What is People-Pleasing & Why Is It So Difficult To Stop?
We all know a people-pleaser. These sorts of people can be very kind, helpful, and all around enjoyable to share time with. However, what lurks below the surface are deeply self-sabotaging tendencies that can harm the mental health of the pleasers. If you are a people-pleaser, chances are that you have tried to change your habits and mindset to no avail. Why is it that it is so difficult to stop people-pleasing? And, how is it that something so seemingly positive as pleasing others can become harmful? Let's find out.
What is People-Pleasing According to Psychology?
Being a people-pleaser is much more than simply being nice to others. Yes, most people pleasers are nice and they actively try to please everyone and be likeable. However, people-pleasing also involves constantly putting everybody's needs above your own. It is a continuous pattern of behaviour where a person gives away too much of their time, energy, and resources to others--often to the extent that they forget to take care of themselves and of their own needs and priorities.
This type of behavior can be very exhausting, draining, and even harmful for the pleasers. For instance, people-pleasers can eventually burnout or end up resenting the people they have been supporting. Namely because at some point pleasers can begin to feel that all their hard work is going underappreciated and unreciprocated.
7 Tendencies and Signs of People-Pleasing
There are many signs and behavioral tendencies that can signal that you or someone you love is a people-pleaser. Some of the most common include:
Why Is It Hard To Stop People-Pleasing?
If you are a people-pleaser, chances are that you have already realized that you must change some of your behaviors and mindset. It is likely that some of your people-pleasing tendencies are negatively affecting your wellbeing. But, if you are like the millions of people-pleasers out there, you might have discovered that changing your people-pleasing ways is not as easy as it sounds. Why is it that changing can be so difficult? Here we walk you through some of the reasons why stopping this mindset can be so hard, and share some tidbits on how to kickstart your journey towards a healthier relationship with yourself and others.
1. Because we are social
Human beings are social creatures. We all want to be connected and cannot survive without feeling seen, heard, and supported by others. Do you remember Tom Hanks' movie Castaway? In the movie, Tom Hanks finds himself stranded in a deserted island and after much turmoil, he draws a happy face on a volleyball (aka Wilson) who keeps him company for the rest of the movie. This small detail highlights how important it is for humans to feel connected and seen. We all have the inherent need and desire to socialize, to share ideas, and to feel appreciated and valued. People-pleasing can allow us to have more chances to connect with others and be seen as likeable—or at least that is what we believe. This is exactly why it can be so difficult to stop people-pleasing; we fear that if we stop, we will not be likeable anymore and we will be alone.
2. Because we feel useful
Another reason why it is challenging to stop people-pleasing, is that when we please others we feel useful. Supporting, caring for, and serving others gives us a sense of utility and this feeling can be very enjoyable and rewarding. Once again we come back to our inherent nature. We all have the need to feel useful. This basic need is not bad or harmful in and on itself. The troubles can begin when we believe that the only thing that makes us useful and important is supporting and helping others. When we believe that the only thing that makes us worthy is being there for others, we begin to neglect ourselves and our very own needs. So, there is nothing wrong with helping others and enjoying being useful, the danger lies on basing all of our worth and interactions on being useful to others.
3. Because we are afraid of being selfish
Sometimes we erroneously believe that changing our people-pleasing ways automatically means that we will begin acting selfishly and be mean and unkind towards others. This polarized mindset leads us to believe that we either have to give our everything or we will give nothing. As you can see, there is no in-between or gray area in this sort of thinking. It is an all-or-nothing way of thinking where there is no space for balance, there is no recognition for the fact that we can set boundaries with others while still being a kind person. This type of belief system makes it very difficult to stop people-pleasing, it motivates us to continue pleasing others out of fear of turning into a bad person if we change.
4. Because we are scared of vulnerability
One important step for people-pleasers is to not only reduce the pleasing behaviors, but to also begin asking from others. Reducing people-pleasing tendencies involves setting boundaries and asking for help from others when needed. That means, not only giving, but also receiving from others. Due to this fact, we might think that by reducing people-pleasing behaviors, we will begin taking from everyone without giving anything in return. This belief is invariably related to point #3 where we discussed that we find it hard to stop people-pleasing because we fear being seen as selfish. However, this belief can also deter us because it touches upon our deep-seated fear of opening ourselves to others. Asking from others forces us to allow them to see our vulnerabilities, which can be a very uncomfortable experience for people-pleasers.
But why is asking from others and being vulnerable so uncomfortable for people-pleasers? Firstly, they might think that by asking from others, they might hurt them. They fear wasting their time, energy, and resources, and believe that others can make better use of those resources. As a result, people-pleasers can feel very guilty about asking for help and opening up to others. Secondly, people-pleasers also fear becoming a burden to others. They do not want to be seen as a burden and to unwittingly harm those they love. Finally, deep, deep inside of them, some people-pleasers might hold the belief that they do not deserve the care, support, and help from others. This belief can stem from childhood trauma and complex family dynamics.
5. Because we learned it in childhood
Sometimes we learned to be a people-pleaser during childhood and, as we know, it is simply very difficult to unlearn these sorts of behaviors as an adult. Oftentimes people-pleasing behaviors can be reinforced by particular family cultures. For instance, if you were raised in a collectivistic culture, chances are that the family made decisions together, took care of each other, and made it difficult to prioritize the self over the group. While these sorts of family dynamics can be very warm, generous, and loving, they can sometimes make it challenging for children to learn how to establish healthy boundaries and develop their own sense of identity.
In some extreme cases, people-pleasing can be a sign of narcissistic behavior. Narcissists are mainly interested on the image they project to other people and unto the world. Therefore, by showing this persona caring for others, they are projecting a favorable image whereby they are seen as a good person. However, in these sorts of cases, we are talking about individuals that really do not care about the wellbeing of others, they solely care about conveying the image of being a nice person and they will only behave in such a manner as long as it is beneficial for their image.
Should I Stop Being A People-Pleaser?
We hope this article has helped you realize whether you are a people-pleaser and understand why it can be so challenging to change your behaviors and mindset. We especially hope that this article inspires you to keep working on your self-development journey and on trying to change those habits that are harming your wellbeing.
However, before you continue with your journey, we suggest that your aim from here onwards should not be to stop being a people-pleaser. Rather, the aim should be focused on decreasing the harmful people-pleasing tendencies and striving for balance. This is the key: Balance. Being a people-pleaser might very well be part of who you are and is not a bad thing per se. As we discussed, it is when taken to extremes that these behaviors can be harmful. So, try to practice balance, to set priorities according to your values, to make time for yourself, to kindly refuse, and to establish healthy boundaries. And, along your journey always remember, you are not alone. Take care.
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