On the surface of it, wanting to please people is a very admirable and pleasant trait, and one that would surely win you friends and respect and increase your popularity and your confidence as a result. However, as with anything, it is important to aim to please only in moderation, and if you find yourself aiming to please to an excessive degree then you are going to be damaging yourself in a number of ways.
As psychologist Harriet Braiker says – 'to please is a disease' – and in excess it can become an addiction that eventually results in your neglecting your own needs and wants, and ironically losing the respect of the people you are trying to please.
Here we will look at why it's not always a good thing to be a people pleaser, and how you can go about solving this problem.
Are You a People Pleaser?
First of all, you need to be able to identify the problem and whether you are indeed a people pleaser. At what point do you go from being generous and kind to a 'people pleaser' that is psychologically unhealthy.
Here are some signs that you might be a people pleaser:
• You always back down from arguments
• You don't raise your gripes and concerns with people
• You will go out of your way to please people even when it ends up doing damage to your own situation and negatively effecting you
• You take little time for yourself
• You put yourself financially out of pocket as a result of your desire to please
• You have a lot of one-sided relationships in which the other party seems to gain more than you
• You rarely say no to requests
• People take advantage of your good nature
Why This Is a Bad Thing
So if you are part Mother Teresa in all of your relationships, how is this a bad thing? Well actually it's bad in several ways. First of all it is bad for you, and if you are constantly making sure that everyone else is happy then you are likely to be neglecting your own needs. If you constantly go out of your way to help other people with things then will you really have spent much time making yourself happy? Likewise if you are constantly spending money on others then this can hurt your pocket.
More to the point though you won't actually be likely getting you want out of all your gregarious behavior. Most people who are people pleasers of course do so because they want to be liked – and usually they want to be respected along with this. However the reality is often unfortunately that they in fact lose respect from being so giving. People see people pleasers as pushovers, as doormats and as people with no backbone. Thus they will tend not to think highly of them, or to respect them. Often the behavior can be misinterpreted as being manipulative or creepish and we often don't trust people who seem too eager to please. At worst people pleasers can come across as cowardly. For these reasons we tend to view people pleasers negatively and this can make it difficult for them to get what they want in their relationships, in their careers and more.
Because the people pleaser never shows themselves to be annoyed or frustrated this then means that others don't consider their feelings or views. They know that the person will 'never be angry' and so they won't consider their opinions important. This makes it very hard for people pleasers to get what they want from life and meanwhile they will be resented or mistrusted by people – or not taken seriously at the very least.
People pleasers also open themselves up to abuse and manipulation and are obvious targets for people to take advantage of. Thus it isn't unusual for people pleasers to find themselves in abusive relationships and being taken advantage of in general.
Finally it is not healthy psychologically to be a people pleaser as it means you are constantly suppressing your views and desires. This then means that you are constantly having to bury anger, frustration, sadness etc rather than express it and that in turn means that those emotions are never dealt with properly or healthily.
There are many causes of people pleasing behavior. In short it often comes from a co-dependence mixed with a low self esteem. In short you can't stand the idea of being alone and yet you are low enough in self esteem that you don't think people will want to be with you unless you are completely bending to their will at all times. This then means that you then bend over backwards to be compliant and accommodating in the fear that the slightest disagreement will cause the people to leave you – to break off their relationship or friendship with you and that this will then leave you on your own.
This low self esteem and co-dependence can stem from many things, and this might be a result of an upbringing where your own needs and desires were not met or considered, or where you had to be particularly sensitive. In some cases people pleasing can just come from an overactive 'super ego' (the part of your psyche which, according to psychodynamic psychology, is responsible for your concerns and social behavior and for suppressing baser desires), and from having too much sensitivity and empathy. Thus you might not have low self esteem, but you are simply too tuned into the feelings of others and can't stand the thought of upsetting them.
If you are a people pleaser then you need to start to take your life back. To do this you need to practice being more assertive, you need to improve your self esteem, and you need to become more independent. Here we will look at how to do some of these things.
Assess Your Situation
Before you can move forward you need to get a handle on the problem as it is. So don't put off thinking about it or make excuses for yourself, instead try making a list of the last few times you engaged in people pleasing behavior and then think about how you could do this differently. At the same time it is important to examine your boundaries – at what point do you consider others to be taking advantage? And should you move these lines to be less tolerant?
Break the Cycle
If you have constantly practiced people pleasing behavior then you will not have collated any evidence to suggest it's okay to say no or to be unpleasant. One way to break out of this cycle then is to simply force yourself on one occasion to be disagreeable. Achieving this will demonstrate that you are able to speak up and be yourself and that the repercussions aren't that bad. Pick a scenario in which the stakes aren't that high and then practice being 'awkward' or stubborn or just unpleasant. For instance try complaining next time you have a bad meal – you will never see that person again and you won't have to deal with the consequences. Alternatively next time you're asked a favor by a 'fringe' friend or a relative who you know won't 'leave you' try saying no and see what they do. Or if you are going to see a film with friends then try arguing about what you see just to get yourself heard. What you will learn is that no one is going to immediately 'drop you' as most people are just as reliant on their relationships and will give you lots of 'chances' before they lose interest. By disproving your own hypothesis you can then start to more confidently be assertive. In fact you are likely to find that you are actually treated with more respect (and people like who they respect).
Practice Letting People Down
You don't have to be horrible about it though – and saying no and stopping people pleasing doesn't have to be something that loses you friends if you are careful about how you put it. For instance if you are invited out don't just say 'no I don't want to go', try instead saying 'I've been very busy this week and I really just need to take some time out'. Or if someone asks you to help them move house then just say 'I'm sorry I want to help, but at the moment my schedule is just a bit too busy'. Don't make up specific excuses as this is still 'people pleasing behavior' and people will still trying bending your arm by finding ways around your false excuse – practice being honest but at the same time letting people down gently.
One great way to get out of people pleasing behavior is to try asking for something in return. For instance if someone asks you to help them move home then just say 'yes, but actually you could help me with something as well... ' and then get them to drive you to that party/lend you a tenner. This works well because they can't really say no (as they are asking a favor of you) and it means they will be less likely to ask you again in future unless they really need you.
Ask for Something
And in fact, after your lifetime of servitude, you are likely to be owed many favors so try cashing in on a few of them without prompting. Next time you need a favor, don't be afraid to ask and to let people know you need help.
Letting a few people close to you know that you're struggling with people pleasing behavior will mean you have some people on side who can help advise you and who will be more understanding when you take some time out for yourself.
Do a Cull
As mentioned, if you are a people pleaser then you are likely to be in several relationships that are somewhat one sided. These are leaches who take advantage of your generosity and sensitivity and if they aren't doing anything in return then you aren't benefiting from that relationship – it's time to cut things off.