People-pleasing might not sound all that bad. After all, what’s wrong with being nice to people, helping them out or doing things in hopes of making them happy?
But people-pleasing generally goes beyond simple thoughtfulness or kindness. It involves “editing or altering words and behaviors for the sake of another person’s feelings or reactions,” explains therapist Erika Myers.
You might go out of your way to do things for the people in your life, based on what you assume they want or need. You may give up your time and energy to get them to like you.
Myers says this is how people-pleasing can cause trouble. “The urge to please others can be damaging to ourselves and, potentially, to our relationships when we allow other people’s wants to have more importance than our own needs,” Myers says.
Still not sure if you’re a people pleaser or just a “good person”?
Here’s a look at some telltale signs of people-pleasing.
You base your sense of your self worth on other people’s opinions or approval.
People pleasers often deal with low self-esteem and draw their self-worth from the approval of others.
You may believe people only care about you when you’re useful. You need their praise and appreciation in order to feel good about yourself.
You need others to need you.
People pleasers often spend a lot of time worrying about rejection. These worries often lead to specific actions designed to keep people happy with you so they don’t reject you.
You might also have a strong desire to be needed, believing that you have a better chance of receiving affection from people who need you.
It’s hard to say “no.”
You might worry that telling someone “no” or turning down a request for help will make them think you don’t care about them. Agreeing to do what they want might seem like a safer option, even if you don’t actually have the time or inclination to help.
Many people agree to do something when they’d rather not, like helping someone move. But a pattern of this can cause problems, since it telegraphs that their needs come before yours.
Some people in your life may abuse your people pleasing tendencies. They ignore any boundaries you manage to establish because they know that, in the end, you’ll do what they want anyway.
You apologize or accept fault when you’re not to blame.
Are you always ready with a “sorry!” when something goes wrong?
People-pleasing involves readiness to take on blame, even when what happened has nothing to do with you.
You’re quick to agree, even if you really don’t agree.
Agreeableness often seems like a surefire way to win approval.
But when you go along with something you don’t agree with just to keep the peace, you’re setting up yourself, and others, for future frustration.
You struggle with authenticity.
People pleasers often have a harder time recognizing how they really feel.
Continuing to push your own needs to the side makes it harder to acknowledge them. Eventually, you might not even feel sure about what you want or how to be true to yourself.
You also may not be able to voice the feelings you are aware of, even when you want to speak up for yourself.
You’re a giver.
Do you like giving to others? More importantly, do you give with a goal of approval?
People pleasers tend to like giving, Myers explains. “Making sacrifices might feed your sense of self, but it can also lead to a sense of martyrdom.” Do you give and give, hoping people will reciprocate with the affection and love you desire?
You don’t have any free time.
Simply being busy doesn’t mean you’re a people pleaser. But take a look at how you spend your free time.
After taking care of essential responsibilities, do you have time for hobbies and relaxation?
Try to pinpoint the last time you did something just for yourself. If you can’t think of many, you could have people-pleasing tendencies.
Arguments and conflict deeply upset you.
People-pleasing tends to involve a fear of anger. So if your goal is to keep people happy, their anger means you’ve failed to please them.
To avoid this anger, you might rush to apologize or do whatever you think will make them happy, even if they’re not even angry with you.
You might also fear conflict that has nothing to do with you. If two of your friends are arguing, for example, you might try to offer advice or tips to repair the situation so they’ll be friends again — perhaps even with the secret hope they’ll think positively toward you for helping them make up.
People-pleasing isn’t inherently negative, according to Myers. “Part of having relationships with others involves taking their wants, needs, and feelings into account.”
But trying too hard to earn the regard of others usually means you neglect your own needs and feelings. In a way, you’re putting on an act. You’re doing what you think people want so they like you. You might only pretend to enjoy helping, since this is part of keeping people happy.
This isn’t exactly honest, and over time, people-pleasing can hurt you and your relationships.
People pleasing can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment.
If you spend all your time doing things for others, the people you help might recognize and appreciate your sacrifices. But they might not.
Over time, they might take advantage of you, even if that’s not their intention. They may also not realize you’re making sacrifices for them.
In either case, being nice with ulterior motives can eventually cause frustration and resentment. This often bubbles up as passive-aggressive behavior, which can confuse or even upset people who genuinely don’t understand what’s happening.
People may take advantage of you.
Some people will quickly recognize and take advantage of people-pleasing tendencies. They may not be able to name the behavior. But they do know you’ll agree to whatever they ask, so they’ll keep on asking. And you keep saying yes, because you want to keep them happy.
But this can have serious consequences. You might face financial problems if people ask for monetary assistance. You could also be at higher risk for manipulation or mental or emotional abuse.
As a parent, this behavior could have unintended consequences. For example, you might let your child dodge responsibilities because you don’t want to lose their affection. But this prevents them from learning valuable life skills. They might be happy now, but in the future, they’ll have some hard lessons to learn.
Your relationships don’t satisfy you.
Healthy, strong relationships are balanced and involve give-and-take. You do nice things for loved ones, and they do the same for you.
You probably won’t have very fulfilling relationships when people like you only because you do nice things for them.
One huge impact of people-pleasing is increased stress.
This can easily happen when you take on more than you can handle for others.
You don’t just lose out on time for yourself. You also find yourself with less time for things you really need to do.
To get the bare essentials taken care of, you might end up working longer hours or going without sleep, eventually facing physical consequences of worry, stress or burnout.
Partners and friends become frustrated with you.
Your partner might notice the way you agree with everyone or wonder why you apologize for things you didn’t do. It’s easy to fall into the habit of helping others at the expense of putting time and energy into a relationship.
People-pleasing can also backfire when you do so much for others that you take away their agency to do things for themselves.
Loved ones may also get upset when you lie or tell a modified version of the truth in order to spare their feelings.
How you can break the pattern of people pleasing.
If you want to break the pattern of people-pleasing, recognizing how these behaviors show up in your life is a good first step.
Increasing awareness around the ways you tend to people-please can help you start making changes.
Show kindness when you mean it.
It’s perfectly fine — and even a good thing — to practice kindness. But kindness doesn’t come from a desire to earn approval, and it generally doesn’t involve any motive beyond wanting to make things better for someone else.
Before you offer help, consider your intentions and how the act will make you feel.
Does the opportunity to help someone else bring you joy? Or will you feel resentful if the act isn’t appreciated or returned?
Practice putting yourself first.
You need energy and emotional resources to help others. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be capable of doing anything for anyone else.
Putting your own needs first isn’t selfish, it’s healthy.
“It’s OK to be a giving, caring person,” Myers says. “It’s also important, however, to honor and tend to our own needs.”
Keep in mind that needs can involve things like offering your opinion in a work meeting, getting comfortable with your emotions and feelings, and asking for what you’s like in a relationship.
According to Myers, developing healthy boundaries is an important step in overcoming people-pleasing behaviors.
The next time someone asks for help or you’re tempted to intervene, consider:
- How you feel about the action. Is it something you want to do, or are you dreading it?
- Whether you have time to see to your own needs first. Will you have to sacrifice limited free time or skip out on a necessary chore?
- How helping will make you feel. Will it make you feel happy or resentful?
Wait until you’re asked for help.
No matter what the problem is, are you always ready with a solution?
Next time, challenge yourself to wait until someone explicitly asks for help.
It’s Never Too Late to stop people pleasing.
Since sustainable weight loss requires that we build a foundation of thinking and behaving that over-rides and recalibrates all our default training, it’s important to examine your people pleasing tendencies.
Is your desire to please causing you to make choices that undermine your weight loss goals? During weight loss coaching we take a closer look and figure out if people pleasing tendencies are undermining your weight loss efforts.
We work on shifting your thinking and establishing boundaries to support your heartfelt goals.
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