Overcoming People Pleasing & Being Able to Be More Freely Yourself

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People who are more naturally sensitive tend to have an easier time falling into the people-pleasing or “too nice” complex.

Sensitivity is not a bad trait because people who are more sensitive have a gift to feel more deeply and feel the emotions of other people around them easier as well.

This allows for more compassion and an amazing ability to experience the range of emotions that color life and use this exceptional sensing for creativity, joy, and connection.

The only problem is that if someone is naturally more sensitive and they have too nice modeling as a kid or they go through emotional pain in life they can fall into the people-pleasing pattern in order to avoid feeling their own fear, shame, or guilt.

In this post, I want to outline some of the basics of people pleasing and the action steps that someone can take over time to help correct this pattern and become more authentically themself.

What is People Pleasing?

The first step in overcoming any behavioral pattern is understanding what it is and increasing your awareness of how you are acting in a way that may not be as healthy as possible.

Below is a chart that shows the difference between someone who is too nice and someone who has the ability to express a healthy level of assertiveness.

The Nice vs Not Nice Reference Guide from Not Nice by Aziz Gazipura:

Too NiceNot Too Nice
Self Love & IndependenceYou feel a strong need to be liked by everyone. Being disliked makes you feel uncomfortable.You don’t feel a need to control others perceptions to feel secure
Healthy Self-InterestYou typically put others first without caring for yourselfYou take care of yourself first when needed, and decide when you can truly help others if it’s right
Others FeelingsYou feel overly responsible for everyone’s feelingsYou support others when possible, while knowing that each person is responsible for their own feelings
Internal Shame & FearYour experience chronic guilt and fear of hurting others You honestly and lovingly express your true self, even though it sometimes leads to painful feelings
Sharing OpinionsYou hide your opinions to avoid frictionYou freely speak your mind without the need to convince others or make them wrong
Dealing with FrustrationYou rarely express upset directlyYou share your grievances directly while taking ownership for your feelings instead of blaming
Ability to Say NoYou often don’t say no to others even when you want to or need toYou easily say no when you want to and you say no when you need to, even though it’s hard
Ability to Be Direct You avoid asking for what you want directlyYou directly express your wishes and desires
Ability to Speak Up You hesitate to speak up until it’s the right thing to shareYou jump in early, speak freely, and trust in yourself. You choose authentic over perfect.
Healthy IndependenceYou prefer to conform with others, even if you internally disagreeYou stand up for what you believe in even if it creates friction
Valuing YourselfYou dismiss your own perception and experience as insignificantYou highly value what you think, feel, and believe. It matters because you matter
Self Love, Acceptance, ForgivenessYou value others opinions of you more than your ownYou know yourself better than others and easily brush off negative comments
Confidence and Self LoveYou constantly worry if you were good enoughYou contribute your gifts fully with boldness and fierce determination
Going After Your Best LifeYou seek safety in lifeYou seek deep connection, authentic self expression, love, growth, and meaningful contribution
Fear vs Love/PowerYou live in fearYou are the most powerful version of you

In the chart above you can see the difference between someone who is a people pleaser and too nice and someone who is confident in themself and is able to be authentic.

After growing my awareness of people pleasing here is my definition of a people pleaser or someone who is too nice:

A people pleaser is someone who has difficulty standing up for themselves, speaking up when needed, saying no when it’s right, and authentically expressing themselves without worrying too much how others will judge them. 

They develop this habit out of their own fear and shame and become trapped in a cage of niceness because they are afraid of the feelings that will arise when they express themselves authentically or become vulnerable. 

Basically, someone who is a people pleaser or “too nice” acts by avoiding their own fear and shame and not from their values or authentic expression.

Nice vs Good Person 

I think it’s also really important to address the key distinction between being “nice” and being a good person.

What I think a lot of people get mixed up is that being too nice is different than kindness, compassion, and love.

It’s not the same thing as being a good person.

In reality, people who come off as “less nice” can often be more loving and compassionate because they can make decisions not based on their own fear or shame but based on their values and determining the best action overall for the circumstance.

For example, if you have a teacher who knows that in order for the student to progress and grow as a person they will have to move through their own pain they won’t hold back in telling the student the truth even if it is difficult and creates tough feelings. They know that in the long run they are helping the student make true progress. They have already dealth with their own issues so when they erupt in the student they are able to handle them effectively. 

On the other hand, if you have a teacher who is too nice then in the same circumstance they will hold back telling the truth to the student because they don’t want to deal with the tough feelings that will arise in them because of the students pain. The end result is that the student will not progress and find freedom because they weren’t able to tolerate and deal with their own discomfort.

You can see how the teacher who was “too nice” is actually more selfish in the grand scheme of things because they were driven by their own fear.

Being nice does not come out of goodness or high morals. It comes out of the fear of displeasing others and receiving their disapproval. 

The Opposite of Nice & Finding Healthy Balance

When most people think of the opposite of nice they think of an asshole or jerk. Someone who speaks without any filter whatsoever and goes around hurting other people due to their own lack of consideration.

The opposite of nice is not being a jerk, bully, or attacking others. It’s not telling others to shut up or intimidating them.

That’s not cool and very pathetic to go around acting that way.

The opposite of nice is being real, authentic, truthful, direct, and having the ability to express yourself even if others don’t agree with you.

You still maintain the ability to think, pause, and be skillful and compassionate before you speak or act you just don’t hold back on what you want to express due to your own insecurity. 

It’s acting with a healthy level of assertiveness but also taking into consideration how to best handle the situation effectively and with conscientiousness.

We do this because we want full contact with life and the ability to be who we are and connect deeply with the world and other people.

True honest connection is not always pleasant and that’s ok.

It’s also important to understand that you can have a healthy level of assertiveness and confidence while also still being kind and compassionate towards others. 

The key is to be aware of the balance between healthy self confidence and pushing things too far to the egotistical and impulsive side of the spectrum.

How Do We Become Too Nice?

Nice training begins with our socialization. 

A lot of kids are trained to be obedient, polite, and non-aggressive. To model their parents or teachers and be nice to them.

Being able to get along with others in a respectful way is necessary, but it can often be overdone.

Kids get messages subconsciously on how they are supposed to act and express themselves.

If a kid learns to model themselves after parents or teachers who do not encourage healthy self-expression or who have their own issues then the kid will pick up on those patterns.

Over time kids learn behaviors that will allow them love and attachment to their caregivers.

If acting a certain way or expressing themselves in a certain way was uncomfortable to their parents or teachers then kids will learn to suppress those feelings and actions.

Eventually, this training takes politeness and turns it into a fear-based programming that can inhibit someone from being able to be authentic. 

A couple of simple questions to ask are:

  1. How did you feel you needed to be in order for your parents to love you?
  2. How could you never be or express yourself around a parent? What brought on disapproval or discomfort?

So essentially we develop the people pleasing pattern from the way we learned how to act when we were younger and throughout our life experiences.

The good news is that with awareness and hard work we can learn to be more authentic over time.

Learning to Differentiate Between Healthy & Unhealthy Emotions

One of the most important distinctions to make and become aware of when creating more positive behaviors in regards to overcoming niceness is to determine when an emotion is a “healthy signal” vs an “unhealthy signal”.

It’s usually the case that people who are too nice have a higher amount of the guilty or shameful critic inside of them that they are scared of coming up against when they decide to act in a way that’s not accepted by others.

This means that a lot of the emotions that are stirred up when overcoming a too nice problem will be faulty.

If someone can differentiate between an unhealthy emotion that has been wired into them from poor programming vs a healthy emotion that serves a positive function they will be able to change these patterns over time.

Below is a chart I made to show the difference between healthy emotions and unhealthy emotions:

EmotionHealthy EmotionUnhealthy Emotion
Guilt/ ShameYou were tired and stressed and you said or did something that wasn’t cool and you felt guilty and bad after you did it. It triggered painful guilt and you apologized and offered yourself forgiveness. The emotion served an intelligent purpose.You speak up about your opinion on a topic or express your feelings and someone expresses disagreement and hatred towards you. This triggers guilt because of your conditioned pattern of feeling bad when others disapprove of you.
FearYou’re doing something dangerous like climbing a steep mountain or someone with a gun creeps up upon you. You are scared and the energy of fear acts as a rush to allow you to take positive careful action.You are totally safe and supported in the situation you are in but unhealthy patterns of fear and panic arise due to a past event that created a negative reaction to stimuli. You realize that you are safe and allow the fear while continuing your day.
SadnessYour dog or a friend who you loved and deeply cared for dies. You are sad and cry a lot because it’s a painful loss. Crying helps you express your love and allows you to move on in a healthy way.Your values are conflicted and you get sad and angry when someone accidentally bumps into your car while driving. There is no significant damage and everyone is safe. You should be grateful that no one was injured and forgive the other person since it was a mistake.
AngerSomeone tries to rip you off while buying items from a convenience store and you call them out on it and let them know that it wasn’t cool. Anger helps you take action to stand up for yourself and correct the transaction. It’s a healthy signal that alerts you to the injustice that needs to be fixed.Someone says something to you that hits your ego or notifies you of your blindspots that need work. You take it personally, get angry, and create a false narrative to try and avoid the truth and your own painful feelings.

In reality, all emotions that come up are meant to be felt and allowed. Even if the emotion is “unhealthy” it still has to be felt and allowed before it can fade away for a healthier pattern to emerge. 

The key is being able to determine when you just need to feel and allow the emotion to move through your body vs when the emotion is a healthy signal which is serving a purpose in the present moment to be aware of and used to take an action.

In the case of people pleasing the main emotion that arises which needs to be allowed to fade away is the unhealthy guilt and shame that hits you based on the harsh internal critic. 

This unhealthy guilt was created because you were taught to never upset anyone else and never express your true self despite a difference of opinion or conflict.

What Does Being Too Nice Cost Us?

Being too nice can cause stress and pressure on the body and mind. Below are a few ways that people pleasing can contribute to problems.

  1. Anxiety
    1. Trying hard to be nice all the time and only acting in ways that others would “approve” of creates a constant source of anxiety and fear around how you are acting and feeling. This overly self critical and lack of self love pattern is not fun to live with.
  2. Resentment and Rage
    1. If someone has had a pattern of being too nice for a while this most likely means that they have a lot of suppressed anger in their system because there have probably been countless times where other people took advantage of them or didn’t treat them with respect and they had to push it down to maintain their nice persona.
  3. Chronic Pain and Injury
    1. Suppressed emotions create chronic health issues, pain, and other conditions that are not fun to live with.
  4. Powerlessness
    1. If you live with a nice persona then you have to maintain these self imposed rules by being extremely accommodating, only doing what others want, not expressing your needs and desires, and only expressing the part of you that others will like. These rules rob you of power and self confidence.
  5. Isolation
    1. Nice people do everything they can for other people to like them but in return actually never create genuine deep connections with others because they are not able to express their true self and connect on a deeper more vulnerable level.

Steps For Developing Healthy Assertiveness

Once you are aware of any people pleasing tendencies, it’s necessary to take steps to improve on this issue.

The three main steps include:

  1. Deciding you want to change your niceness pattern
  2. Do the not nice stuff that makes you feel scared & uncomfortable
  3. Work through the internal backlash after (guilt, fear, shame, doubt, anxiety)

Below are the main areas that will need to be worked on.

1. Creating Your Bill of Rights

It’s helpful to think of the freedoms you want to allow yourself while operating in the world. 

Creating a bill of rights allows you to determine what you will work on allowing yourself to do in spite of the fear, anxiety, or the harsh critic that may be activated when taking new actions.

Keep in mind that the reason a lot of us have unhealthy social conditioning is because a lot of the societal norms are simply not a healthy way of living so brainstorming your own rights and values is important in setting a framework of personal operation.

For this exercise simply make a list of all the things you will allow yourself the freedom to do while taking into consideration your own values.

  • I have the right to decline an invitation or offer and say no when needed
  • I have the right to express my true feelings and opinions 
  • I have the right to approach anyone I want to start a conversation
  • I have the right to ask questions when I don’t understand something 
  • I have the right to allow myself to be anxious, sad, angry, or scared around other people and love myself despite what others think
  • I have the right to end a conversation whenever I want
  • I have the right to change my mind and not always be logical or consistent
  • I have the right to disagree with others even if they have better credentials
  • I have the right to make mistakes, mess up, or misspeak 
  • I have the right to express a healthy level of assertiveness while respecting others
  • I have the right to express myself sexually and show affection 
  • I have the right to take time out for myself if I need it when around other people or during a planned event
  • I have the right to choose the path I want to take in life despite societal or family beliefs
  • I have the right to choose my spiritual, philosophical, and religious beliefs
  • I have the right to not be responsible for others feelings and problems 
  • I have the right to healthy respectful selfishness in situations where there is competition
  • I have the right to quit anytime I want, take a break, or leave something that isn’t serving me
  • I have the right to work hard but also bring humor, enjoyment, and playfulness to work
  • I have the right to look like a fool to others 
  • I have the right to be exactly as I am in each moment despite the reactions of others. Authentic, vulnerable, great, not ok, struggling, excited, joyful, nervous etc.

2. Having Boundaries

In order to be able to know when you need to speak up or take action you need to establish boundaries for yourself.

This all goes back to your values and who you want to be in the world. 

It starts with getting clear on what you want in each interaction and situation in your life so you can effectively communicate your needs to others without allowing everyone else to always dictate the course of events.

The key thing to realize is that everyone has wants and needs and it’s important to clearly communicate what you want from others and in your life. 

It’s not bad to have wants and needs.

When people have very weak boundaries they tend to not have any opinions, values, or wants in their life and look to others to determine their reality for them.

It’s important to value your own interests and ideals while also staying open minded to others. 

A simple journal exercise to help with determining your boundaries is by determining what you like and believe with the following questions:

  1. What do you love?
    1. Plants, animals, nature, good friends, yoga, surfing, meditation, reading, music, good work, helping others, tea, diversity, exploration, dancing, growth, Japanese food, fitness, healthy food, spirituality, compassion, authenticity and expression, art, deep conversation and connection, God, adventure, beauty, cool style, sunsets, a good laugh or cry, learning, honey and almond butter, thai massage, forgiveness
  2. What do you hate?
    1. People who consciously harm others, people who choose to spread fear and hate, gun violence and the need for guns, disconnection from the earth and others, greed that causes damage, political polarization, division, violence, rape, disconnection from the heart, the death sentence, a lack of forgiveness, brainwashing
  3. What do you believe?
    1. God is real but not what we think, that love is the strongest force, everyone deserves a second chance, that we are meant to enjoy our life and live in harmony with people and planet, the more we feel our feelings instead of escaping the more powerful we become, that everyone is inherently good, forgiveness can set us and others free, that action + discipline + smart work create success, action + feeling uncomfortable + self love is the path to freedom, that there is meaning in life, that a lot of societal standards are creating suffering, that everything is connected, in karma, that everyone is exactly where they need to be, that most problems come down to fear vs love
  4. What is great about you?
    1. I am smart, wise, have a big heart, love people and the planet, have a lot of courage and resilience to face my fears, am creative, have good style, can relate to anyone and connect deeply, am willing to do hard things, am good looking, have a good sense of humor, have good athletic skills, can make things happen when I need to, am able to be vulnerable and real, can simplify complicated concepts, that I love God, am a good friend, can be trusted, I’m authentic, I like to have fun 
  5. What’s your purpose?
    1. To do meaningful work with my unique skills that serves others, to help shine light in the world, to lead people to truth and God, to help other people realize their true nature, to use fierce compassion to get important things done in the world, to heal myself and others, to help break trauma cycles, to lead people to freedom and success, to leave the world a better place

3. Owning Your Shadow

Our shadows are made up of all the things that we learned are unacceptable in society. It includes thoughts, feelings, impulses, and actions that we learned are bad, unacceptable, and bring on disapproval and a loss of love.

Each person’s shadow is different based on the way they were raised and the messages they received on what was acceptable or not.

Some of the typical things that are held in the shadow of most societies are things like anger, aggression, physical violence, sex, masturbation, selfishness, and greed.

All of these things that we learn not to do don’t just disappear and the shadow is still a part of us.

Once we learn how to accept, own, and integrate our shadow we can become more clear and relaxed. This helps to reduce guilt, fear/anxiety, and increases our power.

True freedom begins when we start to acknowledge the shadow energy and stop making it wrong, suppressing it, and fighting ourselves.

To do this we need to get familiar with our shadow and grow our awareness of it while allowing the energies to emerge naturally. We have to stop the denial of this part of us and dispel the myth that we are only nice people.

The more we try to hide our weaknesses and shadow energies the more guilty, shamed, anxious, fearful, and physically depleted we become. We need to accept, allow, and turn towards our shadow energies welcoming them into awareness.

By befriending and allowing our shadow energies to emerge it actually gives us better self control and self esteem over time because we do not fear these energies when they emerge. 

The shadow is actually our greatest source of power for moving through life when it is properly integrated.

When we release the battle with the shadow, we release our guilt and our sense of happiness and joy will magnify dramatically. The source of the shadow energies (anger, aggression, sexual energy) are the strongest sources of motivational energy in us if they are allowed and cultivated towards healthy desires.

When others speak over us, dominate us, mock us, or make us feel small or unworthy and we keep giving in and pleasing them we cut ourselves off from our primal energy to make a change or stand against what we don’t value. This is why we must allow and own our shadow and use the raw energy source that it provides us to transform into healthy action.

A few ways to tap into and harness the shadow are:

  1. Journaling freely
    1. Take 10-15 minutes to open up a journal when you are feeling emotional shadow energy such as anger, fear, sexual impulse, and write without censoring your words. Allow yourself to write from your shadow without any filter and just express in words how you are feeling.
  2. Movement and Feel
    1. Go for a rage walk and mutter your thoughts or do some yoga or another movement exercise where you can allow the feelings to be present, to be felt, and to move through your body

That which we repress doesn’t grow weaker, it grows stronger. As we allow and become aware of our shadow we can start to feel lighter, more energized, and freer. The oppressive sense of badness, shame, and guilt for being who we are will start to diminish and we may start to love ourselves more for who we are.

4. Speak Up

If we’re living in a world that we have created where we think we should only be pleasing and nice, that we should always take on responsibility for others feelings, and where we should only feel loving and never angry or scared then we have already set ourselves up for failure.

This is because if we have already determined or someone else has determined for us that when we break those rules we will be considered bad and unlovable this will set us up for guilt, anxiety, and shame.

We simply won’t be able to speak up or be authentic if we don’t allow ourselves the ability to be human and not perfect. 

The reasons we don’t speak up when we want to:

  1. Don’t want to offend people or hurt their feelings
  2. Don’t want to feel guilty or shameful after
  3. Don’t want people to think rude, mean, arrogant, pushy, or an asshole
  4. Don’t want people to say yes because you made them
  5. Don’t want people to get angry or retaliate
  6. Don’t want to make things worse
  7. Don’t want to get flustered, show strong emotion, start crying, or show that “they got me”
  8. Don’t want people to see me as needy 
  9. Don’t want people to judge me for what I want or how I think
  10. Don’t want to mess up or do it wrong

These reasons often lead people to stay silent because they are scared of speaking or acting up. It’s important to understand that speaking up can be done in the right way where it’s not overly aggressive but assertive.

3 Modes of Communication

  1. Being passive
    1. The only option if you don’t want to risk any of the above feared outcomes
  2. Aggressive asshole
    1. A dog eat dog mindset that blocks out the consideration and care for other people all together and takes the view of “you just take what you need’
  3. Assertiveness (the middle way)
    1. Is the healthy mode of communication where “my needs matter and so do yours so let’s be honest and work this through”
    2. We determine what we want and we actively pursue our wants and needs while being respectful and considerate of others 
    3. We maintain awareness and compassion towards others, we listen to them, and we try to create a win-win but there are times when you still proceed despite others feelings being hurt

Compassionate assertiveness is the ideal operating mode for speaking up and expressing your wants and needs.

5 Relationship Truths

  1. People aren’t fragile
    1. People are strong and resilient and can handle things so we should treat them as the powerful beings they are
  2. Upset is temporary
    1. If you say something that may upset someone and it is truthful or honest the upset is only temporary and could help them in the long run
  3. Truth is not bad
    1. Telling the truth when appropriate is not a bad thing as it will help things in the long run
  4. Others Aren’t Victims
    1. Once again, people can handle themselves
  5. Speaking up in itself is good
    1. It’s good to share your thoughts and express yourself naturally

Ultimately, like most things, we learn the skill of speaking up in a healthy way by practicing speaking up for ourself in different situations including challenging ones. 

In my opinion, the key is learning how to speak up with respect and a healthy level of assertiveness, not out of aggression or trying to put yourself up against another person.

5. Allow Healthy Selfishness

Yes, there is such a thing as unhealthy selfishness where someone is aggressively going after what they want without giving a damn about how it affects other people or the world around them all to seek more pleasure for themself.

That being said, there is also a healthy type of selfishness that is about taking care of yourself, loving yourself, and allowing yourself to do the best thing for your life path where you are also able to contribute to others and society because you have taken care of yourself.

It’s also important to consider that giving and contribution has to be your personal choice and not forced on you or else it will lead to resentment. Giving + No choice about it= Resentment.

We are not responsible for other people’s feelings, wants, desires, and needs. We do not have to meet everyone’s needs.

The key is to cultivate healthy selfishness where you take care of yourself so that you can show up for others and contribute your gifts to the world.

6. Say No

The last step is learning to say no when you need to. 

The more you say no when you want to, the easier it gets.

The key is determining what you want so that you can decide if you want to do something or not and then if it’s not a fit to say no.

If you don’t want to do something there’s no need to explain yourself or apologize for the fact you can simply tell someone no in a kind and assertive manner. 

If you don’t want to do something and know that it just isn’t a fit remember to say no right away because it gets harder as more time passes by and you postpone the answer.

Increasing Discomfort Tolerance & Taking Action

Since the root of changing a too nice pattern is the feelings of discomfort that arise when you try to make a change there are steps that can be taken to increase the tolerance for discomfort.

The more discomfort you can handle, the faster you’ll grow, the more you’ll achieve what you want, and the better life will be.

Here are 30 days worth of discomfort tolerance improvement actions:

  1. Get clear on why you want to break free and your fears 
  2. Pick one approval seeking pattern you use and work on it
  3. What do you want journal writing 
  4. Create your personal bill of rights 
  5. Strengthen your reality by writing down what you like and don’t like 
  6. Act like you are the source of approval when interacting with people 
  7. Own your shadow and start to allow the feelings and thoughts 
  8. Do 1 minute of cold exposure in the shower
  9. Endure disapproval by thinking of doing an activity that someone you know would hate and feel the sensations in your body
  10.  The extended or free order, ask excessive questions in line or ask the server for a free order to stir up some negative emotions 
  11. Express disagreement when you notice it in a conversation with someone 
  12. Ask for something for free 
  13. Ask for exactly what you want from someone without filtering it or creating a story around it. Make it uncomfortable.
  14. Share something unsolicited before you are asked to
  15. Share disagreement with someone in a respectful way 
  16. Live the day as if you are the owner of your life and other people don’t determine your reality
  17. Go on a 2 minute certainty rant about things you believe are true
  18. Say no today to something or someone 
  19. Interrupt someone in a respectful way
  20. Approach someone of authority and strike up a conversation
  21. Say no again
  22. Have a conversation you’ve been avoiding for a long time
  23. Commit to take care of yourself for the day or be a little more selfish
  24. Decide to hold nothing back today
  25. Ask for what you really want
  26. Be 100% you for the day
  27. Do something that causes discomfort and when the pain arises remind yourself that you are not responsible for that person’s feelings and they are a strong and powerful being
  28. Use the hell yes or hell no mantra
  29. See others with the eyes of love, watch people from a park bench and see if they are also in their own heads
  30. Continue getting out there and facing discomfort

Concluding Thoughts

When you really get to the core of people pleasing and being too nice it occurs because of someone’s internal fear and guilt that inhibits them from being who they are or saying what they want to.

People who are too nice simply do not have enough self love and stability in who they are as a person and they determine their worth based on the judgement of others.

It feels more comfortable to stay in the same patterns you have created compared to expressing your true self and potentially coming up against uncomfortable emotions. 

The only way to change this faulty pattern and live a more authentic and exciting life is to have the courage to be yourself in the world despite what others think. This means speaking up when you want to, sharing your opinions, and expressing yourself authentically even when it brings up tough emotions.

It means learning to love and develop power in yourself as a person so that you can nurture yourself through challenging emotions.

Like anything, this healthy change takes place slowly over time as someone takes small steps of courage in daily life interactions. 

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.