There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pleasing people, including ourselves. If we’re willing to make sacrifices for the sake of another, who are we to say that’s wrong? But the fact is, people pleasing isn’t about pleasing others, but fending off our fear of rejection. Those of us who would consider themselves people pleasers are generally individuals who feel the need to be accepted by the world around them. And not just a general acceptance, but that of each person they come in contact with. And to maintain this madness, we seek to please with abandon.
Let me just start by saying that I’m one of the biggest people pleasers out there. Show me a possible moment of displeasure and I’ll jump in and fill the need as fast as I can in hopes of both harmony among those involved as well as positive feelings toward little old me. I’m not a saint by any stretch, I just have the disease to please.
In the long run, we’re pleasing nobody.
One of the great misconceptions among people pleasers is this idea that we’re ‘good people’ who are just trying to make everybody happy. As I stated before, it’s not so much our great concern for another human being, but our obsession with the way others may perceive us. As a result, we tend to say yes to everything and rarely stick up for ourselves. Even if someone blatantly wrongs us, we are usually the ones who absorb the hurt and then stand in the corner, fuming to ourselves. It’s not a pretty site.
The fact is, when we try to please everybody, we end up pleasing nobody. Tired from the burnout that comes from the over extension of ourselves and frustrated by the fact that we keep letting others take advantage of us, we quickly become ineffective in helping others and often times end up resenting everyone around us. Then, when we finally run into a situation where our help is truly needed, we are too depleted to help out. Also, our ability to decipher a real need from that of someone trying to take advantage of our people pleasing nature, is quite skewed. In our minds, every ‘need’ is a requirement for us to act and in time, this wears us down to worthlessness.
To some, this may sound a little off beat. Maybe you’re wondering, “What’s your point and where are you going with this?” The fact is, if you are a people pleaser, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. If not, then this won’t make much sense and might not even be worth your time. Today I’m speaking to the people pleasers in hopes that I can help some of you break free from this awful addiction and start living your life more effectively and with a freedom you never thought possible.
A Brief History
I’ve always been the easy going type. Easy to get along with and an all around positive person. In many conversations I’d be the first to encourage others or just be plain agreeable. If someone was down, I was there to help pick them up. I just couldn’t stand to see others in any sort of pain.
I figured I was a pretty darn good person. Compared to many around me, I stood out as the peace maker. But soon it became apparent that much of my good nature stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t stand to not be pleasing to others. My sensor for acceptance was way out of wack as I perceived a neutral stance as negativity toward me. Though I genuinely wanted to see others happy, I had to come to terms with the fact that much of this desire was selfish in nature.
As I grew into the real world and began my computer consulting business, I quickly realized the devastating effects that people pleasing had when carried beyond adolescence. I could barely handle the slightest bit of negativity from a client and often times became their doormat, as I’d let them walk all over me. In the name of neutrality, I would do most anything. I was a slave to my fear and the need to be liked.
As the years went by, I began to realize my need to break free from this bad habit. Not only was I unable to grow a healthy business as a practicing people pleaser, but by letting myself get beat up by the world around me, I would come home each day in a state of despair. Liz and I would talk and it would quickly become apparent that I had once again fallen prey to my people pleasing mentality. She would encourage me to stop saying yes to everything and start standing up for myself. I would then feel rejuvenated and ready to break free from my personal bondage. Yet, within days and sometimes even hours, it became quite apparent that nothing had changed.
Finding a fear that is greater than that of rejection.
When breaking any kind of habit or addiction, it is imperative to find the source of the problem and then counteract it with its opposite and hopefully stronger sibling. For me, the fear of rejection was the source of my addiction. But recently I’ve come to fear a much greater element of life; failure. OK, let’s step back for a second. When I say fear of failure, I’m speaking of the healthy kind of fear. We could even rephrase the word fear with ‘healthy respect’. My fear of rejection was the kind of fear that kept me up at night, while my new found respect for failure is the kind that motivates the heck out of me. There’s a BIG difference here.
I’m not saying that I am no longer a people pleaser. Far from it! Just like an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, recovering as they may be, I’m am just a recovering people pleaser. I still struggle with my fear of rejection and often find myself seeking to please others for the sake of feeding my need to be liked, but as my fear/respect for failure grows in strength, my focus is less likely to allow capture from this awful addiction.
What does failure have to do with people pleasing?
So I now fear failure. Why? Well, much of my frustration in life has been the result of this disease. I’ll go against every instinct in my body to please another human being and then pull my hair out in dismay when the result is the complete opposite of forward progress. It’s one thing to fail because you made a mistake, but when you miss out on opportunity because you were too busy trying to make things right with the world, you find a frustration that is not easily matched. Once this healthy respect for forward progress made its way into my mind, I started seeing the hold that people pleasing had on me, weaken and wither.
Losing Your Flavor
As individuals, we all have our own personal flavor. Some are sweet, some salty and others plain bitter. But as a people pleaser, because of our skill of going with the flow at all costs, we lose our flavor all together. We try to blend with every personality we come in contact with and as a result our own personality fades. What makes you, YOU, is your own blend of Yes’s and No’s. It’s our beliefs and values and preferences that give us our spice. Lose this and you lose yourself in the process. Before long, you end up forgetting what you’re all about. This can be a scary realization and one that should be harnessed to help push us out of our people pleasing ways.
Losing Proper Perception
Another thing we lose when blending in with the world around us is our ability to properly perceive a healthy need from a selfish desire. Just like children, adults need to be told no from time to time. If everyone got their way 100% of the time we’d be one messed up society (at least more messed up than we already are). So it’s our job as an individual to stand up for what we believe is right. If someone needs assistance and we can accurately determine the need to be sincere, it is our job to address that need if at all possible. Not necessarily to say yes every time (just because YOU are asked for help doesn’t mean that YOU are the one to help out), but to remain open to the assistance of others. But if someone selfishly requests our attention, it is equally imperative that we say no. The more we let others walk all over us, the less clarity we will have as we try and assess the needs around us. And there’s nothing worse than not being able to address a real need because our time is being consumed by our inability to say no to the squeaky wheels that surround us.
Signs of a People Pleaser
- Someone who says yes, even when their mind says no.
- Someone who is devastated when they think someone doesn’t like them.
- Someone who would rather feel personal pain than displease another.
- Someone who cringes at the first sign of friction.
- Someone who is willing to fail in the name of pleasing another.
- Someone who has lost their own sense of unique personality and belief.
- Someone who is not willing to speak up for themselves.
- Someone who loses sleep over the slightest altercation with another.
- Someone who feels out of control when they think another human being may disagree with what they’re doing.
- Someone who starts to see their desire to please others as a separate part of themselves. Separate from the rest of who they are as an individual.
Tips to break free from the shackles of people pleasing.
- Find a greater fear: As I stated earlier, the best way to overcome people pleasing is to “…find the source of the problem and then counteract it with its opposite and hopefully stronger sibling.” What is people pleasing keeping you from doing or being? Figure this out and then use that knowledge to find a stronger source of fear to feed on. As I mentioned earlier, this latter kind of fear should be the healthy kind. A respect that keeps us motivated.
- Stop saying yes until you can accurately separate the real need from the non-essential: After years of putting our YES reaction on autopilot, we may find it hard to determine the validity of the incoming requests. The only way I know to bring this barometer back to a balanced state is to go through a time of constant No’s. After a while it will become more clear when you are turning down a non-essential request and when a real need is not being addressed. During this process, be sure to remind yourself that even those valid needs that you are turning down will be addressed by another. Which leads me to my next tip…
- Let go of your need to control: Believe it or not, one of the strong characteristics of a people pleaser is the need to control EVERYTHING. If anything, our pleasing ways are nothing more than a subtle manipulation to retain control of the situation. We are trying to control what others think of us and how they act toward us. This leads us to feel that we are also responsible for every need that comes our way. I truly believe that each individual was made to assist others in specific ways. Therefore, it is impossible that we should take on each request that comes our way. Even those that are truly sincere and equally valid, are not necessarily the needs we are supposed to address. Over time, as we begin to see clearly once again, we will be able to accurately address those needs that are specific to our nature. The rest we will redirect elsewhere, confident that they were not meant for our attention. So let go of this idea that you can/will/should take on the troubles of the world and let go of this control that you think you have.
- Stop placing your peace of mind in the hands of others: I love it when I get in a flow of positive productivity. I’m knocking out task after task and I feel like I can take on anything. Then, all of a sudden, I have a conflict with another. Maybe they sent me a nasty email or maybe it was a phone call, but somehow I was given notice that they were not pleased with me. My world shrinks and my drive dwindles into nothingness. Out the windows goes my productivity as I place everything on hold to sulk at the situation. I lose sleep, my appetite and my clarity of thought. Only recently have I clearly seen the insanity of this silliness. Why am I placing my own peace of mind and future progress, in the hands of someone who may have just been having a bad day? This has got to stop and I/you are the only ones who can make this happen!
- Fill your desire to please with healthy opportunities to help others: One of the wonderful characteristics of the people pleaser is their honest desire to help others. Yes, we can be manipulative bastards, no doubt, but we truly DO want to help. The problem is that when we are ‘practicing people pleasers’ we are unhealthily distributing our assistance. This just keeps us unclear of the real needs around us and frustrated as we try to help. Instead of this madness, try to proactively address the needs that you see as necessary. Enjoy these moments and let them feed on your desire to help. Over time, this desire to care for another will be less out of control and you will find it MUCH easier to say no when no is the necessary word.
- Once again, PROACTIVE assistance: I just mentioned the word proactive in the previous tip. This is CRUCIAL! As people pleasers, we are so overwhelmed as we take on every request of assistance that comes our way, that we have no time or energy to address the issues that WE see as fit for our attention. Think about how CRAZY this is! What we are essentially doing is assuming that everyone else’s idea of our time well spent is more accurate that our own. We need to figure out for ourselves what needs we should be addressing and then go out and address them. Stop waiting for the world to dictate your attention and start attending to the needs you were meant to address.
I’m only just starting to break free from this debilitating disease. I have a long way to go and though I’m starting to feel the taste of real freedom, I remain partially captive to this struggle. This is MY attempt to proactively help others by hopefully sharing thoughts that are helpful in their journey to regain their personal freedom. If you are someone who struggles with any of the things mentioned above, by all means, share your thoughts in the comments and feel free to shoot me an email if that seems applicable.