On my Facebook page I recently asked for suggestions for future blog posts.
Inspiration was low and some of the ideas were great – thanks to all those that contributed.
A suggestion put forward concerned the people pleaser, the dangers associated with it and why we sometimes fall into that trap.
I thought it was a great idea so here we are!
If we think about the stereotypical traits of a people pleaser you might identify with the following:
- Will avoid speaking their own mind.
- They are afraid to rock the boat and will avoid creating conflict.
- They will often want other to lead and they will follow.
- Saying no is difficult for a people pleaser.
- They will try to be nice in every situation.
- A people pleaser will find it hard to feel like their natural self.
- They will put the happiness of others before the happiness of themselves.
Do you recognise any of the above traits in yourself? How do you feel when someone asks you for a favour? How would you feel if you said no?
If you said yes, compelled to say yes and guilty then you are more than likely a people pleaser.
People Pleaser Background
What causes someone to become a people pleaser? There could be many reasons and it will often be down to one of the following reasons:
Fear, Abandonment & Validation
If you do not identify yourself as a pleaser of people no doubt you have worked with people who do.
Without context the term feels like it should have positive connotations.
To please people, to be of service to them is a good thing – right? I don’t know the history of the term people pleaser but it has a bad press.
Understanding why your default it a people pleaser is important. I want to dig a little and look at why people feel compelled to yes and have a huge hunger to please others.
Severe & Harsh Criticism
Criticism could come at home or work, or both. The criticism is unlikely to be a one-off but covers many instances.
If the criticism is delivered in front of other family members or peers then dial the impact up to eleven.
Think about a time when you have received severe criticism, it never feels great. You likely double your efforts to improve and not face a similar kicking in the future. In most instances the criticism is infrequent and you deal with it.
Imagine if a large part of your life involved receiving constant criticism.
What would you do in trying to avoid it?
That’s right. Everything. You would do everything you could to avoid constant criticism. In fact you would do what you needed to, to avoid any type of criticism at all – such is the impact.
As a result you say yes to everything. You feel anxious when you can’t deliver and make people happy. You fear what criticism may be coming your way.
This covers many different issues and will is linked to the above issue of criticism.
We all have our own emotional scars and for some people they define who they are in a positive way.
The scars will not control them. They will use the energy in a constructive way.
Others do allow the scars to control them. If conflict arises, as a people pleaser, you are more likely to be subservient to others needs.
Many of you have lost loved ones. Some of you come from single parent family. Others may have experienced a sudden and unexpected break up of a relationship.
We crave human contact, connection and relationships.
You may be more inclined to want to please people if you have suffered through loss and feel abandoned.
When we suffer loss we sometimes blame ourselves. We associate our behaviour with the reason for the devastation. We wonder if we could have acted in a different way.
It is understandable why we would want to avoid this type of scenario ever playing out again. As a result we don’t invite conflict. In fact we do everything we can to keep the things as they are.
If everyone is happy then no one will leave.
Fear of Failure/Rejection
Fear is often down to two things: fear of failure or fear of rejection
It is the reason so many people feel frustrated. They feel something is holding them back. Often they will not see the issue as something they can control.
Rarely is it external circumstances. The issue is internalised. It is the annoying voice in your head telling you it can’t be done.
When a people pleaser is in a place of fear they want to avoid conflict.
They fear failure, rejection or both.
As a result they will internalise their frustration, even if what they have to say is of value. Do this for long enough and a deep unhappiness will develop.
Approval and Validation
We all want approval and validation.
We want to know when we have done a good job.
We want to know we are contributing to the bottom line and our existence means something.
A people pleaser falls into the trap of wanting constant approval and validation.
They are doing everything for other people. Rarely does this help how they feel about themselves.
Their own happiness is masked by the constant need for approval and validation. It becomes a drug that needs administering on a daily/weekly basis
Someone asks you to do something. You agree, even if you are overwhelmed with work. You also agree based on your wish to avoid conflict/fear.
You receive approval and validation. You feel achievement but empty inside – rinse and repeat.
What’s the Alternative?
Behaviour is ingrained to our psyche. It develops (from an early age) to such a point that it can be hard to change.
The reality is we can’t change who we are intrinsically. We all have characteristics we believe are strong and those we believe are weak.
If we can’t change our foundations, what is the alternative?
What we can do is focus on balance in our lives. You make sure you are helping those around you but also helping yourself. It must not be one-sided.
A people pleaser will focus on everyone else often at the cost of their own happiness.
So whilst we can’t change ourselves wholesale strategies and tools exist you can use to strike a better balance.
As a people pleaser you will always have a desire to please people. Those around you need to realise your own happiness is just as important.
Physical Mental and Spiritual
There are the three factors you need to look after.
Your physical well being, your mental well being and your spiritual well being.
Whether you are a people pleaser or not, this is your foundation and it needs to be strong.
- Go for a walk
- Take an exercise class
- Join a sports team
- Go to an art gallery
- Practice mindfulness
There are many activities to support your physical, mental and spiritual well being. Lacking balance in one area is likely to have impact on the others. Lacking in one area for a significant period of time is likely to result in health issues. This may take the form of anxiety and worse depression.
For a people pleaser this will be a hard one to do, I get it.
Yet, if you are choosing to not speak your mind it can have serious consequences.
Internalising all your feelings you will make yourself ill. Maybe you already feel like this?
Speaking up does not mean the extreme opposite of where you are now. I’m not asking you to go around shouting and ranting at everyone.
Speaking up is about learning to say no. I want you to put your feelings first when you disagree with something. I want people to hear your voice and realise your voice matters.
Here is an exercise you can carry out to recognise your voice and increase confidence (Thanks to James Altucher).
Go into a coffee shop and when it comes to paying for the drink ask this question ‘Please can I have a discount?’
The server will likely look confused and inside you will be squirming.
This is fine.
Let them deal with their confusion.
One of two things will happen.
They will agree to the discount, in which case you have saved some money.
Or they will say ‘no’, in which case you reply ‘OK. Just thought I would ask.’ You then enjoy your delicious hot drink.
The idea behind asking the question is you start to build up confidence in asking for something. All your life people have asked other things of you. In most instances (if not all) you have said yes. You are pushing your own thoughts and feelings and addressing the issue of balance.
It does not have to be a coffee shop, it could be any type of shop. Electrical and clothes shops are more likely to offer this type of discount. Experiment with it, see what works. The important factor is you practise putting your voice out there.
The exercise also taps into your fear of failure or rejection. Once you have tried it a couple of times you will realise someone saying no is not a big issue. If they can say no it is reasonable to conclude you can as well.
We spend of time worrying about issues from our past or something that is yet to happen in our future.
You can’t control what has happened in the past. You can’t control what will happen in the future. What you can control is what is happening now in the present.
To embrace this you need to live in the present moment. This means concentrating on the people around you. Your friends. Your family. Your colleagues. The people you lead, who depend on you. The most respect you can pay to someone is by being with them in the moment and paying them full attention.
Another symptom of wanting to please other is worrying about what is not getting done.
Don’t focus on what is not getting done, instead focus on what will do today.
You may have a big to do list but so do most people. Focus on what is urgent and important. Learn to distinguish what needs prioritising, what needs parking and what needs delegating.
Doing so will keep you focused on the present and on what you can control.
I think back to the times of struggling with an issue at work. I will have spent hours analysing the problem, thinking about solutions and weighing up the pros and cons.
After spending hours deliberating I will ask for help and they are more than happy to help.
When I look back I think to myself ‘Ian, why didn’t you just go and ask them for help in the first place?’
Reflection and critical thinking are good skills to develop and everyone should have them. This should not come at the cost of spending too long on one issue when you have people around to support you.
As a people pleaser asking someone else for help will feel alien to you. You will not want to feel like you are imposing on their precious schedule.
If we flip it around they come to you because they know you are going to say yes. It is about balance and remember the coffee shop exercise. Practising is important, so ask for help.
It is time to claim back the credits you have built up helping others. You have helped so many people. It is now time to cash in.
Get Some More Help
Positive pressure (deadlines) can be healthy. When unhealthy pressure becomes a part of our life it can lead to anxiety. Unchecked for long periods of time this can lead to depression.
If you are a people pleaser you may be showing or experiencing signs of anxiety.
If this is the case then I urge you to consider medical advice from your Doctor.
This does not mean prescription medication and any good Doctor will use this as a last option only.
Your Doctor will explore other options to help manage and cut the anxiety.
If you don’t want to see a Doctor many companies have excellent referral schemes for confidential counselling.
Planning your working life is crucial.
A people pleaser will say without assessing the impact to their already busy schedule. When this happens the feelings of pressure build and something has to give.
At work planning your time and what you want to achieve is vital in understanding how you are using your time.
The plan should show a weekly timetable of your activity.
Having a clear picture of your working week puts you in a strong position. You will understand when you can take on extra work and when you can not. If you know you can’t take on extra work you will be more confident in saying no. See this article for more detail on how to achieve this.
If you feel people exploit your kindness and you feel overwhelmed it is time to put a stop to this.
I know you want to please people but it goes back to the idea of achieving balance in your life.
I want you to help others when it is right to do so for both parties. I keep coming back to the idea of balance and this is so important. I also want you to help you feel happy about who you are.
Set new boundaries, practice new skills, teach people this is the new you.
You can still please people but you can do it on your own terms.
It is time to stop focusing on others happiness. It is time to stop internalising all those feelings at the cost of your own. It is time to focus on what matters.
There is nothing more important.