People-pleasing is one of those behaviours with an immediate payoff. Typically, you can expect a rapid boost to your popularity and an increase in how much people seem to need you. This is, of course, a huge boost to your ego! You may seek out more ways to ‘help,’ and therefore feel good about yourself. Left unchecked, this can turn into a form of addiction. Addiction to the need to be needed is also called codependency.
A people-pleaser isn’t just being big-hearted or kind to others, nor are they compromising. People-pleasing differs from accommodating someone because we value the relationship and know that compromise is necessary to sustain it. People-pleasers don’t think they have the luxury of choice. Their behaviour has become a lifestyle. It’s compulsive, because they’re unable to say “No”. Codependency occurs when our desire to contribute stems from a sense of not being enough. We wake up one day and realise we are no longer human beings; we have become human doings. When our need to be needed is not fulfilled, we overcompensate for our lack of self-love by trying to gain acceptance through continually doing things for others.
One of the most common forms of codependency is enabling someone with addiction by continually doing things for them to keep everything together. This form of “helping” supports the other person’s negative behaviour, whether it be incompetency, immaturity, irresponsibility or poor mental and physical health, and it’s an easy trap for a people-pleaser to fall into. Unfortunately, this only results in prolonging the bad behaviour. The codependent people pleaser ends up operating in a state of self-neglect. Their self-worth and identity quickly erode into nothing. This sense of emptiness further fuels the addiction to helping others, giving gifts, or generally attempting to gain a sense of significance.
“If you find yourself craving approval, you are low on self-love. Stop grasping for a few scraps wherever you can. Go home and make yourself a feast. Love yourself deeply today.”
17 Ways to Lose Yourself in a Relationship
We’ve all been there at some point, and most of us realised it way too late… the relationship ended up totally consuming us! You suddenly realise you’ve lost your identity and that everything in your life revolves around this one person. It can be an overwhelming and confusing experience and more often than not, it has a lot to do with people pleasing.
- You are extremely driven by the positive reinforcement of making someone happy
- You struggle to say “no”
- You are reliant on pleasing others for a sense of self-worth
- You have a neurotic desire to be liked no matter what
- You often suffer at the expense of doing favours for others
- You feel profoundly uncomfortable when disappointing or letting people down
- You are an emotophobe (you fear negative emotions)
- You always put yourself in other’s shoes, but you rarely show compassion towards you
- You desperately crave the approval and acceptance of others
- You blindly believe in other people’s “goodness” even if they are clearly abusive towards you
- You feel shattered for days or even weeks when someone criticises you
- You fear losing control of yourself because you repress so much
- You find it difficult to identify your goals and dreams
- You are stuck in relationships where you give more than you get
- You are overworked because of an overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility
- You are neglectful of your own needs
- You are exhausted, overbooked, and burned out trying to take care of others
“People pleasing does make it easier to ignore the red flags of abusive relationships at the very early stages especially with covert manipulators. We can also become conditioned to continually “please” if we’re used to walking on eggshells around our abuser.”
The Dark Side of Being “Too Nice”.
We all have aspects of the people pleaser in us. It’s the degree to which self-acceptance and approval is attached to pleasing that creates problems. Having the neurotic desire to people please can crush your spirit repeatedly. It can rob you of your peace of mind, personal empowerment and the courage to follow your goals and dreams. It can also contribute to chronic issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, addiction or co-dependency because:
You Suppress A LOT of Emotion
Inevitably, wanting to be loved and needed by others all the time results in suppressing uncomfortable emotions. Rage, hatred, bitterness, agitation, grief, frustration, and stress – anything that is contrary to the altruistic image you crave to portray. You might not even be conscious of repressing these types of emotions, but here’s the thing: you cannot give yourself over to other people, deny yourself, and expect to feel aligned, authentic or whole in the long-term. Blocked emotions do not simply disappear. They will remind you that they are there through physical or psychological breakdown. Many chronic mental and physical illnesses are fuelled by the neurotic desire to please others.
You are Under Extreme Pressure to “Keep up Appearances”
One of the worst things about people pleasing is the extreme pressure to constantly maintain your self-image. It feels good to be on people’s “good” sides. It feels good to not rock the boat. It feels good to avoid negative feelings and be applauded for being a hero. Make no mistake, this addiction comes with a very high price: chronic stress. The worst thing is that this stress is often imperceptible, but it’s always there, demanding that you keep your mask strapped on – even though it might be suffocating you. Stress kills.
People Use You
You basically open yourself up to abuse when you’re a people-pleaser. Narcissists, energy vampires, bullies and other types of wounded people are drawn to your energy like a moth to a flame – and you’re readily giving it away! Having weak boundaries, low self-worth and the insatiable desire to please makes you the perfect “use and abuse” target. Worse, unconsciously, you like feeling needed and wanted, so you unwittingly continue the toxic cycle.
You Have an Intense Need to be in Control
At first thought, you might consider people-pleasing to be a selfless act. However, the opposite is true. In reality, people-pleasing is a selfish act because you’re trying to control someone else’s reaction towards you by modifying your behaviour. In this way, 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 actually 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 the fake facade.
No One Truly Knows the Real You
Keeping so much of who you truly are locked up inside of you makes you extremely guarded. In fact, if you’re a people-pleaser you might even fear, for instance, getting drunk, because all of the secret thoughts and opinions you bury might unwittingly come to the surface. In other words, you’ll no longer be in control of other people’s perceptions of you. Unfortunately, this desire to be loved and approved often backfires, making you feel more lonely and disconnected as time goes by. Eventually, you wind up feeling “invisible” and “unseen,” even if you are constantly in the spotlight because no one knows who you truly are… maybe not even you.
“We’ve become conditioned to compromise and shrink ourselves in order to be liked.
The problem is, when you work so hard to get everyone to like you,
you very often end up not liking yourself so much.”
How Do We Get Infected?
Our patterns of relating and communicating stem from our earliest years. As young children we were influenced by our parents or caregivers manner of relating – to each other as well as to us. All children seek their parent’s love and approval. People pleasing behaviour is formed when a child becomes overly compliant in response to their parent’s wishes to gain love and acceptance. In terms of developing people pleasing traits there are some significant markers of parenting that shape a child’s view of themselves and others.
- Parents with unrealistically high expectations, rigid rules and dismissive or disapproving responses influence a child to always be a ‘good boy/girl’ as a way to survive and receive love and approval.
- If parental discipline is unfair and unpredictable a child will learn to avoid conflict at all costs. Conflict avoidance becomes an essential form of relating as an adult.
- When parents fight with each other using critical, harsh judgements and abuse, some children learn to avoid being on the receiving end of conflicts of all kinds.
- Parents who are consistently overwhelmed can consequently over protected their children. In this context a child can take on a care-giving role to soothe their parent in order to experience love and acceptance in return. This form of care giving continues in their adult relationships.
“Because children take everything personally, they believe that if they are being mistreated, it’s because they haven’t been “good enough.” Being good as an adult makes them believe, incorrectly, that they have some control in life. They think that they will be rewarded for their goodness and that it will protect them from harm.”
A Child Keeps On Needing No Matter What You're Going Through
“Children who feel unloved and unprotected are like a half-filled cup. They become incapable of ‘filling up’ because they have come to believe they are unworthy of love. They try to please others, give to others, and care for others in a desperate hope that they may make themselves worthy.”
Exercise: Your Programming
- Incidents in which you ran to your parent with enthusiasm and they turned you away without following up on your excitement.
- Events missed, such as no one there when you were the lion in the school play.
- Broken promises.
- Evidence that your preferences were unknown.
- Evidence that your thought processes were not understood.
- Evidence that your interests were missed.
- Being passed over when something concerned the whole family.
2. In what ways was your parent enmeshed with you? Include:
- Ideas held by the parent that were forced on you.
- Preferences that a parent expected you to share. Evidence that your parent assumed you felt the way they did.
- Parental ways which you were expected to adopt.
3. In what ways did your parent use you to meet their needs? Include needs for:
- Stress relief
- Solution of adult problems
“If I were surrounded by people who always approved of me, I wouldn’t need such a deep
relationship with my own sense of right and wrong. And you know what that means?
It means that other people’s approval is actually a hindrance,
more than a helper, when it comes to self-discovery.”
4 Payoffs for People Pleasing as Adults
Everyone starts out in life wanting to be safe, loved, and accepted. It’s in our DNA. Some of us figure out that the best way to do this is to put aside what we want or feel and allow someone else’s needs and feelings to take precedence. This works for a while. It feels natural, and there’s less outer conflict, but our inner conflict grows. If we’d like to say “no”, we feel guilty, then we feel resentful when we say “yes”. Our strategy tends to create other problems. We put in extra time at work and try to please the boss, but get passed over for a promotion or discover we’re doing work we’re not enjoying at all. We may be very accommodating to family and friends and resent that we’re always the one called upon for help, extra work, or to take care of someone else’s problems. Our love life might suffer, too. We give and give to our partner, but feel unappreciated or unimportant and that our needs and desires aren’t considered. We may begin to feel bored, joyless, or mildly depressed. We may begin to miss earlier times when we were happier or more independent. The anger, resentment, hurt, and conflict we always tried to avoid continue to fester and bubble beneath the surface… so why do we do it?
- To Avoid Negative Feelings
People who please to avoid confrontation have a need for their external environment to be peaceful and harmonious. They believe it is easier for them to please someone else and go along with their opinion rather than taking a stand and potentially cause conflict. Some other people are pleasers because they want to avoid feelings internally that are uncomfortable, like the fear of:
Rejection – If they are honest about how they feel, they might be rejected.
Disappointing – Feeling guilt or shame for another person’s disappointment.
Criticism – Another assault on their self-worth.
Loneliness – Believing the only way to fit in is by going along with what others want.
- Looking for Something in Return
People pleasers may subconsciously or consciously have a hidden agenda. They may think that if they are nice to everyone else, everyone else will be nice to them. For some, there is an expectation behind their over giving. Often, they are entirely unaware that they are manipulating a situation by pleasing someone to get what they want.
3. Find Self-Worth in Doing Things for Other People
Some people don’t value themselves enough to put themselves first. They base their entire worth on how much they can please and do things for others. When they are at work, they are continually helping other people finish their projects. At home, they are the “go-to” person that everyone runs to. They over-give to the point where it is smothering and unhealthy. It is a good feeling to know you are in high demand and needed. That makes you feel like you have value. But it is also highly dangerous to look to what other people see as your value. For self-worth to be healthy, it has to come from inside, not to be associated with what others believe your worth is.
4. They are Hiding the Secret That They Don’t Love Themselves
Some people pleasers do what they do because they secretly don’t really love themselves. Their extreme desire to be loved and liked leads them to seek love outside themselves and fill the void they have within their hearts. A microcosm of that situation is the way that children work so hard to obey their parents to receive love from them. Since children don’t yet understand unconditional love, they are afraid that if they don’t behave, they might lose the love they so desperately crave. People who please others because they don’t love themselves also refuse to allow others to help them in return. They feel as if asking for help, or allowing someone to help, is a burden. They are always the first to offer up help, but can not fathom being kind to themselves by receiving it.
“We may call it “people pleasing,” but it is entirely self-serving because it is really all about keeping myself comfortable. Boiled down, it could be more accurately called “me pleasing.”
Every time you say yes to someone or something, you may also be saying no to yourself. This means you need to be judicious in what you agree to, and boundaries are your ticket to freedom. Setting boundaries is critical because people-pleasing often involves denying your own needs. Without carefully thought out boundaries, you can drift away from your core values and even end up ignoring your deepest ambitions. Over time, people-pleasing can cause you to forget your goals entirely. If you always put other people before yourself, you are unlikely to achieve meaningful goals and the growth that will allow your spirit to shine. Paradoxically, this is the very thing that would actually make you better able to help yourself and others.
Boundary-setting can sound like putting up walls, the opposite of what you want in your life. However, an awareness of your boundaries is critical to healthy interpersonal relationships and personal development. Clearly defined and respected boundaries allow you (and those around you) to know where you stand with regard to each other and how to move forward with mutual respect. Anyone who takes issue with your healthy boundaries is living proof that you need even stronger ones with them.
“I want you to look inside the next time you say yes to something. Do you wish you didn’t say yes? How does it feel? You are not a bad friend if you give them fast notice that you can not help them. Call them right away to tell them you have a schedule conflict.”
One of the biggest problems with people-pleasing is that it is never-ending. It attracts people whose needs can not be satisfied. People-pleasers in these kinds of relationships subject themselves to continuous requests for help by people who really should be dealing with their own problems and situations. Moreover, people-pleasers sometimes blame themselves for not being able to rectify every real or imagined difficulty in someone else’s messed up life. It’s a vicious cycle that you can interrupt by looking to the lessons of emotional intelligence.
A high degree of EI allows you to raise your own awareness of the meaning and ramifications of your thoughts and behaviours. It also increases your understanding of the motivations and actions of others. Equipped with this awareness, you can rationally and objectively decide which things you will do for which people. You get to choose what you agree to and under what circumstances. This leads to stronger, more honest and balanced relationships.
“People pleasing doesn’t allow you to receive.”
Why Risk Saying No?
Saying “yes” tends to feel safe. Saying “no” can be scary because it almost always results in at least a little disappointment. It is worth the risk, though, because it benefits both you and those around you. Whenever you justifiably say no to someone else’s agenda, consider it to be a resounding YES to yourself and your values. You have demonstrated that you have a high degree of appreciation for the value of your own time and energy and that you will not allow it to be impinged upon by those needier than yourself.
- Everybody Can Win — Saying no may feel selfish at first, but it’s a necessary part of the balance required for happiness. Setting boundaries is critical to your ability to achieve fulfillment and progress in your journey of personal development. With emotional intelligence, you can assert your needs in a way that means no one needs to feel embarrassed or humiliated. You may even be able to negotiate a way for everyone to get what they want without sacrificing your needs.
- Protect Yourself From Energy Vampires — By setting boundaries, you can protect yourself from the kind of people who actively seek people-pleasers for their own agenda. By maintaining your boundaries, you can carry out your work, focus on your own projects and put energy into fulfilling your life destiny.
- Equal Reciprocity or No Deal — If someone is taking advantage of your people-pleasing trait, it’s critical to hold your ground. If, having done this, you do not receive the respect you deserve, it is time to walk away – on your terms. Standing up for yourself in this way can have a positive effect on everyone around you. People will know what they can expect when they work with you and may even be inspired to strengthen their own boundaries, as well.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.
This is why we sometimes attack who they are,
which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice.”
How to Set Boundaries with Toxic People
Toxic people are the opposite of people who believe in you. Toxic people spout negativity and dump their frustrations on others. Whether overtly or subtly, toxic people belittle and demean you. At work, they might be known for barking orders or making snide remarks. In social settings, they are the “judgment machines” who say you can’t, you won’t and you’ll never – you’re not capable. Toxic people are more about undermining your goals and dreams than they are about supporting you. They can be people you love or people who love you. While this adds to the difficulty in setting boundaries and the consequences if a boundary is crossed, it makes the very act of setting and maintaining the boundary even more crucial.
1. Identify your core values.
What do you stand for? What makes your blood boil enough that you would sacrifice something to change it? Where does your courage come from? What does your heart say? What fundamental beliefs serve as your guiding principles? Clear core values are your moral compass. They will show you the behaviours you will not tolerate in yourself or others. Knowing which behaviours you won’t tolerate is the first step to feeling empowered when you’re required to interact with a toxic person. Think of it as certainty to help offset the uncertainty toxic people throw at you.
2. In a clear emotional space, calmly state your boundary.
Communicate your boundaries consistently and in a calm, clear manner. Don’t over-explain. Don’t blame. Don’t become defensive. Always start by taking at least one very deep breath. If you’ve been triggered by a toxic person, this will help you become centred before speaking. Focus on what you have to say rather than how you feel about the toxic person. Go for the win-win outcome, not the win-lose. Say something like, “X-Behaviour is unacceptable. The next time it happens Y-Consequence will happen”. The consequence might be you leaving for one hour. This way, there doesn’t even have to be a back and fourth conversation. The behaviour happens… and you remove yourself from the situation.
3. Limit the time you spend with them.
If you lay down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas. If you associate with liars and thieves, you are guilty by association. Before you get involved with anyone, personally or professionally, do your homework. All that glitters is not gold. Do not ignore the red flags. In some instances, distancing yourself may be challenging, particularly in the workplace. Without being disrespectful, limit your interactions with toxic people to work-related conversations. When possible, engage a third person in the work-related conversation or introduce it as a topic in a team meeting.
4. Assess your social media.
Social media has blurred more boundaries than a narcissist at an empath convention. Because cowards can easily hide behind fake profiles and computer screens, people are publicly bullied and demeaned. Apply your core values online as you would at work too. In this way, you have the option of muting, sleeping, unfollowing, unfriending or blocking a toxic person on social media. If they ask why, have a conversation with them about your boundaries. Having standards is incredibly magnetic to the right people. A busy, vibrant, goal-oriented person is so much more attractive than someone who waits around for people to validate their existence.
5. Don’t Expect Immediate Change.
Toxic people are that way because they have been getting away with it for years. Decide where you stand and stand strong. You don’t need to do any more than keep your dignity. Chronic negative emotions can influence your mental health and physical well-being. It’s incredibly important to choose your relationships carefully, both personally and professionally. Get as far away from toxic people as you can. You don’t have to earn or deserve love. You are love. Go where you are loved and celebrated. Sometimes you need somebody to believe in you until you can believe in yourself.
“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off. Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack. As your boundaries get stronger, the wait time gets shorter. You never have justify your intuition.”
4 Archetypes in Need of Boundary Reinforcement
For so many of us, finding the mental, physical or emotional space to stand on our own, feel fully supported and also independent is a serious challenge. Yet, it’s what we need more than anything. Standing on our own means setting boundaries, and this is harder for some personality types than others. If you identify with any of these archetypes, give our suggestion a go to protect your energy and make sure you are fully resourced to be effective moving forward.
The Dedicated Public Servant
If you are in a profession that is other-oriented, such as not-for-profit, healthcare, client services or social services, the physical and emotional drain of this work can be relentless. It’s likely that you chose this kind of work because you are inherently altruistic, love serving people and want to make a difference. Maintaining boundaries is probably not your strong suit, especially when stepping back affects others. You may also bear the emotional toll of witnessing anguish and systemic oppression on a daily basis, which you would proudly endure rather than allow one more person to suffer on your watch.
If this is you: Boundary-setting is essential if you want to be more impactful. You need a clear separation between work and home, supported by rhythms and rituals that enforce this separation to sustain your health and energy over time. Build a vision for the sustainable balance you crave. It may help to consult with others — mentors and established practitioners — who have been successful at striking this balance and setting boundaries.
If you need to be needed and people pleasing is core to your self-worth, you are in desperate need of boundary-setting. Codependent people make great employees. They don’t complain; they do more than their share; they do whatever is asked of them; they please people; and they try to do their work perfectly – at least for a while, until they become angry and resentful. You may struggle to put yourself first over the needs of others, and sometimes blend your desires with those around you. Generally, this leads to resentment and a blame/victim trap, leaving you feeling beholden to others and incapable of fulfilling your own needs.
If this is you: Practice putting your needs first. Take yourself out on a date or create a weekly (or even better – daily) ritual around self-care. Use this as a time to get in touch with your true needs and desires. Write them down in a journal and begin to take back your power to identify, communicate and act on your own needs.
If you are unpracticed or unwilling to hold your silence and just listen while others express their problems or pain, you may be a fixer. Perhaps you learned early on that the way to make others like you was to be useful, efficient and move into action. Maybe you are uncomfortable exploring your own emotions so you keep your to-do list running you ragged in order to avoid the depth of your own or other’s pain. Over time, this strategy leads to burnout as well as alienated relationships when you try to solve rather than simply witness.
If this is you: Your new practice is to sit still, acknowledge and hear what someone else is saying without moving into a problem-solving mode. Can you hold space in deep listening without needing to be useful? Can you let your presence be enough without proposing any action steps or solutions? Practice this kind of witnessing and do not take on the problems or pain you are hearing as your own.
If you are an empath, you feel everything deeply. Because you are so sensitive, you can take on the weight of the world. As an empath, your superpower is also your weakness. You can easily feel the emotions of a total stranger or imagine what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes it is difficult to identify what is yours to own and what is someone else’s emotion. You could be susceptible to relationships that feel unbalanced because you tend to over give. Though there is a spectrum of sensitivity that exists in human beings, empaths are emotional sponges who absorb both the stress and joy of the world.
If this is you: Maintaining a subtle emotional distance between yourself and others is key. Energetic maintenance is imperative. For your own safety you must learn to erect real or energetic boundaries when others begin to share. Shields up! Use the mantra “not mine” to remind yourself where one person stops and you begin. Balance yourself by going out into nature regularly.
“Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of any relationship is your responsibility. You do not have to passively accept what is brought to you. You can choose.”
Setting Boundaries That Work For You
As we look to ways to avoid people-pleasing in the future, it’s a good idea to write down your boundaries. Put them in writing so you can see what your values dictate. As with a lot of things we commit to writing, the very act causes you to clarify your thinking, to reach conclusions and to assess your values. It also makes it harder to compromise. Anyone addicted to people-pleasing may find expressing their thoughts this way particularly challenging, but it’s so worth it. YOU are worth it! Well-thought-out boundaries will make it easier for you to see when people are infringing on them. You can most easily prevent that infringement by always having your values and boundaries foremost in your awareness.
“Revisit what you tolerate on a regular basis and adjust your boundaries accordingly.”
Where You End and I Begin
Once you understand boundary-setting, there is no need to be resentful with trespassers. You are more likely to respond from a place of knowledge and compassion. If you want to be respected, you must start by respecting yourself. To be valuable, value your time, your thoughts and your needs. Because boundaries protect us and our values, boundary-setting is integral to your self-mastery. Boundaries at work are crucial. Healthy boundaries are one of the most powerful tools for taking charge of your time, attention, and energy, and they are a critical tool for internalising your locus of control.
A boundary is a limit that promotes integrity and confidence to help you maintain balance and self-respect. Setting clear boundaries stops demands and intrusions from invading your space; manipulating, and disempowering you. Much like a property line, boundaries define where you end and others begin. Personal boundaries also help you decide what types of communication, behaviour and interaction you will accept from others. They create a sense of personal space between yourself and others to help you feel safe and avoid enmeshment with others.
“If you want to live an authentic, meaningful life, you need to master the art of disappointing and
upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like you.
It may not be easy, but it’s essential if you want your life to reflect
your deepest desires, values, and needs.”
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