Hands up, I admit it. I’m a people-pleaser. I hate that I am, but it’s ingrained in me. I learnt it from my mother – the kindest, most giving, most unselfish person I’ve ever met. But, still, I know deep down that this habit has been detrimental to me, and to her. So, ideally, I don’t want to pass it on to my own children. Because, by focusing on keeping everyone else happy, we leave little room for ourselves. This, ultimately isn’t good for us – or them.
“The typical people-pleaser is someone who lacks an internal compass to guauge the value of their own actions,” explains Linda Tillman, a leading US psychologist. “As a result, they spend their lives looking for validation from others.” This is the problem: people-pleasing involves seeking approval of others, rather than approving of ourselves. It usurps a lot of energy and brings us away from ourselves, which often leads to us losing sight of what we want from life. This can lead to resentment and to the people-pleaser, understandably, sometimes lashing out in frustration. Because we can only please, please, please for so long…before we explode.
Responding to the needs of others, of course, is the way we often parent, and that’s how it should be – but only up to a point. Doing things for others that they can do for themselves is wrong – even for our children. I was able to finally stop (or reduce) my people-pleasing when I realised how much guilt I was carrying with me. I often felt bad for not accomplishing enough – there was always more I could do, and often for others. But, in the long term, it was just leading to my own frustration and resentment, which wasn’t good for anyone. Now, I’m more content and I’ve finally found my voice. The word I’m saying more frequently now is ‘No’ but I’m hoping, once the dust settles and people get used to the ‘new me’, my new word will be ‘yes’ – to the things I want to do.
What are the Signs?
Have a look at this list – it’s a real eye-opener. If you do a number of the following frequently, then there’s a strong chance you are a people-pleaser. Read on for some tips on how to start changing.
1. You avoid conflict or disapproval by always giving in to the wishes of others.
2. You frequently say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ and vice versa.
3. You never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even at your own expense.
4. You really only feel loved and accepted when you are pleasing others.
5. You feel like a ‘good’ person when you please others and a ‘bad’ person when you don’t.
6. You haven’t defined your own goals and dreams.
7. You’re undecided or vague about your own beliefs, values, and integrity.
8. You have a hard time making decisions without deferring to others.
9. You are guided by what you ‘should’ do rather than what you want to do.
10. You often have problems with time management.
11. You tend to attract people that need to be rescued or taken care of.
12. You over-volunteer, often at your own expense.
13. You rarely say what you think or feel.
14. You have a hard time relaxing and doing nothing.
15. You’re exhausted from trying to be perfect all the time.
16. You desperately fear letting other people down.
17. You avoid rocking the boat at all costs, even if it means lying.
18. You need a lot of verbal approval and reinforcement.
19. You often suppress your anger or frustration for fear of rejection.
20. You often over-apologize or apologize when it’s not really your fault.
21. You rarely take risks or allow yourself to look silly or foolish.
22. You often feel trapped, anxious, and easily upset.
23. You feel guilty about not being able to accomplish enough.
24. You have a hard time being authentic or even knowing who the ‘real’ you is.
How to Step Away from Being a People-Pleaser
Slowly but surely does it. The results will transform how you interact with others, and how you feel about yourself.
1. Practice the art of saying ‘no’ – start small and build on it.
2. Be more assertive and strive to be more honest – to yourself and others.
3. Put boundaries in place – particularly with family (see more here)
4. Speak up if you disagree – it’s okay to have a different opinion to someone and you may be surprised how good it feels to voice that opinion, rather than stay silent like you usually do.
5. Decide what your core beliefs and values are – are you living your life in accordance with these, or in accordance with someone else’s (eg, a parent or partner’s)?
6. Practise self-care – be good to yourself, including eating well, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol consumption.
7. Give up on trying to please others – instead, see what it’s like to please yourself for a while. You may be surprised to discover a new hobby or a passion you used to enjoy as a chil.
8. If you’re doing something because you ‘should’, then stop and think first – do you really want to do this? Could you do it another time, or in a different way? Are you doing it to please someone? What could you do to please yourself?
9. Get professional help – sometimes people-pleasing is so ingrained that it’s useful to get support from a counsellor or psychologist in trying to change a habit of a lifetime.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” Nhat Hanh (buddhist monk and peace activist).