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The Truth About People Pleasing

Have you ever considered yourself a people pleaser?

It’s a term often used to describe someone who is extremely helpful, generous with their time and energy, and regularly available to be there for others.

Sometimes, people who are considered people pleasers go out of their way to be helpful to others. In many cases, they sacrifice their needs and sometimes their kindness is taken advantage of by others.

Does this sound like you? 

woman staring at glass

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You may notice that you tend to prioritize pleasing others if:

  • You please others to always make them happy
  • In always meeting the needs of others, you hope to become more liked and cared for
  • You frequently self-sacrifice, even at the cost of not taking care of yourself
  • You find meeting others’ needs “easier” than setting and maintaining boundaries
  • You hold an internalized resentment for all that you do for others
  • You are afraid of confrontation, change and/or the relationship/friendship ending if you stop people pleasing

What’s important to recognize is that people pleasing is a behavioral response to . . . fear.

When pleasing others becomes your top priority, even above your own needs, it is important to explore why you are showing up in this role.

close up photo of a woman

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The truth about people pleasing is: it an unauthentic representation of a “helper” or a “strong friend“. These roles, though they involve helping others, have boundaries in place. People pleasing is a behavior that has no boundaries. People pleasing is an avoidance strategy. The logic behind people pleasing is in meeting the other person’s needs, you can avoid tough conversations with them to set necessary boundaries.

There are a variety of reasons you may choose to prioritize pleasing others. For one, people pleasing shows up in toxic relationships often. When one partner or friend chooses to be hurtful or abusive, the other may use people pleasing to keep themselves safe. While minimizing confrontation through people pleasing is the strategy, staying safe is the goal. Many folks call this strategy to be a part of emotional safety planning.

If you are a victim of an abusive intimate relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to receive help and support.

shallow focus photo of moon

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

In other situations, people pleasing is a way to avoid confrontation all together. And this avoidance comes at a cost: in engaging in relationships with no intention of addressing conflict, the conflict does not actually go away. It exists, stays the same or gets worse.

What sometimes goes unsaid is that when someone engages in people pleasing with a family member, intimate partner, friend or work colleague, a particular set of norms is being created.

These norms involve no boundaries for the people pleaser. Instead, the people pleaser is over-worked, under-appreciated and at risk of being manipulated, taken advantage of and not treated equally. These norms are difficult to change, especially once they have been set in adult relationships. (There are not impossible to change, but it can be difficult.)

So take a step back and reflect: if you notice you are a people pleaser, ask yourself:

  • What’s driving me to want to please others? Is people pleasing easier than _____?
  • What am I avoiding when people pleasing? What am I over-compensating for?
  • What needs of my own are getting lost because of people pleasing?
  • What boundaries need to be built? How can they be maintained?
  • What would my life look like if I decide to not please others?

People pleasing is a behavioral response to fear, and in building your awareness around this, you can have the opportunity to respond courageously.

What do you believe the truth about people pleasing is?

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