Why do i constantly feel pressured to be what other people want, and how do I overcome this?

In my day to day, I often have this brimming pressure to obide by what other people want, over what i want. I constantly feel a pressure to hide myself, only showing the best parts of me. I feel alone, like no one will ever truly understand me and who i am. I'm aware I have these insecurities, but I'm not sure how to deal with them.
Asked by Gina

Thank you for reaching out and for submitting your question. I am sorry you are experiencing some challenges in your life at this time.

A lot of people struggle with the pressure of feeling like they must constantly adjust themselves in order to fit in and conform. This is not uncommon and you most certainly are not alone.

Expectations in and of themselves are not bad. And we all have them – for ourselves and for others. But there definitely can be a problem when too much emphasis is placed on the expectations others hold for us. It can escalate to the point wherein we begin feeling like we are just living to gain their approval. We lose ourselves in the process. We start to forget who we really are. We get stuck in this cycle and don’t know how to make it stop.

Why do some people do this?

They could have a strong need for external validation. It might be to impress or please others. It could be to avoid judgment or rejection. Some might have an overwhelming need to try and get along with others and to feel like they fit in. They might want to appear a certain way so that a particular person or group will accept them. And they might not be very clear about what their true identity actually is.

What really is the trouble with living your life according to other people’s expectations?

For one, they will not necessarily reflect what the right things are for you personally. Another individual might have quite good intentions, but regardless of this their expectations for you will be based almost exclusively on themselves – it will be based upon their values, their pains, their opinions, their beliefs, their goals, their disappointments, their failures, their dreams, and their own personal experiences. So really where are you in all that? The reality is that it will not be about you. Instead everything is really more all about them. It will not really be a good guide for living your own life. 

Also, expectations have a tendency to be unrealistic. They are usually visions in the mind which are not always based on good, solid reality. They might not account for what is realistic for you. They might not be very reasonable. And when you try to live up the expectations which are not very fair, it is a guarantee that you will fail.

Then, too, expectations can become contradictory. You likely have more than one person in your life. And each person can have wildly differing expectations. Then it becomes a matter of not being able to please anyone because it is impossible to please everyone at the same time. If you are finding you keep striving to please others then it will be an exercise in constant disappointment and failure.

Within you, all of this can have a tendency to build resentment and anger. We keep denying ourselves and that ends up building resentment. Also, it can hinder your ability to know what you want and to make decisions. When we let other voices take the lead, we run the risk of losing our own – we forget what our voice says. We no longer know what our own opinion is. This can lower self-esteem over time. Ultimately, all of this can contribute to depression. You can’t please others. You can’t be your real self. It is a lose-lose for everyone – and most importantly it results in internal conflict and can result in you becoming increasingly depressed.

How do you break this cycle?

For one, begin to build up your own voice. Journalling can be a helpful tool here. You will want to begin spending some time alone and asking yourself what you want. Begin seeking to understand what your opinions are. Figure out what you really want and need. Eventually, you want to begin practicing talking about all of this. You will want to practice letting others know what you think, what you desire. Do not get defensive about it, as if you now have something to prove or an axe to grind. You just want to be positive and affirmative in expressing more of your genuine self.

It can help to begin surrounding yourself with more and more people who are willing to accept you as you are. If certain people have a tendency to make you feel badly about yourself, it might be time to spend a little less time around them.

If this continues to be an ongoing challenge for you it can be helpful to consider working with a therapist. In the therapy room you will have an opportunity to get a better sense of what is keeping you stuck in this pattern. You will also have a chance to begin learning and practicing some skills that will assist you in moving forward in new and different direction. A therapist, too, can be a great resource for helping you begin to improve your self-worth and self-esteem, which can make it easier over time to be more confident in yourself and less susceptible to worrying about meeting other people’s expectations for you. A therapist can also ask you lots of questions which will help you really get to know yourself better – which will improve your ability in feeling more comfortable being true to yourself.