Do you feel like you are being fake, not your true self? Have you felt that you want others to like you and to feel accepted by them? It’s hard not to want that from others. People pleasing has been around for as long as people have interacted with each other. There are dynamics that come into play during our social interactions with others along with what we have been through. You may genuinely enjoy helping others and find this rewarding. It becomes exhausting, depleting, and stressful when people pleasing is done again and again with overextending yourself along with not taking care of yourself.
Let’s look at several common questions when it comes to people pleasing.
What is people pleasing?
A people pleaser refers to a person having a strong urge to please others, at any expense of their own. You may feel that your needs or wants do not matter and adjust yourself to meet those wants and needs for others. You are seeking another person's approval in some way, this can be at work and also in your personal life.
What are examples of people pleasing?
The Friend Request: A friend asks you to hang out. This is the 3rd time in a row that you are driving over an hour to them after having a long week at work. They gave you a choice of hanging out at your place or theirs, and so they would not be mad at you, you said “oh it’s fine, I will come to you”.
The Indecision: A friend asks you what restaurant you want to go to. You know where you want to go and really want to go to this one place but insist that “I don’t care, you pick”.
The Ex: After not talking for months after the breakup, your ex-partner wants to meet up. You agree despite feeling hurt by this person and don’t want them to think poorly of you.
The Parent: Your mom talks to you and begins to discuss things that make you feel like her therapist. You become drained by these conversations as they are one-sided but you do not want to feel like you are shutting your mom down.
The Apology: A friend and you agreed to meet up this weekend, however, your car broke down the day before and you are unable to get there. You have to cancel. You apologize again and again even after your friend said “it’s okay, we can reschedule”.
The Reassurance: You have been with your partner for 2 years and the relationship is going great! You find yourself asking them, “do you love me?, “do you like me?”, “do you enjoy spending time with me?” or similar questions frequently. You fear that they are not happy with you, especially any time they are having an “off” day when it is most often things that have occurred outside the relationship.
The Yes: You agree and say “yes” to anything, despite feeling exhausted, fearing missing out on an opportunity, your time barely allows for the commitment.
The Altered You: You changed your personality even slightly around others. This can even mean your opinions, how you dress, and what you do. You are nervous that if you show the “true you”, others will not like you.
People pleasing can occur even when the other person has not stated their want or need. You try to mind-read or predict their wants and needs to avoid any negative feelings. You do not want them to not like you.
What is the difference between people pleasing and compromising?
A compromise is when two differences are settled. Sometimes it does mean agreeing to something that is not as favorable. When it comes to people pleasing, oftentimes, you do not have that discussion to compromise, you back down or forgo what you actually want in order to avoid a negative outcome or reaction from the other person(s).
If you noticed so far that people pleasing is predicting or assuming an outcome will happen if you voice your opinion or thoughts and therefore you avoid or do not voice them. You put someone else before you, and repeatedly, not just once.
What is the cause of people pleasing?
It is important to understand where people pleasing is coming from and where it started. This helps to address other concerns that can be impacting this behavior and just you.
Here are 3 general causes that play a role in people pleasing:
After going through challenging and possibly traumatic experiences and interactions, you may have found it easier and safer to agree again and again. When we repeat the same behaviors and reactions over years and years, it becomes like a reflex. Current situations may remind us even slightly of those older situations and we react the same out of safety. It was easier to go along with things instead of disrupting them.
When we do not value and have confidence in ourselves, we seek assurance externally from others. We now let others determine what we like and don’t like. We need to feel accepted by those we have labeled (friends, parents, bosses, mentors). We lose who we really are and well we might not be sure who we truly are after years of experiencing low self-esteem and seeking external validation.
We try to have some control in the situation by predicting decisions and interactions. If we make sure we get everything right, then when interacting with others, they will feel happy and not upset with you. Perfectionism is when you try to control things that are outside of your control.
What are the signs of people pleasing?
This is a great question! Everyone is unique and signs may vary, but here are some that I have heard from clients over the years.
Difficulty saying “no” when you do not want to do something,
You are concerned about what others are thinking about you,
You feel guilty to say “no”,
You say “sorry” multiple times,
You take the blame even if it isn’t your fault,
You try to predict or mind-read others feelings and thoughts,
You fear that saying “no” will make others think you are selfish or being mean,
You agree to things that you don’t enjoy doing or things that you don’t want to do,
Their needs are more important than yours,
You pretend to agree even though you think differently,
You never have time for yourself or even free time because you are doing things for others,
Allowing someone to bulldoze you in their interactions because you don’t want to be mean,
Other people talking is more important than you talking,
Feeling that you need to fix anything that is wrong,
Keeping your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and even hobbies to yourself because you feel others will not accept you,
You consider yourself an empath, however, you continuously show up for others when they do not show up for you.
With interactions with others where you find yourself people pleasing, you will feel stressed, anxious, frustrated and even upset. You are not being your true self or feel that you are lost from giving all your energy into this place.
How do you break the people-pleasing cycle?
There are several things you can do to stop this cycle and to find more balance in your relationships with others and with yourself.
It is so hard to change something that you have been doing for years, even decades! You are retraining yourself when you are making these changes. It is okay if you notice the old pattern come back because it had been a reflex before. Try identifying who you feel safe around and the methods you feel safe in communicating. If you need to first text that you can’t come to an event, start there. Think small, leads to greater confidence, and easier to begin protecting your inner peace, your energy.
Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries. This is the space between you and me where I am able to love myself and love you simultaneously. It is defined as a dividing line that markes the limits in an area.
Communication is key to establishing and enforcing boundaries. People may violate boundaries intentionally or unintentionally. As it comes to identifying when boundaries are to be implementing, first identify how you are feeling. If you notice that something does not align with you, you are feeling stressed or drained from the interaction, it is time to communicate the boundary. Going back to the definition, this interaction is now approaching and about to cross the area which you are now protecting. You are protecting this “area” to remain energized, joyful, content, and even safe.
Positive Self-Talk & Priorities
By talking kinder to yourself, you are letting yourself know that you are worthy and deserving of being kind. Think about your priorities, if you are being kind to others, you need to replenish the source… that’s you! You would never say those mean and negative things to a friend but you say those things to you. Aside from self-talk, reflect on things that drain you of energy or take away from your time. Note how they can be changed, modified, or if they are important. For example, if you have a friend who calls you on your drive from work and they dump all of their emotions and day on you while you just listen, that is so draining after a long day at work!
Before saying “yes”, get some clarification. I know I have ran into this where I overcommit myself to multiple activities in a day. Check to see how much time it will take, ask yourself if it is really want to do, do you even have time for it, and if you say “yes”, how much energy do you have to devote to it.
Being inquisitive will help you know more about the commitments and how you can plan. Being inquisitive is not a “no”, but a wondering.
Be inquisitive with yourself too! Ask yourself what energy do you have and where do you want to allocate it.
Also see if you notice any patterns of when you tend to show more people pleasing tendencies vs. other times and what are those times telling you.
As you assess relationships and challenge your people pleasing, you will find that those people will respect your requests. Relationships, actually let’s call it out, healthy relationships are about reciprocity. Not that everything is equal 100% of the time, but you are not the only one pouring from your cup into the relationship every single time.
Better Minds Counseling & Services and Brittany Webb, LPC provides online therapy services in Pennsylvania. With online therapy, mental health counseling is near you, just a click away. Contact a therapist here or schedule your first call directly here.
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.