Dear Tacit,

Why am I such a people-pleaser?  I hate it sometimes – it ends up making me so unhappy.

Signed: Need People-Pleaser Rehab

Dear Need People-Pleaser Rehab,

In general, soft people-pleasing tendencies are introduced to most of us in early childhood.  They are rooted in patterns of behaviour that tell us to put aside our own needs/thoughts/feelings in order to accommodate the needs/wants of someone else.  The purpose of this pattern is a good one and often teaches children good manners and empathy for others.  None of us want to grow up being selfish or inconsiderate.  And we learn that, in order to fit in and to successfully belong to a bigger collective, there are times when we must sometimes prioritize others before ourselves.

However, these healthy teachings can occasionally take a wrong turn.  There are times when these lessons of how we should be stem from unhealthy parenting styles (abuse, neglect, parentification of the child) or grow out of a punishment given to us by someone else.   We might start to believe we are not as good or as worthy as others.  Sometimes the lesson attaches too strongly to our sensitivities or personal insecurities, to our very human need to want to be liked, or to our natural worries about judgement and rejection. And we can start to believe that we will only “belong” if we put others first.  The once lovely desire for attributes like kindness and respect for our fellow human goes too far and can become damaging people-pleasing tendencies.

People-pleasers can be identified by their overly agreeable and accommodating personalities.  They tend to go along with what others are suggesting, and rarely say no or voice their own opinions.  They dislike conflict and struggle to assert themselves.  They look for praise/validation (a sense of their own value) from eternal sources rather than from a belief/trust in who they are/their own perspective.  As time goes on and these people-pleasing tendencies get more deeply ingrained, a person loses touch with who they really are (and with what they truly think/like/need).  Their self esteem decreases. They get caught up in more and more unhealthy relationships/situations.

Left unaddressed, this pattern of constant self-sacrifice and self-denial/disconnect becomes quite damaging.  A person’s sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with life (with themselves, with those around them, with everything they do) can be adversely affected.  Negativity sets in.  The individual can start to feel exhausted and burned out; stressed and overwhelmed; and used, under appreciated and/or like a door-mat.

More women than men struggle with people-pleasing personalities – some studies claim these numbers to be as high as 54% (women) and 40% (men).  And while society in general tends to enjoy having a people-pleaser as a friend or colleagues for a little while, these patterns of behaviour often become too much to want to be around.  These tendencies limit the equality and mutual respect that can develop between people.  Even with the greatest of intentions, the people-pleasing behaviours can be perceived by others as enabling and controlling and can rob a person of their own sense of agency.

If you suspect you might be a people-pleaser (even one that is in the early stages), there are some things you can do to regain a more balanced and healthy state of equality with those in your life:

  • Focus inward and strengthen your connection with your self (get to know who you really are and what you value/need/feel);
  • Develop a sense of self compassion – learn how to accept who you are (good and bad) and how to speak kindly and caringly to yourself;
  • Live in harmony with your own value system (how you treat others must also be the way you treat yourself);
  • Set boundaries – get comfortable with saying no/having limits that allow you to meet your needs first so you can have the energy/stamina to help others afterward (remember the airplane mask rule);
  • Learn how to empower not enable (learn how to validate, support, and encourage others – not to do more for others than they do for themselves);
  • Wait for an invitation for help – and even then, measure your offer based on what your energy, other commitments and own self care can manage appropriately;
  • Question your intentions (why are you stepping in) and be aware of what is driving your need to help;
  • Get comfortable reaching out and asking for support from/sharing and connecting with others (be an equal to the people in your life – it’s a two-way street).

Take Care!

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