Did you read this title and think “Oh wow, that’s me!”? If so, you’re in the same boat as I was. You love the thrill of doing something for other people and the recognition that you might get as a result of doing someone a favour. You may have been a people pleaser as a child too, with your teachers gushing to your parents about how well behaved you are.
But what if I told you that defining yourself as a people pleaser isn’t always a good thing?
Let’s start with WHY this happened to you. Other people don’t seem to have that same drive to conform and go out of their way to help other people, so clearly this stems from something. Is it genetic? Not as much. However, it’s more about your life experiences.
A lot of the times, your reaction to people, even years later, is shaped by how your parents behaved and reacted when you misbehaved.
A lot of people pleasers are born from authoritarian parents, who offered little support and reward. If you’re part of this group, you had to work really hard to get recognition, and felt like you had to walk on eggshells since you often didn’t know how they would react to things.
Another cause could be having friends that behaved like that too and turned on your people pleasing tendencies. Sounds familiar? To a lot of you, that might be the case.
For others (like me!), it might just be that you were surrounded by people pleasers and learnt from them how to behave. Either way, there were events in your life that shaped you into wanting to do things for other people at the detriment of your mental health.
So, ARE You a People Pleaser?
You might be a people pleaser if the following applies to you:
1. You feel like it’s your responsibility to keep everyone happy.
You always find yourself putting other people’s needs before your own. Even if you work 6 days a week and your friend asks if you can use your day off to babysit her kids, you say yes despite just wanting to relax. Does that sound like something you would do?
People pleasers feel like it’s their responsibility to keep everyone but themselves in a happy mood. Being surrounded by grumpy people makes people pleasers feel on edge, and they desperately offer solutions to ease the tension in the room.
You may not explicitly believe that you need to make people happy, but you could be behaving in a way to avoid the discomfort of making people unhappy. People pleasers want to avoid feeling guilty, so setting boundaries is horrible to them. It’s all sunshine and rainbows!
2. You always follow the rules.
In school, teachers loved how you were the good kid and never questioned them. You always did your homework, and only got into trouble a handful of times. Authority was not seen as a bad thing in your world; you always respected your superiors and knew that for things to work, that rules needed to be followed.
This could be due to your need of people’s approval. Teachers loved the quiet kid that did their homework (god, just writing that makes me think of me in grade 8). If you rarely question rules and conformed easily, you’re probably a people pleaser.
3. You hate confrontation.
If someone gets your restaurant order wrong, you’re not the type to go back and ask them to correct it. You’re the anti-Karen; you suck it up and accept things even if you don’t agree with them. Usually, you do this to avoid conflict or negative feelings associated with speaking out.
Do you try to convince yourself that your problems aren’t even that bad? Me too. We do this to reason with ourselves that speaking out about our opinions isn’t worth it. This way, we avoid possible backlash and possible negative attention being on us.
4. You always give, never receive.
Have you ever thought that? “I’m always the one to text first and make plans, and no one ever does the same for me!”. However, that thought never makes you stop and think to stop giving to other people; you just keep doing what you’re doing, expecting people to finally realize that they’re not doing enough.
You don’t really ask for a lot in return. The bar is set a little low. You understand if they don’t text back for a few days even though you reply to them in 5 minutes. You don’t ask for compensation if you babysit their kids every day of the week before they get home from work.
A lot of the times, people pleasers don’t ask for a lot in return because they feel like even asking for the minimum would be too much for other people to bear, and they really don’t want to rock the boat.
People pleasers tend to attract people that are the complete opposite of them: the controllers. Controllers always receive. They’re the leeches of the friend group, the toxic boyfriend, or the person that just never seems to reciprocate the love you’ve been given. If you’re reading this paragraph and thinking about a person (or several people), you probably fall into the people pleaser category.
5. You love other people’s praise.
“Oh my goodness, you did so well on that project!”. You get a sense of pride from hearing those words. Everyone loves a compliment, but you feel like you suffer a bit more if you don’t receive praise for a while. It’s not a narcissistic thing, it’s more like it makes you feel like the effort you’re putting it is noticed and valued.
You may even feel like your worth is earned and not just given. A lot of people pleasers learn that love and respect is quantitative; that it’s measured by how much effort you put into a relationship. How much you give is how much they love you more. You think you don’t deserve more than that.
Ok, So It’s Bad. How Do I Stop It Then?
Let’s make one thing clear: Naturally wanting to please other people is NOT a bad thing. What makes it dangerous is that we have controllers in the world, who take advantage of your kindness. It’s also dangerous because of the stress that people pleasing can bring! You sometimes feel like you’re stifling your feelings, which breeds resentment and stress. We don’t want that!
1. Set your priorities
If someone asks you to do something, ask yourself if your priority is them or if you have more pressing matters to attend to. If you realistically don’t have the time, your friend should understand that you can’t hang out for the fourth day in a row.
2. Be assertive, yet sympathetic
It’s truly a life skill to learn how to set boundaries (I have a blog post coming up about it!). It’s a simple and respectful formula to assert what you’re not comfortable with. If you’re afraid that people will take offence to being rejected, remember this: you, as a people pleaser, are a bit more sensitive to rejection. Most people will accept your answer and move on.
You can also express sympathy when saying no. In my experience working retail, being sympathetic with customers not only calmed them down, but tricked my own brain into thinking that their anger isn’t personal. “I know, it’s so hot in here, the sweat is getting in my eyes!” to a grouchy customer complaining about the heat saved me so many times when working at a store without an air conditioning system. Empathy, empathy, empathy!
3. Find your friends
Not on Facebook. What I mean is, since a lot of people pleasers attract controllers, some of them may disguise themselves as their friends. How do we weed those out? By setting boundaries!
Controllers, when met with a boundary, will either get mad or ask again. Your job is to be assertive and stand your ground. When they know they won’t get what they want, you’ll never see them again.
4. KISS: Keep it simple, silly!
To ease the tension after saying no, a lot of us make up a boatload of excuses to avoid feeling guilty. Please don’t do that!
Learn that “No” is a complete sentence. You can actually say “I don’t have the time to do that” or “I’m not feeling super well, so I can’t” if you still feel like you need an excuse, but one reason should be fine enough.
People pleasing becomes second nature really quickly, and you may find yourself struggling to break the cycle. That’s okay! Baby steps are quite all right, and as long as you strive to improve, you’re already better than you were yesterday.
Are you a people pleaser? Let me know in the comments.