The Price of People Pleasing

Author: Radonda Rowton, MAC, LPC

I often hear people say, “I’m a people pleaser...I’m happiest when everyone is taken care of”, and while I often respond with “It’s so nice of you to want to make sure that everyone is taken care of, but let me ask you, who takes care of you?” I’m often met with a blank stare. Almost like “what do you mean, who takes care of me? I take care of me and everyone else!” After all, helping others, giving selflessly, being constantly in tune with the feelings of others, what’s so bad about that? I have found that more than a few people pleasers tend to overlook the hidden cost of people pleasing, and the cost are often more than they expect.

I will be the first one to say that with boundaries in place, there is nothing wrong with wanting to please important people in one’s life. Matter of fact, it can be a great kindness to share time, resources and energy with people that we care about. The problem comes in when these kindnesses are squandered on others who come to expect it, leaving little left over for you. Now we are not doing these kindnesses out of choice, but out of obligation or even duress.

The rationale for people pleasing often stems from low self-esteem or a fear of abandonment or alienation. It is also very possible that this could also be an issue of codependency, or a way to manage stress. But the people pleaser’s MO is pretty simple to spot because they seem to be the most efficient at accessing the needs and preferences of the people around them and then changing themselves to suit those needs. I call it being hidden in a room full of people.

Some of the symptoms of people pleasing may include:

1. Extreme agreeableness. People pleasers are always polite, agreeable and affirming...even when on the inside they are feeling angry, unhappy or unwell. They may be experts on choking down their own feelings to the place that they are not sure what they want or need or feel.

2. Over the top acts of kindness. People pleasers sometimes spread themselves so thin due to lack of boundaries that they often find themselves easily burnt out. This tends to being the consequence to the inability to say no.

3. Avoiding conflict. People pleasers often hate conflict so much that they will throw themselves under the bus to resolve conflict.

4. Identity crises. Because they are so attuned to the needs and feelings of others, they have very little idea about who they are or what they need as a person, which is why they often feel lost or empty.

5. Sense of unworthiness. People pleasers tend to equate their goodness with their giving instead of the fact that they are just a good person.

So, what is the cost of people pleasing?

· Deep resentment often stems from the anger that the people pleaser wants to set aside. But even worse than that is the loss of self.

· People pleasers edit themselves to the place of falling out touch with themselves. Not understanding who you are can often lead to huge loss of creativity, passion and drive.

· They often struggle with intimacy because it’s nearly impossible to connect with someone who doesn’t show up as themselves in the relationship.

· Because of the lack of boundaries, people pleasers often have not taught people to respect them and therefore develop unreasonable expectations of them.

The sad truth is that although people pleasers are often well liked by others, they are so busy wearing masks that they are often not affirmed on their own terms. They open themselves up to abuse because they trade their personal freedom for the safety of being liked.

Here is the bottom line...I don’t want you to disappear...so try this:

1. Build awareness. Notice how you edit yourself when you are around other people. Notice how exhausted that you are and how the energy spent does not benefit you emotionally, physically or spiritually.

2. Work on saying NO! Saying no is a part of setting boundaries. Boundaries do not keep others out; they simply teach people how to respect you and treat you fairly.

3. Ask for help. This is more than building assertiveness skills. It is important not only to have help knowing how to say no, but to also to have some understanding as to when and why the people pleasing started. Talking to someone who is trained to help you can be very helpful.

Helping others is a noble goal, but let it stem from having taken care of yourself and understanding that your worth is based on you and not others.