Hey everyone! In the last episode we talked about how to deal with negative or toxic people in your life. Today I want to turn the spotlight inward to talk about an all-too common problem that many of us—especially women—seem to struggle with to some degree: people-pleasing. This is a big topic, so I’m going to break it down for you into three key parts: what it is (really), how to spot it in yourself and others, and what to do about it. Alright let’s dive in!
Part 1: What is people-pleasing and why do we do it?
People pleasers are motivated by a strong desire for approval and external validation, and may be very insecure, especially in their relationships. This insecurity makes them conform to other people’s opinions and expectations — even when they don’t want to — and can make it hard for them to say “no” when they are presented with something they genuinely don’t want or like.
Many of us confuse people-pleasing with kindness—and at first glance it often appears to be coming from a place of genuine niceness or helpfulness—but ultimately people-pleasing is inauthentic at best, and at its worst this behavior can be highly destructive and toxic.
There’s a French proverb that says, “The art of pleasing is the art of deceiving.” I completely agree! People-pleasing is akin to wearing a mask or smiling while you lie – it’s not honoring your true feelings if you are saying yes to everything and everyone simply out of a need to be liked, or a fear of rocking the boat because it would cause discomfort for you. So while people-pleasers might think they’re just trying to be nice, helpful, or friendly, what they’re actually doing when they say yes without any boundaries and with little regard for their own true feelings, the reality of the situation and without thinking it through—which often means they wind up resenting the people they say yes to (when really they should have just been honest about their feelings or capabilities and said no to the request…so I have to ask you, is that really nice? Of course not—it’s not nice to the people-pleasers or the people they’re trying to please!
Unfortunately, spotting this behavior isn’t as easy as we might think. Often we don’t even realize it’s happening to us or our loved ones for a long time, if ever. That’s because people pleasing is learned behavior: From a very young age, we’re taught how to behave in ways that “please” our parents and others who we want to like us and accept us. It’s totally normal to want to be liked, have friends, and to do nice things for the people we care about. But when wanting to be liked by some people turns into needing to be liked by everybody… well you can see how that quickly becomes a problem.
So why do so many people struggle with people-pleasing? Most often it stems from low self-esteem, another all too common problem we humans have. When your confidence is determined by outside validation or approval from others, rather than coming from within yourself, it leads to all kinds of issues in your life and relationships.
Part 2: So, do you think you or someone you love might be a people-pleaser?
Here are some key signs to look out for:
1. You feel responsible for how other people feel.
It’s healthy to recognize how your behavior influences others. But thinking you have the power to make someone happy is a problem. It’s up to each individual to be in charge of their own emotions.
2. You apologize often.
Whether you excessively blame yourself, or you fear other people are always blaming you, frequent apologies can be a sign of a bigger problem. You don’t have to be sorry for being you.
3. You can’t say no.
Whether you say yes and then actually follow through, or you later fake an illness to get out your commitments, you’ll never reach your goals if you can’t speak up for yourself.
4. You need praise to feel good.
While praise and kind words can make anyone feel good, people pleasers depend on validation. If your self-worth rests entirely on what others think about you, you’ll only feel good when others shower you with compliments.
5. You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
It’s one thing not to want to start conflict. But avoiding conflict at all costs means that you’ll struggle to stand up for the things — and the people — you really believe in.
6. You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.
You can’t form authentic relationships with people unless you’re willing to speak up sometimes and say that your feelings are hurt. Denying that you’re angry, sad, embarrassed, or disappointed — even when you’re emotionally wounded — keeps a relationship superficial.
Chances are you recognize some of these signs in yourself or someone you know. But do you know what it’s costing you or them? The real cost of being a people pleaser is higher than most people realize—it wreaks havoc on your self-worth and is crippling in relationships! For example:
- Is who you are and what you want being replaced by the needs and happiness of others? People-pleasing can be insidious, slowly but surely chipping away at the people-pleasers’ sense of self as their own thoughts, emotions, desires, dislikes, preferences, goals, and dreams take a backseat in their own lives.
- People-pleasers, because they so often defer and try to appease, can attract very controlling people into their lives, and tend to find themselves engaged in toxic relationships.
- These types of relationship are built on sand. They are counterfeit, because neither person is allowing the other to be their best.
Part 3: OK, now that we understand the problem, what can we do about it?
I’ve got 6 suggestions for where to start:
- First, let’s be honest with ourselves and admit when we are people-pleasing. We’ll never reach our full potential as individuals if we’re constantly obsessing about others!
- Realize you always have a choice. Now that you recognize the problem, it’s up to you to make every effort possible to break free from this kind of behavior.
- Learn how to say no. It’s ok to say No. But if this step is too much for you right now, at least learn how to say, “let me think about it.” Whenever someone asks you for a favor, it’s perfectly OK to say that you’ll need to think about it. This gives you the time and opportunity to consider if you can (or should, or want to) commit to saying yes—or not.
- Stop Apologizing! Don’t apologize because you have to prioritize, or for putting your own needs first—it’s actually better for everyone if you do this, so it’s not “selfish” at all. If you really do need to apologize for something, there’s an art to that…and that’s a whole other topic we can explore in the future, but for now, let’s recognize how often we say sorry when it’s not necessary or genuine—and stop it!
- Rely on internal self-esteem, not external validation. Remember this: what other people think of you is none of your business!
- Set some boundaries. Now, boundaries is a major buzzword and a whole topic on its own, so let’s just let that marinate until the next episode, when we’ll be digging deep into how to set and enforce boundaries in our relationships… Until then, Be Well!