The performance trap gets us every time when we are so desperately looking to find acceptance, approval, to be noticed, and above all to be loved. No one wants to experience rejection, but what sucks many of us into the performance trap in the first place?

What was lacking, deficient, what need unmet, that somehow we believe that if we just do the right thing, say the right thing, look the right way, we will finally receive that love starved void, and feel happy, successful and complete?

The sheer amount of effort to be ‘on’ all the time, to be the witty performer, the over achiever at work, have the muscular physique, or the super model body just to hope for some sense of worth in what we do, how we perform… Is it really worth it? Do we actually achieve what it is we are really looking for? How many of you even know what’s beneath the surface? How many of you have not even been introduced to the ‘real you’ the one behind the mask?

Most people caught in the people pleasing, performance trap have lost themselves long ago, and merely play the role they think they need to play. But who are they playing for?

The sad reality is that the facade on the outside really robs people from knowing the real person beneath the mask. Worse than that, the performer is so used to putting on and taking off hats and playing different roles, living a compartmentalized life, that there is no room for them to even begin to build their own identity.

What’s worse, is that those who can see through the facade, feel at best, pity for the performer’s lack of ability to be a ‘real’ person. And in an age of hunger for authenticity, people pleasing is not so popular. Those who have been deceived by the external performance, feel robbed and cheated of a ‘real’ relationship with the person hiding behind the mask. They also feel like a fool for being deceived and lied to, and feel like they were treated unfairly by the people pleaser, as if they are not trustworthy enough to know the ‘real’ person behind the scenes. Bottom line is, everyone gets the rotten end of the stick in this game.

The people pleaser loses his or her sense of identity, misses out on knowing who they themselves really are, they don’t know what they like, what they value, what they believe, etc. It’s like that movie from ages ago, the runaway bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, He goes in as a reporter to investigate the woman who bails from marriage after marriage, and in typical romance fashion, falls for her himself. Only, he discovers through his reporting what other’s have missed, that she becomes exactly like the man she is with in each new relationship she is in. Not knowing her own identity, at one point in the movie Richard Gere challenges Julia Robert’s character and tells her she doesn’t even know what kind of eggs she likes. In a subsequent scene as the dawning of realization crosses her that she is a people pleaser, you see her with a counter full of different types of eggs and she individually tries them all to decide what she likes for herself.

Sad, but true for the people pleaser. Keep the peace at all costs, don’t rock the boat, try to make everyone else happy, hoping someone will finally make them happy. Trouble is, it doesn’t work. Those content living with a people pleaser will continue to take more and more, not offering in return the one thing the people pleaser hungers for most: love.

Where does this terrible root lie? Go back several blogs and you will read my article on the ideal vs the real. Once again, a developmental injury, rooted in being praised for performance, what one can do, rather than for who one IS. Or the reverse occurs, everything you do is never enough, and you work harder and harder to earn, finally the praise and approval for your efforts. If it never really comes, you carry these traits with you into adulthood in the attempt to finish the natural development process that was supposed to take place during the child rearing years. What happens is that our growth process gets stunted. And forever after, we look to complete that process in relationship after relationship doing the exact things we were taught and/or believed were necessary to ‘earn’ love and approval.

Tell me if you relate to any of these false beliefs:

  • I must meet certain expectations to feel good about myself
  • I must feel approved of or accepted by others to feel good about myself
  • I am a perfectionist -I feel afraid of failure
  • I become depressed or suffer low self esteem if I fail
  • I am extremely self critical
  • I am critical of others.

Does this math equation sound like you?

  • “Self worth = Performance + other people’s opinions?” -Taken from the book Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee

I am deeply moved and troubled for those who fall into this trap. It can be debilitating, and the things you do to try and make it better only amplify the void. Performance isn’t the answer. The truth is, there is someone out there who will love you just for you. In fact, they are likely to love you the more for it. It is impossible to develop a truly intimate relationship with another person if you cannot bring your whole self into relationship.

But first you need to find yourself, and stop trying to medicate the pain by the excess work you put into putting on the ‘ideal self’ show. You don’t need to be superman or super mom for that matter. Everyone has flaws. If you are not loved despite your flaws, then the relationship is not authentic. True intimacy cannot be fostered if this is the case. You will develop something called enmeshment instead. The merging of two individual identities into one. You will look like, be like, act like and accommodate the person you are merging with while developing a co-dependent/dependent relationship.

It’s time to find out who the real you is. If you struggle with performance and not really knowing your identity, your individuation and sense of separateness as a child was not likely modeled in the proper fashion. Good news is, there is hope. But the hope comes from being honest with yourself, and being honest with those you are closest to and trust the most. And write a list. Determine who you are, what do you like? What do you hate? What do you believe? What do you value? What are your favorite kind of eggs, if you don’t know! Get to know yourself. And stop believing the lies that you are not loveable, that who you are is not good enough, does not measure up, is not smart enough or good looking enough, or whatever the lie whispers in your ear. You are worth being loved. You are worth being valued. Not for what you do, but for who you are. You are loveable. I am empathetic and sorry for the years you have wasted trying to earn mom or dad’s approval and love and acceptance in every relationship you’ve been in. Stop trying to prove yourself worthy.

Tell yourself the truth. You are loveable. God loves you. He made you in his unique image and said that ‘it is good’. Begin to tell yourself new messages that you are loveable for who you are. It IS possible to retrain your habits. Habits are formed over time, as are the habits of people pleasing. Habits can be unlearned and relearned. It is a skill you can build.

If you’d like to look at a great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will help bring control back into your life!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

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