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"Selfish" versus "People Pleaser" - what's your tendency?


We all see the world through our own unique lens. Each of us has a habitual way of seeing

things which impacts our thoughts, where we place our attention and how we run our energy. The origins of this lie in our early life experiences – both actual experiences and our interpretation of them.

In psychological terms we speak of your capacity to “reference”. This means your capacity to accurately assess your own experience in a situation and also to assess the experience of others. The capacity to accurately identify your own thoughts, feelings and inner experience is “self-referencing” and the ability to identify the inner experience of another is “other-referencing”.

The question is:

  • Which lens do you see the world through?

  • Do you lean towards making it all about you, or all about others?

  • Are you not even sure what your tendency is?

Referencing is a skill that develops out of habitual patterns we develop as children to get our needs met. If we reference only ourselves at the expense of others it is what we might consider “selfish”. If we reference others at our own expense, we are “people pleasers”. Neither is the ideal way to habitually live. As mature adults we want to have a healthy ability to reference both self and other rather than solely one or the other.

It is important that we are equipped to reference both and to recognise whose experience we are referencing in any situation. This is the foundation of successful self-awareness and connection with others. Referencing self or other requires a particular and different set of energetic awareness skills.

Why People Struggle with Referencing There are several reasons why our ability to reference in a balanced way gets disrupted and distorted.

To survive our early family environment, we may need to shift our focus overly towards other people to meet their needs (and abandon our own). Thus, we learn to reference others habitually.

In some families there are norms of behaviour that everyone or, sometimes women in particular must defer their needs for others. There is a family pattern of shaming behaviour that references an individual’s own needs In larger society there is still a strong undercurrent that women should sacrifice their needs for those of others and that it is selfish to put yourself first.

Which One Are You?

A good way to find out where you lie on the spectrum is to identify your first thought in a group situation. Do have a natural predisposition to reference yourself – is your first thought “what do I think and feel about this? or, “What do I want here?” Or is your first response to reference others - “What is that person’s experience and what do they want or need?

It is also possible that you don’t reference either yourself or others particularly well or that you reference the rules above both self and other. (In this case your natural thought will be “What do the rules say?” or “Are we following the rules?”).

It’s All About OTHERS If you are very sensitive energetically and psychically you are naturally very good at reading the energy of other people and sensing their needs. This is a very useful skill but only if you can also reference your OWN needs. Otherwise you are stuck knowing what others want and responding to that and not knowing what you want. This is very disempowering and actually annoying and frustrating for others who want to know what your view point is and don’t want to have to guess.

It’s All About ME On the flip side, if you are very skilled at referencing yourself this means you know your own mind, opinions and thoughts from the get go. This certainty is very helpful and can be very charismatic to others. It is a characteristic of many successful leaders. It can cause problems in interpersonal relationships if you don’t also have the ability to sense and detect what another is experiencing, if you don’t particularly care about others or if you are unable to compromise. How to Self-Reference Self-referencing is an energetic skill we all need and, as I said, some people naturally do it. Fortunately, it can be learnt. First off you need to find your midline which is the line that runs from the perineum up your spine and out the top of your head. This is your ‘core’ or ‘midline’. Place your awareness / attention on the base of spine and run it up to top of your head a couple of times. This connects you to your core. Your centre.

Your core is the place where you are the most “you” that you can be. It’s where your you-ness originates. It’s the place you need to come back to if you want to know whether something is right for you.

If finding your core and keeping your attention there is hard for you, you need to practice it because you need to learn to reference your core and inner world. Whether it’s knowing the small things like what to order for lunch or the big things like whether to invest all your money with someone, you need to be able to tell whether something is right for you.

You have both a need and a right to self-reference just as you also have a need to be able to reference others. For most of us being aware of our natural leaning and then working to come into balance takes time and effort but is all part of developing a healthy and balanced way of showing up in our lives. **Self-referencing exercise from the work of Steven Kessler and his amazing book 5 Personality Patterns which you can click to buy here.


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