Ep #204: How to Stop People Pleasing: An Interview with Sara Bybee Fisk

The Widowed Mom Podcast Krista St-Germain | How to Stop People Pleasing: An Interview with Sara Bybee Fisk

How often do you find yourself inclined to please other people? 

Valuing other people’s validation more than you trust your own inner wisdom is a miserable place to be, especially on top of every other challenge we face as widowed moms.

To offer her wisdom on this topic and a process to stop people pleasing, I’m speaking to Master Certified coach and expert on people pleasing, Sara Bybee Fisk.

Listen to the Full Episode:


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What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What people pleasing means and how it might be showing up for you.
  • Why you don’t have to feel any shame about your people-pleasing tendencies.
  • 4 steps to stop people pleasing.

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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 204, How to Stop People Pleasing, an interview with Sara Bybee Fisk.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. I’ve got a good one for you today. If you struggle with people pleasing or have ever struggled with people pleasing. If you wonder why people pleasing is so dang difficult to stop doing. I know a lot of us are in a place where people don’t understand our grief. They don’t understand our choices. We might be inclined to try to please them, to try to do what they want us to do.

We might value their validation more than we trust our own inner wisdom and that is such a miserable place to be on top of every other challenge that we’re facing as widowed moms. So I have asked my dear friend, Sara Bybee Fisk who is a Master Certified coach, she specializes in people pleasing, to come and talk about it with me and Sara is going to share a process that I think every listener will benefit from learning. It is not complicated.

By the end of this episode you will understand exactly what people pleasing is, which may not be what you think. Why we do it in the first place, why we don’t need to feel any shame about it, and how to stop doing it. And I just know that you’re going to love this episode and you’re really just going to love Sara. I love Sara so much. So with that, let’s get into my interview with Sara Bybee Fisk.

Krista: My friend, Sara, I am so happy that you’re here.

Sara: I have been looking forward to this all week, me too.

Krista: My master’s program has a retreat and we do it every six months and it just happened to be this past weekend. And in it we were talking about people pleasing and I told them, “You just wait, I have the perfect person who is going to come on the podcast and talk about people pleasing.” So they are primed and ready. So before I ask you all the questions because I have a long list, why don’t you just introduce yourself to my listeners.

Sara: Fabulous. My name is Sara Bybee Fisk. I am a wife and a mom and a coach. I have been coaching for almost four and a half years now, August. And I came to people pleasing completely autobiographically. It was almost like an invisible thing because I don’t know that I would have totally said I’m totally a people pleaser because I could say no to some things. I could set some boundaries around things but not really well. And so this is a completely autobiographical area in which I work.

Krista: I love it. So did you know you were going to work on people pleasing and that you were going to help people with that before you became a coach or did that happen along the way?

Sara: No, it totally happened along the way. I actually started off as a weight loss coach as a kind of sneaky way of forcing myself to lose weight.

Krista: It’s all coming back to me now that you say that, yeah.

Sara: Yeah, because if you tell everybody you’re a weight loss coach, you have to lose weight then. And so once I really was onto myself about, this is just another way of upping the ante. In the old days I would buy a dress that was too small for me or just do something intentional. This was just upping the ante. And so once I figured that out, I just, I went back to just being a general life coach. I coach on relationships a lot and I really enjoy that. But then this just kind of came out of the blue, where I was in a coach training program, Master Coach training.

And I was just riddled with, do you like me? What do you think I’m doing? Do you think I’m a master coach? Am I doing this right? What do you think of me? How about you, do you think I’m good enough to be here? And it was such a beautiful pressure cooker in a way because it just forced it to the surface in a way that was ugly and hard but also just so beautiful and instructive.

Krista: Yeah. And usually does seem to be that when we do our own work, we are so inclined to help other people who have struggled or suffered in the same way, it’s like feel the calling to do that. I didn’t really think much about it until you mentioned it. And I don’t know if I ever told you this but in my mid 20s I bought into a fitness franchise for pretty much that exact same reason which was if I own it, I will surely get fit and then it will not be a problem for me anymore because thin is better, yeah, alright.

So okay, people pleasing, I think it’s one of those terms where we say it and we’re really used to saying it, and so kind of we act like we know what the other person means when we say it. But maybe we don’t actually really talk about what it means to each of us or what it really means. So can we start there? Can you talk to us about what does people pleasing actually mean in your world? How do you define it? What is it, what isn’t it?

Sara: So people pleasing, how I define it is being overly connected to people outside of you, what they think, what they want, their expectations, their rules. So overconnected to people outside of you and under-connected to yourself.

Krista: Yeah, okay. So this has me thinking about it in a different way. So I can already tell this conversation is going to be good. So being under-connected to yourself. And so by that do you mean not even aware of what you want or not aware of what you want and not honoring what you want? Tell me more about, what does under-connected to yourself look like?

Sara: That’s so interesting because it looks different for every person. A lot of the women that come to me for coaching, they say things like, “I don’t even know what I want. If I had a free afternoon I wouldn’t even know what to do with it.” So sometimes they have been so disconnected from their own wants, needs, desires, what brings them pleasure, what feels good to them that they don’t even know. Given the opportunity they wouldn’t even know what to do with it. Sometimes it’s that.

Sometimes it’s I know what I want but I can’t have it because this other person wants something else and their wants matter more than me so I’m just resentful. There’s just kind of this undercurrent of resentment and victimhood because I know that I don’t want to do that thing that they’re asking me to do but I can’t say no because of what they will think of me, [inaudible] think of me. And so I’m constantly choosing other people instead of choosing myself. And so I’m resentful or angry.

Krista: And sometimes does that come with a tone of I know what I want but I shouldn’t want it?

Sara: Sure. I mean women have no shortage of conditioning to self-abandon. What we want is selfish, if we have something we want to do we have to have a really good reason for it. We have to be able to justify it and really convince people of why it’s okay for us to have this thing. And so another way that it presents is constantly feeling, if I do what I want I’ll be selfish, I’ll be mean, I’ll be the things that women hate to think. One of the things that’s a big insult for a lot of women is you’re so selfish. We’re so primed for this sacrifice thing.

So it presents in a lot of different ways. But it, in my experience, all comes back to over-connection to other people and under-connection to yourself.

Krista: Yeah, I love that definition. I see that a lot of women especially in midlife who lose a spouse and have for so long, for the majority of their adult lives, been in the role of wife and caretaker and parent. Then really struggle with not believing that they know who they are, not believing that they know what they like. And sometimes it’s the perfect storm because then we can maybe introduce empty nesting about that same time, where now they’re really faced but they don’t even have kids to distract them from figuring out what it is they do want.

And then we also have what’s going on with the brain in grief, which is that the brain has encoded the we, it’s kind of identified as the couple and then, so part of that natural process is that the brain is really freaked out in a way because it continues to look for the partner and not know where that partner is and so you have that brain reconciliation that’s happening where the brain is learning more data of okay, this person isn’t coming back and now I’m an I.

And then this convergence of having never lived as an adult on the planet without being wife or mom. And just genuinely going, “I don’t know. I don’t know how I would spend my free time. What do I want? I don’t really know.”

Sara: One of the things that I teach in my group coaching program is called How to Want. And it’s a reconnection with just our wanting. And it is so easy to lose sight of that. I have five children. And so I am very familiar with the busyness of people who need you and take care of you and then the sun goes down and you go to bed, and you get up the next day and do it again. And connecting to our own wanting and learning how to satisfy it, even in small ways.

Maybe I want to go to Disneyland today, okay, not an option, but what does Disneyland represent? It’s some kind of fun, some kind of something little, nobody teaches us how to hang on to ourselves through the process of joining with another person and then bringing other people into our family. It’s so common.

Krista: How have you used that for yourself?

Sara: I had a lot, and I think a lot of women who grew up in conservative spaces or even conservative religious spaces, I just had a real sense that my wanting was bad. And that I was supposed to want these particular things and these other things were off limits. And so whenever I felt any kind of, let’s take sex for example, I thought about sex a lot as an adolescent and teenager, and I thought it was really bad.

Krista: You were taught that.

Sara: I thought that I was really bad for thinking about it, for being curious about it, for wanting to know more about it. And so the first thing that I had to do was kind of wipe the slate clean and say, “Nothing that comes from me, or my body is bad.” I might not want to do it all. There’s times I want to run people off the road when I’m driving. And I might want to take a minute and live with that thought. But the impulse isn’t bad and that if I could befriend what feels good in my body.

It was really a process up here in my brain. I have this list of things that are okay and a list of things that are not okay. Throw away the list and just get down into my actual body. What does it want? What does it love, what brings it pleasure? And that’s actually how I really truly learned to take care of myself because I would have the experience of, well, I went and got a manicure, why don’t I feel better?

Krista: Yeah, because that’s the answer, we’re sold it, yeah.

Sara: Yeah. Well, that’s the thing, in the absence of women knowing their own wanting, there’s an entire industry selling us things. But I would just go, “Okay, I bought myself a new shirt but why don’t I feel better? I got a manicure, why don’t I feel better? And it’s because my wanting is like I want to turn music and dance. I want to find something chocolate and eat it and that’s okay. And so by allowing myself to want little things and satisfy those wants I really learned that I can trust what I want.

Krista: Yeah. I feel like I know you well. My listeners don’t know you at all. So can you kind of paint us a picture of Sara’s life pre anti people pleasing work and Sara’s life post? What does that look like and what are the differences for you?

Sara: Sure. So I grew up in a very conservative religious environment. I was raised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, that’s their official name by which they like to be called. And since I agree with calling people what they want to be called. I say that, even though they don’t agree. That’s okay. And actually I think it will be helpful for your listeners to know that you became my coach when I decided to leave that religious tradition and I called you and I said, “I’m not a widow, but I think this is grief.”

And I had such a shallow experience of my own feelings and really such a shallow experience of myself because it was all structured for me. This is what you should be feeling, this is what you should be doing. Here’s how we check in on you to make sure that you’re doing what you should be doing. And I have to say this, it really worked for me until it didn’t. I loved growing up in the church. I loved all of the experiences that I had, and I had really, it was really heartbreaking for me for it to stop working.

I have a child who is gay and that was kind of the final straw of a lot of straws but really the people pleasing is encoded in women in general. And so I feel like what a lot of religions do is they just take patriarchy and they put it in God’s mouth. So now God wants you to just stay home and have babies and be their caregiver. And God doesn’t want you to work outside the home. And God wants you to listen to your husband and obey whatever he says.

And so there was an unraveling that involved a lot of grief but also I just kind of felt naked. I had taken away all these things that no longer worked. And so now I got to just ask the question, who am I? And I realized that who am I has 100% to do with what do I want to be. Now that I’m not being handed this list of here’s who God expects you to be, here’s who the church expects you to be. Who do I just choose to be?

Krista: How long did it take you to figure that part out? And maybe we can put a pin in that and come back, but I think what you just said is a really big deal, that’s who you choose to be.

Sara: Once I took away, Mormonism for me was a literal list of things to do and be and people checking up on you to see if you’re doing and being those things and proving to them that you are. So once that list was gone, I mean naked, clean slate, just it was like, what now, what do I do now? I’ve never had a moment in my life where it wasn’t planned, where I didn’t know exactly what I should be doing. Mormonism falls in the category of a high demand religion because there are activities and things to be doing all the time. And so your time is spoken for and taken up.

And once I had all that time, well, what do I want to do with it? And the other thing is I settled, God is tricky for people, and I understand why, that word is being used in a lot of really harmful ways. But I felt like I was able to maintain a relationship with who I believe God to be, a loving force in the universe. And I asked God, I’m like, “What do you think?” And they said, “I don’t know, what do you think? What do you want to do? I don’t know. Do what you want to do.”

And I used to really live in fear of offending God or breaking a commandment. And I really, once I felt just that overwhelming love, I just thought, I mean if I could animate the voice of God, God said, “Listen, I just want you to be happy. I just want you to enjoy, if you really believe that I created all this for you and I put you here this time on this Earth, just, I want you to enjoy it.” And so that’s what I did. And once I realized I don’t even know who I am, what I want, that was the reconnection to me [inaudible] as a guide for that.

Krista: And how would you say that has changed things for you?

Sara: I’m having the best time. I trust myself. I mean it’s going to make me a little emotional because to go from hypervigilance about am I doing it right, am I okay. I just had all the thoughts all the time, I’m not doing enough. I’ve got to try harder. There’s got to be more I can do. To go from that to so deeply trusting myself even to mess up. I’m totally going to mess things up and it will be just fine. I will feel sad. I’ll feel disappointment. if I need to. I might even feel some regret, some grief, some sadness, but I will never make myself bad or wrong for it ever.

And that was such a huge part of the work I did with you to trust that I am good, my intentions are always good and that if a mistake is made we’ll work it out, we’ll fix it. But I will never beat myself up, criticize, judge and second guess and doubt. All the things that just took up so much of my time. So I feel like I’ve unplugged from this hamster wheel that was just designed to just keep me going and going and going and going. And I’m looking around at all the other hamsters, how fast are they going, should I go faster?

And it’s just me and I answer to me, and I answer to the integrity that I strive for and that’s it.

Krista: Yeah. So beautiful.

Sara: Well so much of it, honestly, I know you didn’t invite me on your podcast to just gush about you but so much of it was possible because I had someone outside my brain, you, telling me, “Hey, did you hear what you just said? This thing that you think is just capital T True, what if it’s not?” And that really, it was just such a gift.

Krista: Well, I was honored to be able to be that person and yes, you’re right, I did not invite you on to make this a commercial about me. But it does go to show that there is grief involved . I don’t even know if dropping people pleasing is the way that you like to see it or moving away from it or becoming more connected with ourselves and less relying upon the validation of others. But yeah, sometimes grief is a part of that.

Sara: It really is. And the place where it showed up the most was in relationship with my parents for a lot of us. And there’s really good reason that I like to point out. When a baby is born it has no ability to sustain its own life. It is utterly dependent on the big people, whoever that is, caregivers. And so a baby cries, someone comes and takes care of it. And so encoded in our very, very earliest experience is if I act this way, if I do this thing, I get a response or a reward and so that’s how people pleasing is born.

It’s learning this behavior or this thing that I do, gets rewarded. And the rewards are essential, like being fed, being clean, as you get older it’s love and acceptance and belonging and connection and friendship. And so that is encoded in our very earliest years. And that’s the beginning of people pleasing. And so people pleasing isn’t bad or wrong. I think there’s a lot of shame for women around it. It’s not bad, it’s how we get our needs met. And people pleasing or learning how to be in a loving responsive relationship, that’s essential for a healthy relationship too.

And so the problem isn’t that we people please, it’s that we are never taught how to not people please and how to switch from people pleasing to a responsive reciprocal relationship that honors both of us, that honors me and honors you. So back to what I was saying about my parents is that I was always very, very connected to pleasing them. And they are still very active in the faith and were quite devastated when I chose to no longer be active. And so the ways in which I disappointed them crushed me because I knew how much fear they felt, how much sadness they felt.

But as I learned to just be with that disappointment and that sadness for them, it was not bigger than my sadness or disappointing myself. And so people pleasing can get us in some situations that feel really hard, and it can feel very uncomfortable to be stuck in unhealthy people pleasing. It’s also an exercise in learning how to tolerate feelings to not people please. You both feel uncomfortable.

But as I just sat with the emotion of disappointing my parents, I was able to sit with them and explain myself and say, “I would love it if you would trust me, that would be great, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t because I trust me. I know what I am doing is right. I know that this is what is good for me.” And set some boundaries, some things had been said about my daughter being gay. And I said, “And if those things happen you just won’t be invited anymore.”

I would have never in a million years thought that I could say that to my parents whom I love. We have a very good relationship. But it was because I had learned to tolerate and just practice tolerating the disappointment, compared it to what am I going to feel like if I disappoint myself, disappoint my daughter? And I’m going to pick me. I’m going to pick her.

Krista: Yeah. When you went through that process, how much disappointment did you realize you were actually already feeling in not honoring what it was that you wanted? Was that conscious?

Sara: Yeah. I was one of those, just frustrated, resentful, victimy people of like, “Well, I can’t. I can’t do what I want to do because they’ll be mad, and they’ll be mad, and they’ll be mad. And so it felt like such an internal struggle. And once I just saw, listen, all of this is because you are unwilling to disappoint someone else. And it cleared it up enough for me that I was really able to see that there weren’t the hordes of disappointed people that I imagined that there would be. I imagined throngs of disappointed people. No, that actually wasn’t. It was an imagined thing.

And also you get over disappointment. You get over disappointing other people. I don’t know if you ever get over disappointing yourself. I don’t know. Maybe some people do. I don’t think I could have. And the internal wrestle just became so great that something had to give, and it was other people, not me.

Krista: Yeah. It’s interesting when you talk about how there weren’t as many people as you thought. It always seems, in my mind anyway, when I’m worried about what ‘they’ think. And then I actually name the they. It’s a pretty short list of people usually or it’s some random amount of people I have never met and probably never will meet.

Sara: Totally 100%.

Krista: Yeah. So a couple of things that I’m picking up that I just kind of wanted to point out to listeners, one is just the process of valuing yourself, understanding yourself, honoring yourself and what you want. With it comes a fair share of negative emotion because you have to be willing to let other people feel disappointed and that’s hard. Also it’s super common in grief which is why I think it’s doubly relevant, even if you’re not leaving a religion or something.

But you’re just a widow in the world who is navigating whatever life decision that people around you aren’t supportive of or don’t agree with or don’t understand. Or maybe those people are buying into myths of grief and believing certain things about grief that your lived experience shows you is not your truth. It can be really hard to parent in particular ways when people around you don’t think you should trust your own judgment.

Or to make decisions about, do I want to take this new job or leave this house when people around you are telling you that you can’t trust yourself because of grief. I just see so many struggles there where everybody all of a sudden has an opinion about your life as though you can’t trust your own.

Sara: My favorite sentence in situations like this because I did get some of that and pushback on that decision is that makes sense. And I’ll explain. So I had a conversation with a friend who was very worried about potentially what I would be doing to my children by leaving the church. And I said to her, “Yeah, that makes sense that you would be worried about that. I understand. I get it. And I have a different opinion.”

So starting with that ‘makes sense’ helps me to just for a second plug into, yeah, given what they think, what they know about grief, what they know about this, it makes sense that they would be thinking that. And I don’t have to be mad. I don’t have to expend any energy on that and it’s still a no for me. Or I feel differently about it. So it just kind of takes the air out of the efforting of, well, defending, explaining, giving all your reasons, what you’ve read and researched.

Most of the time I have found that people are not open to that unless they’re asking you, “Hey, what do you think?” If they’re just throwing an opinion at you, they’re probably not interested in a different opinion. So when I say, “Hey, yeah, that makes a lot of sense that you would think that. Yeah, I get that, sure, I can see where you’re coming from. And I feel different.”

Krista: Yeah, diffuses and is not defensive. And it doesn’t imply that they’re wrong and you’re right, yeah, just different strokes for different folks. That was me answering a couple of emails this weekend, Sara. My prices are too high. I am selfish, all the things that people love to tell you. And it’s like, okay, I can see. Yeah, I can see. Your point is totally valid. Someone thought I was telling them they shouldn’t take an overseas vacation when what I was saying was, “I value coaching more than vacations, what it gives.” But I can see where they thought that, yeah, totally makes sense.

Sara: And what I love is that it just, it doesn’t require any further engagement from you. It’s done, that makes sense. This is what I’m doing.

Krista: Yeah. So why do you think because it doesn’t seem like people pleasing is a new label. I mean I don’t know when it was coined or how long it’s been around, but it seems like something that we toss around on a fairly regular basis. What do you think is, or maybe are, it’s plural, the contributing factors? Why once we have identified that we have some people pleasing tendencies or we have labeled ourselves as people pleasers, why do you think it’s so hard to change? Is it just the feelings aspect of it? Is there something else to it in your opinion?

Sara: I do think the feelings aspect should not be underestimated because as we’ve said, while it is uncomfortable to people please it is also uncomfortable and sometimes more uncomfortable to not people please. So the answer to your question in my experience is we don’t ever sit down to calculate the cost of our people pleasing because we’re like, “Just this once, it’s fine. I’ll just do it. It’s easy.” We have so many ways to dismiss it and that’s not even giving adequate airtime to all the ways in which women are programmed through patriarchy and to sacrifice and give endlessly.

I think we just don’t ever sit down to ask the question, what is my people pleasing costing me? Am I okay with paying that? Where is this taking me? If I’m here at 30, where am I at 35, where am I at 40? We just don’t sit down to do an evaluation like that because the true cost of people pleasing is enormous. When I talk with women about the amount of time that they spend replaying past events, wishing they had said something different.

Worrying about that person’s opinion of them, worrying about future events where they’re going to be asked to do something that they don’t want to do and they’re not going to be able to say no. Ruminating about all the who thinks what of me, that time for most women is three to five hours a day.

Krista: Wow, that’s high.

Sara: Now, their body is doing something else. They’re driving car pool, they’re going to work or whatever, but their brain is just a constant motion of all of these thoughts about other people. And when you think about three to five hours a day times seven days a week, times 52 weeks a year, it is thousands of hours that just leaks out all over. It’s time, it’s brain space, it’s energy, it’s money, it is peace. It is actually feeling peaceful and calm in your body. You can’t feel peaceful and calm in your body when that rumination wheel is just spinning all the time.

And so for many of the women, well, for all of the women, the first step we do is, what is this costing you? Where is it taking you? Because once you understand that, now you have some motivation.

Krista: It’s such a good idea. You’re giving me ideas too. I have done a little bit of math in a different, slightly different way but I know people pleasing is a part of it but in just how much time are you spending living a life that you don’t actually love? And maybe it’s not all about people pleasing necessarily but you’re really just going through the motions and doing what you think you’re supposed to do, meanwhile you don’t love it. That’s where I see we get stuck in grief, yeah.

Sara: Yeah. And it’s so, I mean Mary Oliver is a favorite of mine and she has a couple of lines in a poem, I’m going to butcher them. But the gist is, barely breathing and calling it a life. Because this is the only life we have. I think that was another part of it too is that so much of my thinking had been eternal reward, after this life. And when that was taken away or at least I questioned, I was like, “Well, what about this life? What about today? What about this hour, where am I in it?”

And in so many lives of the women that I work with and that you see, there’s no place in my life for me. My life is just lived for other people mostly. And that it’s not a life.

Krista: Yeah, totally agree. I think part of it, as you were saying it, for me too is it’s the devil that we know, it’s the frog in boiling water, the heat was turned up so slowly the frog didn’t notice. And so you think about, it’s almost difficult to quantify the heaviness that you might be carrying because it’s so familiar, you just don’t even notice it anymore.

Sara: 100%, the anxiety I experienced because of people pleasing was exactly like that. I had just been anxious and hypervigilant so long about displeasing God and displeasing other people that it was, I’m like, “Doesn’t everybody’s chest kind of have this hollow wavy scared feeling all the time? Is that [inaudible]?”

Krista: Yeah. And I bet the absence of that, any time we change states, even if we think it’s going to be more desirable when it’s unfamiliar, even though we might want it, can be pretty darned scary.

Sara: Can be pretty darned scary, yeah. So after I help women calculate the cost, the next thing we do to make it easier is we focus on one situation. Many women will see people pleasing throughout their lives, it’s [inaudible]. And that can feel overwhelming. And so we pick a small area to make some progress in. I didn’t go first to my parents and have that conversation with them. I [inaudible] first with a friend who I wasn’t super attached to. And I knew I kind of wouldn’t really care if she had a negative reaction. So I told her, and I survived.

Krista: Lower stakes.

Sara: Yeah, it’s much lower stakes and so I practiced on lower stakes things in a very narrow way. But you know this and I’m sure you teach this to your clients as well, the progress that you make in one area affects you in all areas. And it really just boosts your confidence like I can do this and I’m not going to die. I’m not going to be so overcome and overwhelmed that I won’t be able to handle it. And so choosing a focus is really helpful.

I have one of my clients, she’s like, “Before the dog groomer comes, I brush and I’m so worried about my dog groomer’s opinion of me.” It’s like people who clean their house before the cleaners come.

Krista: Yeah, I see it in grief and I’m thinking of a past client who yeah, I mean the pastor was coming over and she was so worried about the judgment. The idea behind the visit was to bring her comfort. No comfort being experienced, only stress. And when he arrived she of course went into her old conditioning which was to just take care of him and make sure he was okay as opposed to her being the one that was being tended to.

Sara: Yeah. So [crosstalk] to just force yourself to sit on the couch and let the pastor to come and do what he’s going to do. It will be uncomfortable. What would it be like to not clean your house before the cleaners get there? It’s going to be uncomfortable. But starting with something small and learning to tolerate that discomfort really prepares you to tolerate the discomfort of bigger.

Krista: Makes total sense. What about the role of the nervous system in here, how do you incorporate that into your teaching? What have you to say there?

Sara: Nervous system responses, fight, flight, freeze, fawn is actually a nervous system response. And fawning, F-A-W-N is people pleasing. It is an adaptive behavior learned young when there are big people, grownups, caretakers, who can’t emotionally regulate. And so fawning literally looks like trying to bring the stress level down of another person by pleasing them. What can I get you? Can I help you? Can I rub your feet? I’ll go get it. Do you want me to do that? What else should I do for you? And again, it’s an important behavior that’s learned young to survive.

I think really understand and have compassion for the fact that everything we do, everything is designed by a nervous system that is intensely connected to our survival and wants us to survive and did that for us for so long, it’s just again, the fawning isn’t bad or wrong. It’s just that we don’t learn to not fawn.

Krista: Yeah, I totally agree with you. That’s why I wanted to ask you that question, because that’s kind of what I have come to conclude as well and speaking of that master’s retreat. I was coaching a woman this weekend and she was really just kind of beating herself up for how she had responded to someone. And as she told me the story, to me very clearly a fawn response. Definitely nothing to beat ourselves up about, if anything, to be like, “Oh, this is the part where a part of me thought I was in danger and just did the best it could to keep me safe.”

Even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t, intellectually all signs pointed towards not going to die. But internally my nervous system was just trying to help me out.

Sara: Your brain cannot tell the difference. Your nervous system, let’s be specific, your nervous system cannot tell the difference between real danger and perceived danger. That’s why I will never watch a horror movie because I don’t enjoy the actual adrenalin rush, my pulse races, I start [inaudible], my heart beats really fast. I can’t actually control that because even though I’m watching a horror movie on a screen, my nervous system doesn’t know the difference.

Krista: Yeah, nervous system doesn’t know the difference and when your nervous system is responding as though the paper tiger is a real tiger, then the part of your brain that you need to actually think logically kind of goes offline so you really lose access to it. And what I hate is then when we don’t know that and then after it’s over we beat ourselves up as though we did something wrong when really our system was functioning completely as designed.

Sara: Yeah, so this is my favorite sentence, that makes sense.

Krista: That makes sense, yes.

Sara: Of course, I was scared, the bloody guy jumped out of a closet, are you kidding me?

Krista: Makes total sense.

Sara: Makes total sense.

Krista: And as I hear you say it I’m realizing how much I think I say it in coaching. Every time I understand, okay, well, of course you did that thing because you felt this way and you thought that thing. Of course, it all makes total sense. Does it make sense to you? It all makes sense, yeah.

Sara: If the women listening could understand one thing it’s that you make sense. Your reactions, however, if they’re not working for you now, that’s great and it’s important to know. But they have worked for a time because you’re here, you’ve survived, you’ve been able to go through all of the hard things that have happened to every single one of us. And I just love that sentence because it just calms me down. Of course I’m upset about this. Of course that scared me. Of course I had that reaction.

Krista: Yeah. And if you could see Sara, every time she says that she puts her hand on her heart.

Sara: Oh, yeah.

Krista: Yeah. So it’s nothing to beat ourselves up about or shame ourselves for or tell ourselves that we’re wrong or broken. We have learned coping mechanisms and those have served us until we’re ready to change them.

Sara: Yeah, because I can say, “That makes a lot of sense and I’d like to move away from that behavior. That makes sense and I don’t want to do that again.”

Krista: Yeah. What did we miss? What did you hope that we would talk about as it relates to people pleasing that I haven’t asked you about?

Sara: So when I teach people pleasing or how to stop or reduce it, I’ve already talked about the first two steps, understanding what it costs, choosing a narrow practice. And I’d like to just name the other steps in case they’re of value.

Krista: Yes, please. You’re going to teach in Mom Goes On.

Sara: Yeah, can’t wait.

Krista: We’re going to make that happen.

Sara: So the third step is to really understand that it is uncomfortable to people please and it is uncomfortable to not people please and to respect that tension. And to choose the hard that you want, choose the discomfort that you want. Sometimes we will choose the discomfort of people pleasing, we will, because it’s in our best interest or we just don’t want to deal with it. An interesting story about that, my grandma who was 96 just passed away in December.

My daughter is gay and brought her girlfriend home and she and I talked about it, and she was like, “I don’t think we should tell grandma. Let’s just not.” And so that people on the outside might look at that and be like, “Well, you’re just people pleasing grandma, why not just tell her?” But we made the decision, I just don’t know that this is going to add anything to the situation and so we chose not to tell her. And she thought that my daughter’s girlfriend was actually her friend the entire time.

But we chose other times the discomfort of not people pleasing is going to be what you chose, but just understand that it’s uncomfortable either way and you get to pick. And it’s not bad or wrong what you choose.

Krista: Yes. I’m so glad you said that because we do have a tendency to label a behavior as good or bad or right or wrong. And then once we’ve identified it, seek to eliminate it, and then judge ourselves when it’s still there. And I think that’s relevant to people pleasing, I think it’s relevant to social media. I think it’s relevant to any behavior, it’s not the behavior itself, it’s do we like what’s fueling, do we like the reasons we’re choosing that behavior? Are we choosing it consciously? And just that switch is so big.

Sara: Yes, a conscious choice. So it definitely is a conscious choice, step four, this is really, really essential, because sometimes we’re going to make our choice in step three and we’re not going to like the outcome. And step four is to have your own back, to really be so vigilant about the way you speak to yourself about your decision. So let’s say that I had chosen to tell grandma about my daughter being gay and she had burst into tears and cried and talked about how awful it was. That would have been a very uncomfortable outcome.

But to just stick with the sadness that I felt about grandma’s potential reaction or the disappointment and not layer on criticism, judgment, second guessing, doubting. All of the ways in which we take something sad or hard and we make it exponentially worse because we beat the crap out of ourselves over it.

Krista: Yes. And we actually don’t have to do that.

Sara: We actually don’t. We can just feel sad or disappointed or frustrated or worried or whatever it is.

Krista: What are some of the ways you help clients do that? Do you have them do it in advance and kind of decide what they’re going to think if it all goes wrong or what do you do, inner critic work?

Sara: We do a combination of both, of well, two things. So number one, if this is what you’re going to try, what are you deciding now to think about it on purpose? But also, for those of us, and I include myself because for so long I was just ruthless to myself and who just have such an angry pattern. It’s almost automatic. And we don’t really choose it, but once we notice it, I offer my clients two things to try. Number one I call the hard pass which is really no. No, no, no, no. No, I will not, nobody speaks to me that way, not even me, no, I will not.

Krista: And you say it out loud?

Sara: I did for so long. My husband was like, “You talk to yourself a lot.” I was like “Yeah.”

Krista: It’s a great pattern interrupt though.

Sara: And sometimes just the strength of that really powerful no, feels so good, no. No, I will not do that. No. Other times, the second option which I call loving engagement feels better which is more like a hug.

Krista: She’s hugging herself, yeah.

Sara: Myself, well, honey, I know, we’ve been doing this a long time, I know, I get it. I know, it makes a lot of sense but we’re not going to do that now. So we end up in the same place. It’s a no either way, it just depends, does the powerful big, standing up to the bully feel good? Or does a more loving gentle touch feel good? And then you move, you shake your arms, you move your body, you get up and move to another space because what that does is, that signals to your nervous system, it’s okay. It’s alright.

Krista: Change your state.

Sara: It changes your state, exactly. So that’s the fourth step. And really if women could practice nothing more than that, it’s such a game changer. My commitment to myself is that I will never, ever, ever, ever mistreat myself. I’ll never make a situation that’s already hard, worse, by adding on mistreatment of myself.

Krista: Yeah, so good. I’m so glad you came to share this. So people are going to be obsessed with you and they’re going to want to follow you and find out how they can work with you. What are their options?

Sara: I would love to talk to each and every one of them because this is truly, when we think about the hill you’ll die on, this is the hill that I want to die on, just helping women unravel this. I am on Instagram, Sara Fisk Coach. Facebook as well. And my website is Sarafisk.coach, that’s S-A-R-A-F as in fun I-S-K.coach.

Krista: Yeah, .coach, not .com. .coach.

Sara: .coach.

Krista: I was trying to email earlier, and I was like, “Do I have this email right .coach? I don’t know if you’re promoting yourself on TikTok, but I love following you on TikTok.

Sara: I am on TikTok. I forgot that for a second. I have a podcast called The Ex Good Girl Podcast, that is where I talk about all these things. And I offer group coaching. I do take one-to-one clients right now at the end of April, I don’t know when this will come out. But I will have a group available, healing this people pleasing in a community of women, it is just the most wonderful thing because a lot of the women I work with think that there’s something extra special super broken about themselves.

But once you’re in a community of women and maybe some of your women think that too, my grief or my situation is unique in some way.

Krista: Yes. And made so much worse by isolation because nobody’s talking about it, everybody’s trying to hide it. You feel like a social pariah, and yeah, community is so powerful.

Sara: It [inaudible] a beautiful place.

Krista: Yeah. Okay, so she didn’t come on to make a commercial for me, but I am making a commercial for her, seriously though, you are my client. But then also I just can really attest to your coaching, you’re an amazing coach. Having evaluated your coaching for parts of certification programs that you and I have both been in together, you’re a phenomenal coach and the world is just so lucky to have you. And I am just so grateful that you figured out how to get past these patterns for yourself because I think your work is just going to set so many women free and I love it so much.

Sara: Well, that is high praise coming from you because the work I did with you was just so foundational and so that was amazing for me, thank you.

Krista: I’m glad to have been a part of it. Alright, friends, go find Sara, you can email her, you can follow her, you can listen to her podcast. And you’ll come teach in Mom Goes On, yeah?

Sara: Absolutely.

Krista: Okay. Alright. We’ll talk. Thank you, Sara.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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