Go Self Yourself: Learning to “Self” without feeling selfish.

Amy Magyar, Coach

“Oh, I can totally help you. Yes, I have two resumes due today for clients and still need to get a workout in and finish my taxes, but I can help…it’s only 8pm…I’ll just drink some chai and stay up all night…all good, I’ve got this…I can totally help you…”

Sound familiar? This is often my conversation on a daily basis with those I love. Well, sometimes it is with those I just like…hell, sometimes it is even with people I don’t like. I am a People Pleaser…and that leads me to do for others before I do for myself.

But I am not just a People Pleaser, I am a People Pleasing Obliger (otherwise known as a PPO but not to be confused with Naughty by Nature’s, OPP song and innuendo…)

A PPO is double trouble for someone who needs to hold herself accountable. I do for everyone else before I do for myself. That leads to me letting myself down on a regular basis, because what MY goals often get pushed aside for others helping them achiever THEIR goals. However, I have found a way to break free from the handcuffs I put on myself as a PPO and have learned to “self” myself. I hope this may be helpful for you if you self-describe as a People Please or Obliger. Or anyone who allows others’ wants and needs to get in front of their own wants and needs.

It all starts first with understanding what an Obliger is. Gretchen Rubin, author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, has helped millions of readers to get happier. In her book, Better Than Before, she tackles the critical question: How can we make good habits and break bad ones? According to Rubin, “Know thyself and thy expectations and you’ll find success in changing your habits.”

It’s very important to know ourselves, but self-knowledge is challenging. Rubin has found a way to sort everyone into four categories, which describe how people tend to respond to expectationsouter expectations (a deadline, a “ask” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important. Rubin shares that “knowing our tendency can help us set up situations in the ways that make it more likely that we’ll achieve our aims. We can make better decisions, meet deadlines, meet our promises to ourselves, suffer less stress, and engage more deeply with others.”

In a nutshell, the Tendencies can be divided into 4 categories:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (my friend Phyllis without a doubt)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my former life partner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike (one of my best friends is a rebel)
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves (I’m an Obliger, 100%)

As an Obliger, I learned that I put others’ needs in front of my own needs.

Oh….I just thought I sucked at setting AND getting the goals I set. But it turns out I don’t suck at it, my tendency is to help others set AND get their goals. Sound familiar? Do you do the same thing? Then keep reading…

The other thing I learned about myself is that my Obliger Tendency also takes the form of People Pleasing…you know, the thing that makes you do things to make others happy…over your own happiness? So, I am a People Pleasing Obliger (PPO). I admit it. It actually makes me super valuable on a team – always doing for others on the team over my own needs, ensuring that everyone is happy, and all is well before I am well. Now, let me say this, I do get into “rebel” Obliger mode occasionally when I finally have my fill of doing for others and just dig my heels in and won’t do for others, but I feel like crap during that rebellion period and then feel shame for “failing” others…it isn’t pretty, the rebellion part and the feelings after. So it doesn’t happen often. But when it does, it leaves me exhausted.

As a Coach, I find I am not the only People Pleasing Obliger in the world. In fact, with the clients I tend to attract, it appears to be a common trait. And that trait often creates issues for my clients. They do for EVERYONE else before they do for THEMSELVES…yet they often come to me to make change for themselves, and when I ask them what might get in the way of that change, they often admit, “Me and my need to please others and help them first over myself.” Ah yes, a sure-fire way to let others’ needs get in the way of your own needs. So, how does a People Pleasing Obliger help herself get out of her own way and tendencies and focus on what she needs? By “selfing”.

Selfish vs. Selfing

The issue is that most People Pleasers feel like if they live their lives pleasing only themselves, they become selfish like “those people” who they have spent their lives abhorring. You know the type, those self-involved, belly button staring people who always want to help you in your time of need with something that sounds like “Ohhh…. that totally happened to me, let me tell you what I did…” and so on. What I ask of my Clients who are PPs is to instead think of it more as “Selfing” versus “Being Selfish”.

Selfing in nature means the self-pollination…this usually happens with flowers when they are alone in the field and don’t see their other kind…they have no one to share with yet the survival of their species depends on sharing and pollinating…so they self-pollinate or said another way, they self-grow. To me, asking my PPs to “self”versus being “selfish” is much healthier. Being selfish usually entails hurting someone else in the process…Selfing on the other hand never actually hurts anyone expect the person who doesn’t do it.

But I had to practice selfing and not feeling selfish. Selfing isn’t easy for a People Pleasing Obliger. As someone who is a People Pleasing Obliger, I do have super powers…I can help others in times of need, but now that I know that I have this tendency to do for others before I do for myself, I have learned that when I decided to “self” myself (sometimes taking the form of taking a nap, passing on a project because it will force me to work over the weekend, or just sitting and watching every episode of “The Crown” back to back on a rainy day instead of cleaning my cellar), I needed to actually tell someone I am going to do that. A crucial element is accountability for me as an Obliger. Late fees, deadlines, monitoring, and consequences enforced from the outside is key to my success. And I am no longer embarrassed by that. When I tell someone that I am going to do it, I do it, right? So why not tell people that I am going to “self” myself? It works the same way.

By telling others about my plan to “self”, I used my super powers of doing for others by actually doing the “selfing” because I didn’t want to disappoint them…

Eventually, the more I “selfed” myself, the more I did it without needing the accountability factor – it became a habit and I no longer need the accountability…ok, well, as much. I still need accountability, but I am able to start to “do for myself” and it feels good.

I may never be an Upholder, but I am no longer a believer that in doing for myself, I am not being selfish. I am self-pollinating…I am allowing myself to grow. And when I grow, anything is possible. I set AND get my goals.

Ready to grow yourself and start selfing? FromWithin Coaching is here to help. Yes, we also work with Upholders, Obligers, and Rebels looking for support – no matter your tendency, if you want to set a goal AND get one, we can help.

Happy to oblige,


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