Do you find yourself constantly putting others’ needs ahead of your own? How often do you struggle to say “no” to things when you don’t want to do them? Do you struggle to share your opinions, needs, or desires? If so, you might be a people pleaser. While it’s natural to want to make others happy, people-pleasing can become a harmful behavior that can negatively impact your mental and emotional well-being and your connection with others. In this blog post, I’ll explore what makes a person a pleaser, the psychological origins of this behavior, the dangers of people pleasing, and signs that you might be a people pleaser. I’ll also offer tips for how to break free from this pattern and build healthier relationships with others. So if you identify with always seeking to make others happy and are ready to put yourself first, keep reading!
What is people-pleasing?
People pleasing is a behavior pattern characterized by a strong desire to please others, gain their approval and avoid conflict or rejection. People pleasers tend to put the needs and desires of others ahead of their own, often sacrificing their own needs, wants, and boundaries to maintain harmony in relationships or to avoid disappointing or upsetting others. People-pleasing behavior can manifest in a variety of ways, such as saying yes to requests even when they don’t want to, avoiding conflict at all costs, or constantly seeking validation and approval from others. While people-pleasing may seem like a positive trait, this behavior ultimately leads to negative consequences, including disconnected relationships.
How did I Become a People-Pleaser?
I think it’s really important to understand that at the root of people pleasing is a desire to feel love and acceptance while maintaining a sense of safety and security. That being said, the origin of this behavior can be influenced by a combination of individual, social, and cultural factors. Therefore, what made me a people pleaser may be different from what made you a people pleaser.
Here are some possible explanations for how you arrived at people pleasing:
- Trauma: People who grew up in a household with an emotionally immature or emotionally absent parent can take on people-pleasing behavior in an attempt to gain the love and attention of those they feared. When an emotionally immature parent is constantly losing their shit, we learn that by ensuring every need is taken care of, we can maintain a sense of security even in an unpredictable environment.
- Attachment style: People with an insecure attachment style (which most often stems from early childhood experiences) may be more likely to display people-pleasing behavior out of fear of rejection or abandonment. People with an insecure attachment style have a strong desire to maintain relationships, even if it means sacrificing one’s own needs.
- Low self-esteem: People who struggle with low self-esteem may turn to people pleasing to gain validation and approval from others and feel a sense of self-worth by continuously meeting others’ needs.
- Fear of conflict: People pleasers often have a fear of conflict. This fear often stems from factors such as past trauma, anxiety, or a desire to avoid negative consequences.
- Culture and Society: We can’t underestimate the power of social conditioning, as it drives much of our behavior at a subconscious level. This is often the case for women because much of our social conditioning promotes messages that prioritize selflessness and putting others first, often at the expense of one’s own needs and desires. Over time, we can begin to identify with a deep conviction that being “selfless” and putting others first means being “a good girl.” This is then reinforced through social norms, such as the expectation to always be polite and accommodating or to avoid confrontation at all costs.
- Perfectionism: People pleasers may also struggle with perfectionism and may feel a need to meet impossibly high standards to gain validation and approval from others.
It’s important to note that people-pleasing behavior can have complex origins, and the reasons we become people-pleasers can vary from person to person. However, recognizing these potential underlying factors can be important in understanding and addressing people-pleasing behavior.
The dangers of people pleasing
While on the surface, people pleasing may look like we are just being kind, easygoing, flexible, and helpful, underneath the surface is self-betrayal and control. And the product of self-betrayal is often immense feelings of loneliness, disconnectedness, and even depression. Even at the surface level, several dangers are associated with people pleasing. Some of the most common risks include:
- Neglecting one’s own needs: People pleasers often prioritize the needs and wants of others over their own, leading them to neglect their own desires and well-being, which can lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, and even physical and emotional exhaustion.
- Difficulty setting boundaries: People pleasers may need help to set and enforce boundaries, making it harder for them to say no or stand up for themselves when necessary. This can lead to a lack of respect from others, feelings of resentment, and an inability to prioritize one’s own needs.
- Lack of authenticity: When people pleasers constantly try to please others, they may need help to express their true thoughts, feelings, and opinions, leading to a lack of authenticity in their relationships. Over time, when we suppress our true authentic selves to ensure the happiness of others, it becomes more and more difficult to tap into our true authentic desires and needs. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and a lack of genuine connection with others.
- Overcommitment: People pleasers often need help saying no to requests or invitations, which can lead to overcommitment. Overcommitment leads to a lack of time or energy for self-care or pursuing goals and interests.
- Dependence on external validation: People pleasers may become overly dependent on external validation and approval from others, leading to a lack of self-confidence and self-worth It is easy for your identity to be tied to the opinions of others rather than from a place of genuineness.
- Prone to Attracting Narcissists: All of the qualities that a people pleaser displays are the exact qualities that a narcissist needs to thrive. Therefore, the two personality types take on a codependent relationship where each dysfunctional behavior fuels the dysfunctional behavior of the other. This is probably the most damaging of all of the dangers that come from people pleasing because once this codependent relationship happens, it is exceptionally difficult to get out of.
People pleasing can affect many different aspects of your happiness, mental health, self-esteem, and relationships.
Signs that you might be a people pleaser
When I first heard of the term “people-pleaser,” I never thought I could possibly be one. In fact, I argued that I didn’t fit the description. It wasn’t until I began searching for a cure for my intense loneliness that I began to (hesitantly) question if maybe I was. Asking these questions helped me to solidify my answer.
- You have difficulty saying no: People pleasers often find it challenging to say no to requests or invitations, even when they don’t want to or don’t have the time or energy.
- You avoid conflict at all costs: People pleasers may go to great lengths to avoid conflict, even if it means sacrificing their own needs or beliefs. They may apologize excessively or avoid expressing their own opinions to keep the peace.
- You seek validation and approval from others: People pleasers often look to others for validation and approval rather than relying on their own internal sense of self-worth. They may feel anxious or insecure if they think they have disappointed or upset someone.
- You put others’ needs before your own: People pleasers often prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own, even to the point of neglecting their own self-care and well-being.
- You have difficulty making requests & setting boundaries: People pleasers may struggle to ask for changed behavior, and as a consequence, they also struggle to set and enforce boundaries, which can lead to feelings of overwhelm, resentment, and burnout.
- You feel guilty when you prioritize your own needs: People pleasers may feel guilty or selfish when they prioritize their own needs or desires, even when necessary for their well-being.
- You feel responsible for others’ emotions: People pleasers may feel responsible for other people’s emotions and may take on the responsibility of making others happy or solving their problems.
These signs can be a useful starting point for recognizing people-pleasing behavior, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different, and people-pleasing can manifest in various ways. These are just the most common.
How to Break Free from People Pleasing
Okay, so maybe you identified with some of those signs…now what? I want to say this: It’s not always important to put our needs ahead of others, as healthy relationships require compromise and consideration. I don’t want this to get misconstrued here. However, it is important to recognize the importance of taking care of ourselves and prioritizing our own needs and desires, particularly when they conflict with the needs or desires of others. The more in tune we are with ourselves, the more connected our relationships will be.
Here are some tips on how to break free from people-pleasing:
- Practice Communicating Assertively: The people-pleaser often communicates passively or passive-aggressively. The goal is to be assertive. When we practice communicating assertively, we naturally move into a space where people-pleasing becomes much more difficult. (I regularly teach communication workshops, so if you struggle with this, make sure you’re on my email list to be the first to know when I open registration for the next one).
- Prioritize Self-Care: Taking care of our own needs allows us to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental health. We may experience burnout, stress, or physical and emotional exhaustion when we neglect our needs, so self-care is the best thing you can do to genuinely be available for those you love.
- Focus on Personal Growth: The more we grow as individuals, the more able we are to pursue our interests, goals, and passions. In turn, when we pursue our interests and focus on personal development, the more in tune we become with our emotions, feelings, and desires.
- Set & Maintain Healthy Boundaries: Setting boundaries is necessary to protect oneself. We advocate for ourselves and our well-being when we set and uphold a boundary. Boundaries are a requirement for maintaining healthy relationships. Asserting our needs and desires through boundaries can also prevent us from being taken advantage of or mistreated.
Breaking free from people-pleasing behavior can open up a world of growth and self-discovery. While it’s important to consider the needs and feelings of others, it’s equally important to prioritize our own well-being and happiness. In doing so, we can build healthier relationships, grow as individuals, and live more fulfilling lives.
I have struggled (unknowingly) with people-pleasing most of my life. The process of breaking free has been a difficult process, to say the least, but I stand firm in my belief that it has been worth every bit of hardship. I have cultivated the most authentic, connected relationships with those around me. I have a deeper sense of self-awareness and strong self-esteem. I’m finally okay with rejection and hearing the word “no,” which is liberating. But above all, it has increased my emotional resilience. When we learn to stand up for ourselves and communicate our needs, we become more emotionally resilient and better equipped to handle challenges and setbacks, and this alone can save lives.