How is being a ‘people-pleaser’ different from simply having a desire to be helpful? One could argue that our desire to help others is more or less proportional to our compassion. And that the more we care about people — whether in our family, our community, or the world at large — the greater our desire to help them.
However, when our helpfulness lacks boundaries and/or is motivated by fear and insecurity, that’s when we cross the line into people-pleasing.
How people pleasers are created
Unsurprisingly, most people-pleasing behaviour originates in childhood:
- Out of fear, if we grew up with a parent who would snap into rage whenever they heard a response they didn’t like.
- If we were forced to be the family peacekeeper.
- We may have had a codependent relationship with a parent, where our well-being depended on whether or not a parent was happy. We learned that saying ‘no’ to a loved one or setting boundaries would cause them significant emotional pain.
No matter the origins, people-pleasing behaviour is an attempt to manage someone else’s feelings to avoid experiencing their disapproval and/or prove our value.
How it can diminish you
- In each of the above scenarios, we learned to deny our own needs and prioritize those of other people — and as a result, we didn’t get much of a chance to develop our own true, authentic self.
- People pleasing means being emotionally dishonest with oneself. While it may reflect a desire to be helpful or loving, its true cause is a self-esteem deficit — the feeling that we aren’t worthy of being liked or loved on our own. That our value as a person is only measured by our ability to keep other people happy.
- For people pleasers, the price of being well-liked is continually sacrificing our own needs and desires. Over time, this leads to a compromised, unfulfilled life.
How to regain your autonomy
While it may not qualify as an addiction, over time people-pleasing can become an ingrained habit that feels extremely difficult to change. However, there are a number of small choices & actions we can make each day that will gradually help us gain autonomy over our lives. It begins by taking time to reflect on ourselves and our relationships:
- It’s essential for us to figure out who we are:
- What our values are, and what we believe in;
- What our boundaries are; what we are willing to do — and what we aren’t;
- Where we are heading in life.
- Determine what good relationships look like.
- Decide which of our qualities will move us forward in our journey, and which are flaws that may stall us.
- Audit our relationships and score them, for quantity and quality. Are we surrounded by people that are supportive of our true self? Or do we feel the need to be who they expect us to be?
- Identify the point at which we switch between acting in our own interests and serving those of others — and take a moment to think about our motives for doing so. Check in with ourselves at those tipping points.
From there, we can work on putting these into practice through positive actions:
- Develop experience saying ‘no’. If a firm ‘no’ seems too hard, try saying ‘let me think about that and get back to you’, so you can take some time to pause and reflect.
- Take time for yourself (i.e. learn to say ‘let me get back to you’).
- Stop apologizing! Before you say sorry, ask yourself: Have I actually done anything wrong?
- Most importantly, identify and remove toxic people from your life.
Often, we need help untangling the roots of our feelings of inadequacy, so that we can conquer them and improve our level of function. We also sometimes need practical help creating intellectual and emotional tools to deal with people-pleasing situations as they occur. At Manifest, we offer counselling and coaching services that help guys win back control of their situation — and please themselves more often.