Why Our Drive to Be Likable Is Making Us Exhausted

How speaking our truth can change everything

Why Our Drive to Be Likable Is Making Us Exhausted
Nancy Colier
Society's levels of emotional exhaustion are reaching epidemic proportions. Presenting as depletion, fatigue, dissatisfaction, burnout, anxiety, depression, or having a sense of emptiness—women are more likely to be affected than their male counterparts.

Is it possible for a woman's intuition to become a burden? Might our conditioning and proclivity to care for others supersede caring for ourselves? Why do we seem aware of our myriad roles to others but less so for ourselves? Why, when I ask women what they really want, do they often answer "I have no idea?"

In working with women for decades as a psychotherapist, and interviewing countless more for my book, "The Emotionally Exhausted Woman," it’s become evident that, despite the progress we’ve made on social, political, and economic fronts, many women, are still driven by the desire to be likable and pleasing to others. The cost of this underlying desire—to our authenticity, vitality, and quality of life—is profound and too often ignored. Our need to be pleasing, to be what we believe others want or need us to be, may leave us depleted and disconnected from our very selves.

What the market hawks as the remedies for our exhaustion under the guise of self “self-care” are products and experiences we can buy to "feel better"—cucumber facials, sound baths, loofah scrubs, essential oils, oxygen-enriched water, and so on. Unfortunately, these so-called remedies are merely superficial, ill-fitting panderings to a complicated, multi-layered, deeply entrenched, and systemic problem. These “self-care” fixes leave us well-moisturized, smelling good, and superficially soothed, but fall far short of healing the root problems of operating from a self that’s been taught to disappear and be literally "self-less."

If being pampered is not the answer, what is the real remedy for emotional exhaustion? What will truly replenish and fulfill us at a deeper and more lasting level and provide true emotional nourishment, so that we can step off the hamster wheel of self-improvement and drop the endless search for likability and approval? How can we relate to others and ourselves in ways that feed our energy rather than drain it?

Tapping into our fundamental vitality starts with something very simple—simple but by no means easy. Namely, speaking the truth—our own truth—out loud. Speaking what is true—not what should be true or what another person would like to be true, but what is true for us. Our exhaustion eases and spirits recharge when we speak our truth—without apologizing, distorting, softening, deactivating, or cherry-coating it to make it acceptable to others.

For many women, the idea of "speaking their truth" is associated with being aggressive, of coming across as a "my way or the highway" type of person for whom compromise is impossible—a bully who only cares about her own experience. But this perspective is part of the conditioning that created the initial problem—one that convinces us that our truth is potentially dangerous, not only to our likability quotient, but also to whomever we’re speaking it to. Our conditioning teaches us that we are responsible for everyone else’s experience of our truth, and that we must nurture their experience. Therefore, we feel that we must hyper-vigilantly monitor and manage our own truth so as to protect other people. As a result, we may feel that we cannot show up in our lives truthfully and spontaneously, in alignment, unmanaged—and—at the same time be a relatable, caring, and considerate human being.

In reality, we’re not responsible for other people’s experience of our truth. What we are responsible for is simply speaking our truth respectfully. It's okay for us to have a truth, and it's okay for another person to have a difficult response to our truth, to disagree, be furious, and think we’re to blame—both realities—our truth and their perception—can stand together.

When it comes to the practice of speaking our truth, we start with baby steps, like telling the waiter that a meal is not how you ordered it, or the barista that the coffee is too light and you want her to make it darker—as you had originally requested. Then on to bigger steps: Sharing with a partner that we're not okay with something said, or to a boss, that we’re not able to take on yet another project and still do a good job. In fact, there are no small truths, regardless of the content the truth may contain—it doesn’t matter if it’s about the color of the coffee or the state of your heart—every truth, when spoken aloud is epic—every truth is us showing up honestly and authentically.

What’s most important is to identify what is true for us, our own experience—what we really want and need. Then, taking the bold step to bring that truth into the world and give voice to it—to show up as ourselves. These are the choices that reconnect women with our dignity, authenticity, power, and ultimately, with ourselves.

The fact is, each time we tuck away, ignore, sweeten, debark, manage, and distort our truth, or make things work for others to keep ourselves likable—we abandon ourselves. Every “yes” that silences a “no” is another blanket on top of our fire. It’s death by ten thousand omissions, ten thousand “It’s fine-s” and “I’m okay-s.”

One caveat: When we start speaking our truth, it's possible to get caught up in remorse or self-blame—we may focus on our failure to speak our truth in the past, ways we gave ourselves away, threw ourselves under the bus, and sold ourselves short—accepted the unacceptable. But in fact, self-blame is part of the conditioning that created women's stereotypes to begin with and more of it will only further delay the process of coming home to oneself.

Remember, we were trained from the time of our youth to be selfless, take care of others, and silence ourselves so as to keep the peace and make others happy. We were taught that silencing our voice, when we thought wasn’t welcome, was not only the way to care for others, but also a means of shielding our own selves—the most reliable way to stay emotionally safe.

Self-awareness evolves at its own pace—we get it when we get it. We’re all "works in progress" and can only be grateful for the willingness and courage to speak our truth when it arrives. At the same time, forgiveness of our younger incarnation, who was doing the best she could with what she believed were her only options, is essential. It’s important to acknowledge and honor what it is we're trying to protect by tucking away our truth—what we believed we were safeguarding and why it was so important as to be willing to disappear ourselves for it.

Remember, we didn’t start stuffing our truth overnight and it may take some time to unpack. Be patient—learning to speak our truth is a process that we grow into one baby step at a time. Gradually, as we gain more confidence and trust in expressing our truth, we will unlearn old conditioning and no one will be injured by it. Furthermore, others will learn how to deal with their own feelings if they don’t like our truth. But know this: Every time we speak our truth, express how we actually feel, want, and need—we break the bars that keep us caged. As it turns out, the door to the likability cage opens from the inside.

Start today: Notice all the ways you don’t speak up and try to say what’s true for you. See what it feels like and what happens, when you do. This simple (but not easy!) practice of just saying what is true—for you—is the pathway back home to yourself and your inherent and unshakable vitality.

Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, thought leader, public speaker, and the author of "Can't Stop Thinking: How to Let Go of Anxiety and Free Yourself from Obsessive Rumination,” “The Power of Off,” and the recently released “The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You’re Depleted and How to Get What You Need” (November, 2022.)