People Pleasing After WLS

You Can Overcome the Disease of People Pleasing After WLS

March 9, 2018

It is so interesting that I was asked to write an article on this subject matter. As a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, and a long-term post-op myself, people pleasing is one of my favorite subjects to support my clients to let go of.

Personally, I have a good deal of experience with this subject. I am raising my hand because I too have spent a lifetime struggling to let go of people pleasing. If you are not aware, people pleasing is one of the criteria for Co-Dependency, a term coined by Alcoholics Anonymous many years ago to describe an addiction to a person, not a specific drug of choice.

If you look up "Co-Dependency" one of the many co-dependency traits includes low self-esteem, people pleasing, poor boundaries, excessive care-taking and problems with intimacy and unhealthy relationships.

People Pleasing After WLS

Does any of this describe you? I wouldn’t say that people pleasing is a trait that stands on its own. It generally comes from a dysfunctional family system.

Now we get to the compulsive eating component, weight gain issues that we as post-bariatric patients have experienced. I was morbidly obese; my BMI pre-surgery was 50.0, now it is 21.4. It’s insane to think that you can change so much through the weight loss surgery process.

Many people with addictive behaviors struggle with people pleasing. It is just one of those areas that come along from an unhealthy family system. Did you come from an unhealthy family system? Was food used as a reward or a way to control your behavior? It’s hard to say because we all have our own stories. But the fact is that we become people pleasers with the illusion that we can please people, instead of it not as a choice others make to please themselves.

Let me say that again, we chose to be happy, pleased, it’s no one else’s job to do that for us.  And thus it is not our job to do that for others.

One of the truths of people pleasing is that we actually harm others. The more people pleasing, or what I like to call enabling in our lives, creates addiction, no matter what your drug of choice is, even food.

The Decision To Have Surgery

So, we get to the place where we make a decision to have the surgery. We try for years and years to let go of the coping skill of eating in order to not feel the pain from our unhealthy childhoods. We all have a different story, but somewhere in our childhood was a need that was not met for the child that we were.

We learn that controlling food is one of the few things that we actually can control in our dysfunctional world.  Eventually, we recognize that living as a morbidly obese person is not meeting our needs, and it is affecting our health and causing deeper pain and shame.

For many of us, we make the decision to have bariatric surgery, in a small way hoping it will be the magic pill to bring us happiness in our life. But, guess what, it doesn’t, because we actually decide if we are happy in every moment of our lives.

We come to the place that we have had the surgery and that our coping skill of food is stripped from us, and the feelings that we have been hiding from start to make their way to the surface. There is no way to hide from the pain of whatever you have been through in your life.

The question that started this dialogue was, how to stop being a people pleaser after we have bariatric surgery. As a person in recovery, that is a complicated question and an equally complicated answer. Obviously, the first thing that is necessary to begin change is recognizing that there is a problem in the first place.

Why Don't They Please Me Back?

Does people pleasing bring you joy at times? I’ll bet it does, and at times does it also create resentment?  For instance, do you ask yourself “I did this for them, why aren’t they reciprocating?”  The answer to that question is, quite frankly, they don’t have to.  And maybe they, unlike you, are not living under the illusion that we are responsible for other’s feelings. In fact, we are completely incapable of causing, curing or changing anyone’s thoughts or feelings.

Wow, that is a tough pill to swallow. Do I mean that we can’t manipulate and control by being nice to others?  Well, they may allow us to believe it is true to get what they want, however, eventually we will find out that they were pressing our buttons and going along with what has got them what they have wanted, and basically the pattern goes on.

How do you let these feelings go away?  First of all, gaining insight, just noticing what your part in the unhealthy family system is will be so beneficial to that insight globalizing to you and eventually changing your thoughts and feelings.

For instance, if someone asks me to do something for him or her, I will do a check-in my own self, do I or don’t I want to do this thing? Will it create resentment at a later date?  Will it create an expectation, which I define as a planned resentment if I were to meet this other person’s needs?  If you can answer these questions honestly, then you are closer to the place of saying yes or no to the request given to you.

Saying no is big deal; trust me you won’t die if you say it. You may feel guilty; however, making a decision out of guilt is not healthy for you or the person that you are deciding for.

Learn How To Say No

Here is my plan that I teach to my clients. Someone asks you a favor, you answer “Let me think about it and I will get back to you”. You consider the favor; decide if resentment could possibly sneak in if you were to say yes. That is the very data that you need to know to say the word NO.

Now, will the person be mad at you, possibly, because you have taught people how you respond and now you are changing things up on them. There will be pushback.

Pushback is when they will try and get you to change your mind and cave in. Guess what, you can cave in. However, these traits are some of the very traits that can later cause you to regain some of the weight you lost post-op.

The art of people pleasing has never really helped anyone. I want you to consider this, you may be saying to yourself, that I don’t know what I'm talking about, and think that it is selfish and wrong to say no. How many times has resentment caused you to eat the wrong food, so that you would not feel that horrible feeling of guilt? Just think about it. It took me many years to really learn this new way of thinking. Now, it is second nature. Which, by the way, can frustrate others. Oh well, that is their choice to feel frustration and it is our choice to feel empowered by the word NO.

If you need support, consider working with an experienced mental health professional  There are many recovery programs that help with this behavior that are free. Google the subject, go to a class, and become more self-aware.

Take care of this so people pleasing won’t be a stumbling block for you as a post-op patient and impact your success.


Carol Adkisson is an author, speaker, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is the owner of a private practice, founder and CEO of a group non-profit, The Trauma and Healing Foundation. Carol specializes in anxiety, depression, trauma, couples therapy, ADHD, substance issues, weight loss & bariatric surgery, and 12 step recovery. Join her Facebook group Emotional/Mental Support for Bariatric Patients!

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