People-pleasers come in all shapes and sizes. But one thing that is common to all who self-describe as a people-pleaser is that they have a need to be loved and valued.
This is a need which all humans have. Where it turns unhealthy is when our self-image is consistently dependent on the favourable opinion of others.
In this sense I define people-pleasing as the emotional need to please others at the expense of oneself.
People-pleasers are often affirmed for our easygoing nature, or our capacity to know what it is people want or need before they even say it. And often, we find validation in seeking out opportunities to serve others.
But to ‘please’ someone’ is not always the same thing as being of service to them. Unfortunately, the people-pleasing pattern compels us to put conditions on our giving and serving. It capitalizes on our sense of ego by forcing us to be the facilitators of someone else’s contentment/happiness/comfort/pleasure.
Here are a three myths, and three truths to counter those myths, that are common to many people stuck in ‘people-pleasing mode’:
MYTH #1: You feel indispensable.
When we are in people-pleasing mode, we try to be helpful to others at all costs. This means that we will set aside our needs and wants to help others, no matter the cost to ourselves or other relationships. In fact, the other person may not even want or need our help, but we feel that our helping hands are needed no matter what. You might even think, “If I don’t give this person this thing or say this thing, then they will be crushed/not get what it is they need.” Often, this translates into difficulty saying ‘no’ and setting healthy boundaries.
TRUTH #1: Your intrinsic value as a human being is unconditional.
Feeling indispensable is a subtle way our ego tries to alleviate a sense of unworthiness within ourselves. The important thing to know is that whether you say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you still are valuable and worthy of love and attention.
In fact, when you set boundaries and make space in the relationship, you are actually helping the other person see that you are a well-rounded person who has wants and needs just like everyone else.
In this sense, knowing your true worth and value provides space in the relationship for true authenticity and a give-and-take characteristic of healthy relationships. It also helps manage your own ego by acknowledging that other people are capable of meeting needs as equally well as you.
MYTH #2: You feel responsible for the other person’s feelings.
If people disapprove or are disappointed (or you perceive they are), then you assume these feelings are your fault. Conversely, if they are delighted or happy with your actions, these feelings are also because of you.
TRUTH #2: Every person is in charge of their own emotional life.
Each person’s emotions originate in their own bodies. Though we are certainly impacted by our circumstances and by other people’s actions, understanding and managing our emotions begins within ourselves, and cultivating awareness within our own bodies. This means as adults we all have to take personal responsibility for ourselves. It also means not confusing love with over-identification.
We cannot feel another’s feelings for them, grow for them, or learn for them. Taking on a loved ones’ personal responsibilities prevents them from growing and learning.
MYTH # 3: Expressing a different opinion means losing the relationship.
Oftentimes, people-pleasers don’t want to share a differing opinion for fear that others will not continue to like us. We may say, “They will get angry if I set limits,” or, “They won’t accept me if I disagree.” When we are in people-pleasing mode, we are essentially making decisions about what to say or do based on what we think the other person’s response will be to us. We anticipate this response at the expense of being truthful about our own wants or needs. Many people-pleasers employ this strategy in order to gain a sense of control in their lives, particularly when situations or relationship feel shaky or uncertain.
TRUTH #3: People can think differently than us and still ‘like’ us.
It is important to recognize that if we still love and respect others who disagree with us, then it is important for us to allow others this same opportunity. We each have a different set of lenses influenced by our own experiences, perceptions, and values. Having and sharing a different perspective is what allows us to build on our unique strengths as individuals, and characterizes a healthy, mutual give-and-take in the relationship.
If we love and respect those who disagree with us, they will then love and respect us when we disagree with them. If they don’t, this is not a reflection of you, but of them and their choices.
One strategy to disagree with someone while still recognizing the value of the relationship is with a ‘positive no.’ One way you can share a ‘positive no’ and share your perspective respectfully is by beginning your sentence with the phrase, “I wonder…” For example, “I wonder if (insert suggestion) is an option or possibility?” Or, “I see your point. I wonder if we could look at it like this (insert suggestion) too?”
Believing the myths about pleasing others at all costs can contribute to a loss of respect for self and others, a loss of control of direction in life, and increased feelings of guilt and frustration. And this pattern can inhibit us from being fully happy with ourselves and satisfied in our relationships. When we begin to acknowledge with self-awareness and self-compassion the ways that we are trying to attain approval, or gain love and value, and yes, even a sense of control, we can begin to change the frequency of this mode.