I used to have no opinon.
“Where would you like to eat?” My reply would almost always be “oh wherever it’s fine with me”. Or if someone asked me to do something, my answer would always be yes.
When you’re a People-Pleaser it can be challenging to understand how to break this pattern of behaviour. The first step is to recognize the signs.
While it can be challenging to see the reality of the situation, this list below should resonate with you if you’re a People-Pleaser.
Why Is People-Pleasing Dangerous?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of what you can do to change people-pleasing behaviors, let’s recap some of the warning signs that can suggest that you are a people-pleaser.
You have a low opinion of yourself.
People pleasers often deal with low self-esteem and draw their self-worth from the approval of others. You may believe people only care about you when you’re useful, and you need praise and appreciation in order to feel good about yourself.
You have the intense need to be in control.
At first, people-pleasing might come across as a selfless act. But people-pleasing is actually a selfish act because you’re trying to control someone else’s reaction towards you by behaving in a certain way. In fact, people-pleasing is more about the desire to be in control than it is to please other people. Wanting to be liked by others is just a symptom of the desire to be in control because deep down you feel powerless or worthless. This is why people-pleasing is so exhausting — it goes against the flow of life, and takes so much effort to maintain.
You need others to like you
People pleasers often spend a lot of time worrying about rejection. These worries often lead to specific actions designed to keep people happy with you so they don’t reject you. You might also have a strong desire to be needed, believing that you have a better chance of receiving affection from people who need you.
You feel pressure to keep up the appearance you’ve fostered.
One of the worst things about constantly being nice is the extreme pressure you feel to constantly maintain your self-image. It feels good constantly being on people’s “good” sides. It feels good to avoid negative feelings and get the spotlight for being a saint. But this addiction comes at a price: chronic stress. Often that stress is imperceptible, but it’s always there, always demanding that you keep your mask strapped on even though it might be suffocating you.
I am only worthy of love if I give everything to someone else.
You find it hard to say “no”
You might worry that telling someone “no” or turning down a request for help will make them think you don’t care about them. Agreeing to do what they want might seem like a safer option, even if you don’t actually have the time or inclination to help. Many people agree to do something when they’d rather not, like helping someone move. But a pattern like this suggests that you value the needs of others before you own.
This will cause problems in a relationship. Some people may abuse this, ignoring your boundaries because they know you’ll do what they want anyway.
You suppress a lot of emotion.
Inevitably, wanting to be loved and needed by others all the time results in suppressing tons of uncomfortable emotions. I’m talking rage, hatred, bitterness, annoyance, grief and stress — anything that is contrary to the altruistic image you crave to portray. You can’t give yourself entirely to other people, deny yourself, and expect to feel ok in the longterm. Suppression of emotions eventually results in physical or psychological breakdowns.
You apologize or accept fault when you aren’t to blame
Are you always ready with a “sorry!” when something goes wrong? People-pleasing involves readiness to take on blame, even when what happened has nothing to do with you.
You’re quick to agree, even when you don’t really agree
Agreeability often seems like a sure-fire way to win approval. But if you go along with something you don’t agree with just to keep everyone happy, you’re setting yourself (and others) up for future frustration. If both of the plans have clear flaws, you’re doing everyone a disservice by not speaking up.
No one really knows the real you
Keeping so much locked inside of you for fear of being disapproved of makes you extremely guarded. When you’re a people-pleaser no one really knows the “true” and authentic you — they only know the facade that you present them with. Unfortunately, this desire to be loved and approved often backfires, making you feel more lonely and disconnected as time goes on.
Over time, people pleasers often have a harder time recognizing how they really feel, because they’re accustomed to pushing their feelings aside. Continuing to push your own needs to the side makes it harder to acknowledge them. Eventually, you might not even feel sure about what you want or how to be true to yourself.
You have a hard time just being yourself. Especially if this behaviour is deeply rooted over years of patterning, it can be almost impossible to know what you feel or who you are, let alone allow others to see it.
You also may not be able to voice the feelings you are aware of, even when you want to speak up for yourself.
You’re a giver
Do you like giving to others? More importantly, do you give with a goal of being liked? People pleasers tend to like giving and you might give and give, hoping people will reciprocate with the affection and love you desire.
You don’t have any free time
Simply being busy doesn’t mean you’re a people pleaser, but take a look specifically at how you spend your free time. Do you have time for hobbies and relaxation? Pinpoint the last time you did something just for yourself. If it’s difficult for you to generate a list of self-care, and you can’t think of many (or any) instances, you could have some people-pleasing tendencies.
Arguments and conflict upset you
People-pleasing tends to involve a fear of anger. This is pretty logical. Anger means, “I’m not happy.” So if your goal is to keep people happy, anger means you’ve failed at pleasing them. To avoid this anger, you might rush to apologize or do whatever you think will make them happy, even when they’re not angry at you. You might also fear conflict that has nothing to do with you.
People use you.
When you’re a people-pleaser you open yourself up to abuse. Narcissists, energy vampires, bullies and other types of wounded people are drawn to you like fresh meat. Having weak boundaries, low self-esteem and the insatiable desire to please makes you the perfect “use and abuse” target. And unconsciously, you like feeling needed and wanted, so you unwittingly continue the toxic cycle.
How To Understand Your People-Pleasing Behaviour?
Breaking out of the people-pleasing trap only happens when you decide that it’s time to change. Recognize how disruptive your people-pleasing behaviours are to not only you, but those around you.
EXAMINE THE FEAR: People-pleasing is deeply rooted in fear. Figure out where the fear comes from and ask yourself what the root cause of your fear could be. What’s the belief you formed that works with that fear? When you look at fear of failure, how does this resonate with you? Journal around where you think the fear comes from, and try to understand it. If it helps, imagine that this is a problem that a friend is struggling with and they’ve asked you for help. What would you tell them? Don’t be afraid to explore into your childhood as often fear roots itself here.
PRACTICE SELF-AWARENESS: The greatest changes begin when we look at ourselves with interest and respect, instead of judgment and denial. When we invite our thoughts and feelings into awareness, we create the opportunity to learn from them, instead of reacting to them. We move from our subconscious into consciousness and we increase our awareness of reality by being willing to encounter our personal truths.
I’m a huge advocate for journaling. Specifically journaling around ideas of self-esteem and worth can create new awareness when it comes to understanding people-pleasing. Create a list of your values (what makes me valuable) and continually add to that. We’re very good at picking out our weaknesses, but we must know what our strengths are too.
IMPACT ON RELATIONSHIPS: Realize that doing too much hurts, rather than helps, relationships. The health of any relationship depends on the willingness of each individual to care for themselves first and then give to that relationship. When you over-function in your relationships, it inevitably leads others to under-function, creating a skewed relationship and feelings of being ‘taken for granted’. Ultimately, these feelings will breed resentment and anger…and anger fuels impulsive, reckless and reactive behaviour.
AUTHENTICITY: Understand the importance of being authentic. Authenticity not only allows you to express your real self and all of your emotions but also allows others to see you for who you really are. To sit in the space of authenticity means that you can accept yourself – good and bad.
FORGIVE: If you’re stuck in the past and can’t let go of things that happened to you, chances are you’re accepting what other people believe about you and you’re cycling through repeated experiences. You’ll remain imprisoned by them, never able to access your full potential, if you don’t learn to let go and forgive. Whether that looks like bullying, negativity or abuse, it’s time to free yourself from the constraints of living into someone else’s perception of you.
FACE THINGS: Realize that avoiding problems doesn’t promote growth. When problems arise in our lives, we tend to react by immediately trying to get rid of them and the feelings they bring. Challenges are designed to foster our growth, so instead of running scared, lean in just a little.
MANAGE STRESS & ANXIETY: When we make anxiety-based decisions, we act impulsively, based on instinct, inevitably causing us to experience more anxiety in our lives. Develop a routine of self-care for managing your stress and anxiety.
PRACTICE SELF-ACCEPTANCE: Self-acceptance is an ever-evolving process, and it’s up to each one of us to get that process in motion. Once I learned my worth, I was able to be open to changing those aspects of myself that needed change.
LEARN: Learn from whatever happens. Things may not go the way you planned, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve failed. Learn from whatever arises. Failures and mistakes are simply opportunities for growth. So instead of reviewing them over and over or making them a life sentence, view them as the lessons they are and move on. Remember to take the learning with you.
WORK ON YOUR PRIORITIES: Setting the foundation of what is most important to you allows you to understand where you’ve been acting out of alignment with what you want.
SET BOUNDARIES: Allow yourself to set some boundaries around what you are willing to accept in your life. Creating an understanding of what you’re willing to do or not do based on your priorities, will serve you as you enter this new phase of authenticity. Healthy relationships are built on boundaries. Understand what you are willing to accept and what you aren’t and move forward from there.
The pattern of people-pleasing can be difficult to break, but rooting yourself in self-acceptance and authenticity and then creating boundaries will ultimately serve you well.
If you need help, please reach out.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.