that identify they have people-pleasing patterns would also identify themselves as caring, loving individuals that love helping other people. And they have a heightened awareness of others’ feelings. But they don’t necessarily identify as empaths.

Can you be an empath and a people-pleaser?

Absolutely. In fact, it’s pretty common for empaths to get caught in the people-pleasing pattern, particularly if they haven’t been taught how to manage their high sensitivity and haven’t learnt how to identify, communicate and hold onto strong, loving, boundaries. They can easily get so caught up in helping others that they can begin to neglect their own needs and self-care.

Or if an empath has experienced trauma, they may have developed the fawn response, or people-pleasing, as a survival strategy.

I am writing this as someone who would describe themselves as both an empath and a recovering people-pleaser. I have learnt that I feel better and stronger when I embrace all my parts, the light and the shadow. They have all helped me get to where I am today and for that, I am grateful.

What is your experience? Drop a comment below, I would love to know!

About the Author: Helen Snape is an award-winning Relationships Coach who helps women put themselves first, without guilt, so they build balanced and rewarding relationships and enjoy life again.

Helen has been coaching for over 10 years, has a degree in Psychology from the University of Warwick and is qualified in mindfulness, body-oriented coaching and coaching with trauma. An award-winning speaker, Helen has been interviewed on BBC Radio, the Women’s Economic Forum and been featured in Happiful magazine. Helen is also author of ‘Building Healthy Boundaries – an over-giver’s guide on when to say Yes and how to say No in Relationships’.

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