Trying to satisfy everyone at all times is hard (and unnecessary) work. Most people who fall under the category of being a people-pleaser don’t even realize it themselves. I know I didn’t.
Honestly, I’m not sure when it started for me, but there came a point where the opinions and happiness of others felt like it all rested on my shoulders.
What is a People-Pleaser?
When we look at the initial description of a People-Pleaser, it sounds like a very positive person. Who wouldn’t want a person in their life who is helpful, nice, giving, always good for a favor? It’s like they never say no! Honestly, everyone would want a friend like this.
However, even though a People-Pleaser can be seen as gracious and nice, they exude those characteristics while also sacrificing their own needs or desires. And, in most cases, this sacrifice isn’t even necessary.
There are people who can become more susceptible to People-Pleasing than others. According to Psychology Today, more often than not the need to please and care for others is rooted in either a fear of rejection or a fear of failure (or both). Fear of Rejection says that if I don’t do xyz for this person, they could stop loving me or they may abandon me. The Fear of Failure says that If I don’t do xyz I could face punishment or people will be disappointed with me.
We can also take into account a person’s personality. In a previous post, I wrote about the Four Temperament as they are described in the book Personality Plus. To put it briefly, a person has one or two dominant temperaments. Mine is a combination of ‘Perfect Melancholy’ and ‘Peaceful Phlegmatic’. Phlegmatics are known for their calm disposition and seem to mold into different environments very well because they tend to be more emotionally aware and observant. They get along with everyone! One of the reasons for that is because Phlegmatics like to ‘keep the peace’; they basically hate to offend or hurt others. They don’t want to pose themselves as a burden, and almost always put others first.
As you can imagine, folks who fall into the Phlegmatic temperament can easily fall into People-Pleasing as they are likely to do everything they can to avoid conflict/confrontation. They are likely to have a hard time saying no, and often sacrifice their own happiness to keep others happy instead.
Signs of a People-Pleaser
I don’t really have a hard time spotting a People-Pleaser, it’s fairly obvious. However, that may be because it takes one to know one. Psychology Today lists out a couple of tell-tale signs that someone is a People-Pleaser. Here are a few of the traits I feel are more common:
- Passive Aggressive – People who are passive-aggressive may not like confrontation, but they will definitely give subtle (or not-so-subtle) hints that you’ve done something to bother them. Passive-Aggression is simply unexpressed anger. This could be in the form of ‘petty’ acts such as snide comments, sarcastic jokes, or purposely doing something that you know will irritate the other person. The dangerous thing about passive aggression is that it can easily slide into resentment, and resentment will most definitely destroy any relationship.
- Self Neglect – A more obvious trait of someone who is ‘always sacrificing for others’ is that they themselves are unhappy, unfulfilled, or unsatisfied. This is very common with new parents, specifically mothers. While there is definitely some sacrifice that comes with becoming a parent, some people take it a step further and just completely abandon themselves. They neglect their own health and wellness, their own goals, their own desires, their own aspirations all for the sake of their kids. It’s a given that there is some sacrifice, but too much could end with a mother completely losing her sense of self because her ‘self’ revolved around the liveliness of her children. Over time, this could also lead a parent to unconsciously resent her own kids.
- Stress and Depression: As you can imagine, someone who “can never say no” is probably one of the most stressed people on Earth. You’re trying to do all these favors, keep everyone happy, be the ‘good friend’, the ‘perfect parent’, the ‘good child’ and overall keep an impossible standard. Someone like this will definitely be more susceptible to depression, as they are not making time for themselves. Often times, People-Pleasers feel that they are always giving but no one is giving anything in return. This is an incredibly lonely feeling.
Overcoming My People-Pleasing Ways
As I said before, I don’t know what happened for me to start People-Pleasing, but it’s something that I discovered about myself a few years ago.
One thing I had to understand is that People-Pleasing was getting me absolutely nowhere. All it did was stress me out and make me feel like my friendships weren’t genuine. I had to realize what People-Pleasing was doing to me both mentally and emotionally.
What I do know is that the Fear of Rejection and Failure is definitely real for me. People-Pleasing doesn’t have to be extended to everyone. In fact, you could be a People-Pleaser to the people who mean the most to you. I never want to feel like a disappointment, but especially to my parents or my mentors. People-Pleasing resulted in me being in a job I absolutely hated for an entire year because I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘quitter’. People-Pleasing made me believe that my mentors would think me to be weak-minded whenever I ran into a problem or lost myself emotionally. People-Pleasing led me to think that people’s affection and respect for me was all dependent on how much I could be ‘there’ for them, no matter the circumstances.
Lastly, all the ‘disappointment’ or ‘anger’ or ‘disregard’ that I thought would occur when I said no was actually all in my head. We can be so worried about another person’s feelings about what we’re doing but in actuality they’re probably not even giving us a second though.
I’m not saying that to be mean, but it’s true. Humans have a natural tendency to up their sense of importance. When you boil down to it, insecurity and People-Pleasing are just forms of self-centeredness. You’re so worried about what others will think about you, what they will say about you, what they’ll think if you say no, what they’ll think if you where this instead of that, what college degree you decide to get, what job offer you take, who you marry, it is literally never-ending! But it all comes down to this thought: What is this person going to think about me after this?
It’s an Ongoing Process
There’s a reason why I call myself a ‘recovering’ People-Pleaser. While I do feel like I’ve come a long way, there are times in which I have to remind myself of a few things. These mantras may or may not be applicable to you, so if you are also a recovering People-Pleaser you may want to consider coming up with some that are tailored to you.
- People’s opinions will not pay my bills (they don’t hold value).
- My decisions are made after thought, prayer, and reasoning. I can trust myself.
- Not doing this one thing for someone will not cost our friendship. If it does, this friendship was never genuine.
- My family/friends’ love for me is not dependent on how many favors I can do for them.
- ‘No’ is not a bad word.
- Not obtaining a certain goal does not make a failure, nor does it make me a disappointment.
- Even if someone does get upset about a decision I’m making, at the end of it all, they’ll be fine.
Like I said, getting away from the People-Pleasing tendencies may be a challenge but it’s not impossible. Putting others before ourselves is an excellent gesture and a good exercise in empathy. However, a devotion to helping others should never result in complete neglect of the self. None of us can pour into the cup of the other if our own is empty.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Awkward Penguin,