Being kind and nice to others is a commendable quality, often seen as valuable. However, when niceness becomes a means to constantly avoid disappointing others or living up to an idealized image, it can be problematic. Many people who identify as people-pleasers deliberately adopt this behavior out of fear of upsetting others.
While it may seem like a convenient way to sidestep conflict, it can lead to feelings of exhaustion and unhappiness in the long run. When a constant desire to fulfill expectations shapes one's actions and words, maintaining authenticity becomes difficult. If you're wondering how to recover from being a people pleaser, it's important to acknowledge these patterns and explore ways to prioritize your well-being and authenticity.
In psychological research, individuals who exhibit people-pleasing behaviors are often referred to as sociotropic. These individuals seek social acceptance and reassurance, dedicating a significant amount of time to pleasing and nurturing others in order to gain that acceptance. Sociotropy is commonly characterized as the opposite of autonomy or independence.
People-pleasers, colloquially known as sociotropic individuals, are generally considered amiable and enjoy making others feel comfortable. Some may go to great lengths, even adjusting their eating habits to match those of their peers, to avoid causing discomfort.
Research indicates that sociotropic individuals harbor concerns that outperforming others may lead to feelings of hurt and envy among their peers. As a result, some people-pleasers intentionally underperform to sidestep the social consequences of surpassing others.
The desire for acceptance may manifest in various ways, such as:
- Difficulty saying no, even when agreeing comes at a personal cost.
- Agreement with others, even when in personal disagreement with their opinions.
- A strong aversion to conflict, often going to great lengths to avoid it.
- Feeling responsible for, or taking on, the emotions of others.
If you find yourself consistently filling your calendar with events you'd rather not attend or nodding along to others' misconceptions about your preferences, you may identify with people-pleasing tendencies. While being nice is generally positive, it's crucial to strike a balance, as excessive people-pleasing does have its drawbacks.
People who exhibit people-pleasing tendencies share several traits. These behaviors encompass:
- Difficulty saying "No":People-pleasers find it challenging to decline requests or set boundaries.
- Preoccupation with others' opinions:There is a constant concern about how others perceive them.
- Guilt associated with saying "No":Feelings of guilt arise when people assert themselves and decline requests.
- Fear of being perceived as mean or selfish:The apprehension that refusing others may lead to negative judgments of their character.
- Agreeing to unfavorable requests:Accepting commitments or tasks they don't like or want to do.
- Struggles with low self-esteem:People-pleasers often battle feelings of inadequacy.
- Desire for approval:A strong need for others' approval, leading them to undertake actions to gain acceptance.
- Frequent apologizing:Apologizing even when not at fault, as a way to maintain harmony.
- Taking blame unnecessarily:Assuming responsibility for situations, even when not responsible.
- Limited free time:Constantly occupied with tasks for others, leaving little or no time for personal pursuits.
- Neglecting own needs:Prioritizing others' needs over their own, leading to self-neglect.
- Pretending to agree:Feigning agreement with others to avoid conflict, despite differing opinions.
Despite these challenges, people-pleasers often possess positive traits such as heightened empathy, thoughtfulness, and care for others. However, these qualities may coexist with struggles such as a poor self-image, a need for control, or a tendency to overachieve.
Four people holding an object close to a lady who is sitting
To overcome people-pleasing, it's crucial to delve into the root causes that drive this behavior. Several factors contribute to people-pleasing tendencies, including:
People often engage in people-pleasing because they undervalue their own desires and needs. A lack of self-confidence leads to a reliance on external validation, where individuals believe that catering to others will garner approval and acceptance.
The fear of not being liked can drive people to go above and beyond to please others. Insecurity about one's likability becomes a motivator for people-pleasing behavior.
A desire for everything to be perfect, including how others perceive them, can fuel people-pleasing. The need for external validation and maintaining an idealized image can be linked to perfectionistic tendencies.
Individuals with a history of painful or traumatic experiences, such as abuse, may adopt people-pleasing as a defense mechanism. The goal is often to avoid triggering abusive behavior by being agreeable and accommodating.
While the desire to help others can be rooted in genuine altruism, people-pleasing can also serve as a means to feel validated and liked. Ensuring the happiness of others becomes a way for individuals to feel useful and valued.
Understanding these underlying factors is a crucial step in breaking the cycle of people-pleasing and fostering a healthier relationship with oneself and others.
While being a caring and considerate individual is an integral aspect of maintaining healthy relationships, people-pleasing becomes problematic when the pursuit of approval compromises one's self-esteem or sacrifices personal emotional well-being.
Devoting all your time to ensuring others' happiness and approval can lead to several consequences:
Despite enjoying helping others, the act can become burdensome when done reluctantly or out of obligation. This cycle of helping, feeling upset about being taken advantage of, and subsequent regret can breed feelings of anger and frustration.
Constant efforts to keep others happy may stretch your mental and physical resources too thin, resulting in stress and anxiety. These negative effects can take a toll on your overall health.
Channeling all energy and mental resources into meeting others' needs can diminish your own resolve and willpower to pursue personal goals. Limited mental resources may affect your ability to address your own needs.
People-pleasers often sacrifice their own needs and preferences to accommodate others, leading to a sense of living life inauthentically. This may create a feeling of disconnect from one's true self.
Putting excessive effort into meeting others' expectations can lead to feelings of resentment. While people may appreciate your generosity, they might inadvertently take your kindness for granted. The constant willingness to help may obscure the toll it takes on your well-being, leading to over-commitment and feeling stretched thin.
It's important to strike a balance between helping others and prioritizing one's own needs to foster genuine, fulfilling relationships while maintaining personal well-being.
Young woman looking worried with several notes on her table
Before exploring ways to overcome excessive people-pleasing, it's important to emphasize that this change doesn't necessitate a complete 180-degree transformation. Oftentimes, individuals perceive two extremes: being a people-pleasing doormat or a selfish narcissist.
Contrary to this dichotomy, it's crucial to understand that prioritizing one's needs doesn't equate to selfishness. Reflecting on the wisdom shared earlier—resembling the guidance from flight attendants to secure your oxygen mask first before assisting others - it becomes clear that self-care is foundational to effectively helping others.
Now, turning attention to methods for curbing excessive people-pleasing behavior, here are some approaches:
Understanding your limits and establishing clear boundaries is crucial. Communicate these boundaries explicitly and be specific about your capacity. If someone's request exceeds what you're comfortable with, express that it goes beyond your limits, and regrettably, you won't be able to assist.
Implementing other strategies can help set boundaries and curb people-pleasing tendencies. For instance, restricting phone calls to specific times can be effective in managing when you're available for discussions. Communicating your availability within defined timeframes ensures not only control over what you're willing to do but also when you're willing to do it.
Many people-pleasers may not acknowledge their tendency, viewing themselves as nice, kind, and helpful individuals. It can be challenging for them to recognize the distinction between ordinary acts and overextending themselves.
To assess if you're doing too much or striking a balance, delve into your inner thoughts and feelings. When faced with a request, observe whether you agree enthusiastically or reluctantly. If reluctance is present, consider why you agree. Listening to your genuine thoughts and emotions can serve as a guide for your actions, prioritizing authenticity over the need for approval.
Learning to say no doesn't necessitate rejecting every offer outright. For those accustomed to saying yes, it's advisable to begin with small steps - declining inconsequential requests with minimal consequences.
Initiating this process is simpler when starting with close relationships or interactions with strangers. The challenge often lies in dealing with individuals in the middle of the spectrum, such as neighbors, coworkers, or acquaintances.
Consider the following steps:
- Politely decline invitations to events you'd rather not attend, starting with small gatherings.
- Respond promptly to Facebook event invites from friends, expressing your decision rather than leaving them unanswered.
- Politely refuse additional offerings, such as an extra pump of syrup in your frappuccino when offered by the barista.
By mastering the art of saying no to these relatively minor situations, individuals can gradually build the confidence to extend this practice to more significant matters, such as declining additional tasks from a supervisor.
For those prone to saying yes impulsively, it's beneficial to create some space before providing an answer. Incorporating phrases like "Can I get back to you on that?" and "I'll need to think about it" into your responses allows for a pause.
This time can serve a dual purpose - sometimes genuinely necessary to assess resource availability, and at other times, offering a buffer to prepare for the possibility of saying no. If overextending is a concern, consider making "no" the default response for requests requiring an immediate answer.
The observation is that saying yes is simpler as it doesn't necessitate an explanation. While the same applies to saying no, there's a common tendency to feel the need to justify a refusal.
In instances of saying no, the advice is to resist the compulsion to explain. Instead, politely decline and refrain from providing elaborate reasons, even if they are valid. When pressed for an explanation, a straightforward response stating that it's not feasible at the moment is sufficient.
Here are some phrases to consider for those moments:
- "I cannot do that right now."
- "Thank you for thinking of me, but I will have to pass on that (for now)."
- "I don't think I'm the best person to help you with that."
- "I cannot help you right now, but I'd be happy to help next week/month/etc."
The last phrase is recommended sparingly and reserved for projects one genuinely wishes to be a part of but cannot commit to at the present moment due to existing commitments.
Consider scrutinizing your life with a critical lens, especially if you're well-versed in time management techniques. Are you allocating more time to others than to yourself? Has self-care taken a backseat due to prioritizing others? If this resonates, it's pivotal to reassess priorities.
Ensure daily allocation for self-care and safeguard that time without compromising to assist others. Reflect on the analogy of oxygen masks - assisting others only follows after tending to your own well-being. Ultimately, your happiness lies within your responsibility, just as you aren't accountable for the happiness of others.
It's natural for people to feel upset or disappointed when you assertively say no, especially if they're accustomed to your affirmative responses. In human relationships, emotions - both positive and negative - are inherent, and a healthy relationship isn't devoid of conflict but rather one where conflicts are effectively addressed.
When faced with anger or hurt from others, adopt an assertive approach to address the issue. Clearly articulate the problem and express your feelings, allowing the other person an opportunity to share their perspective. Utilize "I" statements and refrain from assuming the other person's emotions.
For instance: "I didn't appreciate how the decision was made without discussing it with me first" or "I can sense your frustration. You were counting on my involvement in your plan, and I didn't follow through." Taking a proactive stance in conflict resolution not only strengthens relationships but also contributes positively to your mental well-being.
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be intimidating if you've never asserted yourself or said no. However, personal growth and learning often require facing this fear and expressing your authentic opinions.
The people-pleaser needs to please others for reasons that may include fear of rejection, insecurities, and the need to be well-liked. If he stops pleasing others, he thinks everyone will abandon him; he will be uncared for and unloved.
People-pleasing behavior can be driven by a variety of underlying causes, including childhood experiences, social conditioning, fear of rejection, low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness skills, cultural or familial expectations, and co-dependency.
Due to these patterns, fawning responses often occur in the context of an abusive relationship, including children who are abused by parents or guardians or intimate partner violence. Fawning is not exclusive to relationships, though.
How to recover from being a people pleaser is a transformative journey towards reclaiming authenticity and prioritizing personal well-being. By fostering self-awareness, setting boundaries, and cultivating genuine connections, individuals break free from the shackles of external validation.
This empowering process leads to a life that reflects true self, unburdened by the need for constant approval. Ultimately, it is a gift to oneself and an inspiration for others to embrace authenticity and lead a more fulfilling existence.