For most of my life I have been a people pleaser. It’s a part of my personality carried down through generations, which I’ve been aware of but which has been improving over the last few years. Loving kindness (“metta”) has been a cornerstone meditation practice in my life probably because of the deep way in which it has impacted my life and relationships. When I have found myself in some challenging situations lately, I have returned to the practice of loving kindness to others and to myself. May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you live in the wisdom of your heart. May you be loved. Sitting, feeling the rhythms of the breath, feeling the pulsations in the heart, I silently repeat these phrases and wishes while bringing myself and then certain people to mind. I have to admit I (like many) find it easier to practice this for others than for myself. This is a common theme among people pleasers I have noticed. Yet we know that when we do this without including ourselves, we continue to experience suffering.
However, sometimes it’s difficult to practice loving kindness and the more difficult I find that inclination the more I notice self-judgement. While before that cycle would lead me on a downward spiral, in recent years, I feel the strength of my mindfulness practice reminding me to soften. I enter my body and my breath and see the fullness of the moment. I am reminded that relationships are complicated and complex – and the more history or trauma there is, the harder it can be to wish loving kindness towards the person – even if you love them dearly.
Soften and be gentle. We are not perfect or idolized human beings. We cannot expect to feel kindness towards everyone. This is not meant to be easy. All we can do is be the best we can, without sacrificing our integrity, and continue to incline our minds and hearts in that direction. This is how we cultivate heartfulness. It’s setting the intention that matters in the practice, not evaluating how well/not well we are doing.
I seemingly work with a lot of folks around ways to be less of a people pleaser and to learn to assert needs and boundaries. It’s a beautiful thing to witness people as they blossom, like flowers, and come more into their own – to notice how their body language changes, as they become more confident and empowered. Through supporting others in their healing and growth, I also learn and grow. It’s a privilege to be a part of their journey and one of the many reasons I love my work.
However, it recently “clicked” for me after working with a series of folks wanting to reduce their people pleasing tendency, that setting healthy boundaries can be thought of as a form of loving kindness. You cannot and neither should you practice loving kindness with everyone. Or should you? Are toxic relationships necessary to support your growth? Does it make you any “less” of a human being or “unworthy” if you cannot find these wishes for someone? I have questioned this myself time and time again and these are some of the faulty beliefs that seem to operate for many of the clients I work with. I do not believe it does – I actually think that it makes you a kinder, stronger, wiser and more intuitive person – when you can take a real look at the relationship and determine whether a boundary is needed there. It can be considered an advanced practice of loving kindness for yourself and also for the other person. When a relationship cannot be eliminated, we can practice setting healthy boundaries — can we then see this as a practice of compassion towards the other person as well as towards ourselves? I think we can and we need to.
What do you think? Please feel free to share your feelings and thoughts below. Thanks for reading 🙂